5G is the next-generation technology to follow 4G. Like 4G for your mobile, it delivers internet connectivity through high-frequency data signals sent over the airwaves to your device. 5G does this faster than 4G. On paper, in fact, it can achieve such high speeds it will in future be able to easily outperform your home broadband connection.
That's why 5G mobile SIMs (compatible with 5G phones) aren't the only way the industry is pushing the technology. Some providers are also offering 5G broadband as an alternative to your fixed home broadband connection, although obviously this is dependent on you living somewhere with a good 5G service. Here, we'll take a look at both kinds of 5G connectivity.
The term 5G broadband can describe either a mobile phone data connection using a 5G-compatible phone containing a SIM subscribed to a 5G plan on a 5G network, or it can describe a home 5G broadband router that, also using a 5G SIM, delivers 5G broadband speeds via that same 5G mobile data network.
5G simply stands for 'fifth generation' and is the technology set to supercede 4G, which for the vast majority of us currently delivers our mobile data. 5G uses higher frequencies to deliver much faster data speeds than 4G, but at the cost of range. Delivery of 5G networks is likely to be considerably slower than the rollout of 4G as there are substantial technological challenges as well as a harder task convincing us we need it.
You are unlikely to need 5G – it’s more likely to be a case of wanting it. The biggest potential upset to 5G becoming the dominant mobile broadband technology is that right now the very high data speeds it offers don't have much use.
Mobile providers will tell you that you can download an ultra-high definition movie in under a minute or whatever, but who downloads movies to their phones in an age where streaming dominates? And even if you did, why would you want to download a film at a resolution so high that you cannot possibly perceive the benefit? The truth is, there are currently no good reasons to own a 5G phone beyond being able to tell others that you do.
As for 5G home broadband that's another matter. There will be more and more cases as the technology rolls out across the country where you're maybe unable to get a superfast or even ultrafast home broadband connection, but you can get 5G. In future, 5G home broadband is going to fill a lot of gaps. For now though, here are a few reasons you might want it.
There are actually only four mobile network providers in the UK. 'Four?' we hear you say, 'but I can think of at least a dozen'. And indeed there are literally dozens of providers in the UK, but only four of them operate their own networks. The rest (called MVNOs or Mobile Virtual Network Operators in the biz) use one of these four established networks by renting capacity – sometimes called 'piggybacking'.
These four networks are: Three, Vodafone, EE and O2, and at the time of writing all four of them offer a 5G service in some form. In addition, most MVNOs mentioned above also offer it – including BT Mobile and Sky Mobile. But as with most new technologies, availability is still limited and speeds are a long way from the 10Gbps often touted by 5G evangelists. Let's take a look at how each of the networks is doing.
EE claims a median average 5G speed of 151.03Mbps as recorded by Speedtest. EE 5G is currently available to around 18% of the population in 168 towns and cities including London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Belfast, Manchester, Cardiff, Bristol, Coventry, Leicester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Lichfield, Lisburn, Newcastle, Salford, Sheffield, Sunderland, Wakefield and Wolverhampton. Just bear in mind that coverage will by no means be universal in those locations.
Vodafone claims a median average 5G speed of 159.49Mbps according to Speedtest. Vodafone 5G is currently available to around 10% of the population, in Ambleside, Bebington, Belfast, Bishopbriggs, Birkenhead, Birmingham, Bootle, Bristol, Bristol and Gatwick Airport, Cardiff, Cheadle and Gatley, Droylsden, Eccles, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Horwich, Huyton-with-Roby, Isle of Scilly, Kingswood, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Llandudno, London, Manchester, Mangotsfield, Newbury, Paisley, Penarth, Plymouth, Prestwich, Rochdale, Salford, Solihull, Stockport, Stoke-on-Trent, Stretford, Wallasey, Warrington and Wolverhampton.
Three is, perhaps surprisingly, the fastest of all four networks when it comes to 5G download speed, but only covers around 6.4% of the population so far. The median average speeds recorded by Speedtest was 231.07Mbps. Three 5G is available, or will soon be available, in London, Birmingham, Bradford, Liverpool, Glasgow, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Cardiff, Hull, Leicester, Wolverhampton, Nottingham, Bolton, Bristol, Reading, Rotherham, Slough, Edinburgh, Brighton, Coventry, Derby, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes and Sunderland.
According to research by Speedtest, O2 5G download speeds averaged 155.54Mbps. 5G on O2 is currently available to just over 5% of the population, in Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Lisburn, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Sheffield, Slough and Stoke-on-Trent.
5G mobile plans and 5G home broadband plans are available from a number of UK network providers as well as a couple of piggybackers using someone else's network capacity. Here's a brief rundown of who offers what.
No one really needs 5G right now. Sure, in years to come there will be applications that 5G is suited to, things that simply couldn't be done without the high speeds and low latency 5G provides. But that time is not now.
If, however, you are determined to take the plunge irrespective of whether it can improve your day-to-day experience, there are a few things you'll need to be sure you have before you dive in.
In the opinion of the experts here at Cable.co.uk, 5G will never replace fixed-line home broadband. It’s more likely that the two technologies will sit side-by-side, providing more options for home users, depending on their needs and their circumstances.
No. The two technologies are likely to sit side-by-side for many, many years to come, providing additional options to users depending on their needs. It will almost certainly replace 4G as the primary means of accessing the internet on your mobile, however.
At the time of writing, the fastest recorded 5G mobile speed was on the EE network at around 500Mbps. The technology has been touted to reach speeds many times that. However, the reality is that optimal speeds are more likely to be around the 100-200Mbps mark.
5G operates at a higher frequency band than 4G. Mobile signals of any kind are not dangerous to human health. Rumours that they are, are nothing more than myth.