5G Speeds What to Know | ENBLE

5G Speeds What to Know | ENBLE

The Speed of 5G: Separating Hype from Reality


The arrival of 5G has been eagerly anticipated, with promises of lightning-fast speeds and transformative technology. And while 5G networks are now available to over 90% of the US population, the actual experience may not always live up to the hype. So, what exactly is the speed of 5G and how does it compare to previous generations? Let’s dive in and separate fact from fiction.

Theoretical 5G Speeds

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At its core, 5G promises staggering speeds, with theoretical maximums reaching up to 10Gbps. However, it’s important to remember that these speeds are not achievable in real-world scenarios. The 10Gbps figure refers to the maximum total bandwidth available to all 5G devices connected to a single cellular tower. Individual devices do not have the capability to reach these speeds, as the bandwidth is shared among multiple users. In reality, peak 5G speeds are rarely seen by consumers, and we are more likely to witness such speeds with the advent of 6G technology in the future.

To put things in perspective, here is a comparison table of the theoretical speeds of different wireless technologies:

Generation Theoretical Maximum Download Speed
3G 5-10 Mbps
4G LTE 100 Mbps – 1 Gbps
5G 10 Gbps

These numbers are all theoretical maximums, and the actual speeds achieved often fall short due to various factors.

Real-World 5G Download Speeds

Christine Romero-Chan / ENBLE

In the real world, there are three main types of 5G networks that offer different download speeds. Low-band 5G operates at frequencies below 2.3GHz, providing extensive coverage but with speeds similar to 4G LTE. High-band mmWave operates at extremely high frequencies, delivering fantastic speeds but with limited coverage. The recently introduced midrange 5G, which operates at 2.5GHz, strikes a balance between coverage and performance.

However, the actual speeds experienced by users are affected by several factors. The number of users connected to a single tower, the distance from the tower, and the spectrum allocation by carriers all impact the download speeds. This means that while some users may experience blazing-fast speeds, others may find their speeds to be underwhelming.

Early rollouts of 5G networks had their fair share of issues, with speeds often not surpassing those of 4G LTE. However, significant improvements have been made, with carriers deploying mid-band 5G networks that offer better speeds without compromising coverage. T-Mobile’s 5G Ultra Capacity network and Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network now provide average download speeds of around 200Mbps, with T-Mobile leading the pack. AT&T, however, lags behind with its 5G Plus network.

While these numbers reflect median speeds, it’s worth noting that some users have experienced peak speeds of well over 1Gbps, especially in areas with mmWave coverage. Additionally, advancements like 5G carrier aggregation technology have the potential to further enhance speeds.

The Importance of Latency

AT&T 5G at Leaning Tower, Niles Adam Doud / ENBLE

Download speeds are not the only aspect to consider when evaluating the performance of 5G. Latency, which refers to the time it takes to establish connections over a network, plays a significant role. While download speeds might not matter as much for tasks like streaming videos, latency has a considerable impact on activities such as web browsing, online gaming, and instant messaging. 5G networks aim to provide low latency, enabling near-instantaneous data exchange and powering technologies like autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things.

According to industry standards, 5G networks should offer a latency of 10ms in general and as low as 1ms for specialized applications. While Verizon’s 5G network sometimes trails behind in download speeds, it performs well in terms of latency, particularly in gaming experiences.

The Reality of 5G Speed in 2023

Christine Romero-Chan / ENBLE

Despite the widespread availability of 5G networks and devices, it’s essential to manage expectations when it comes to speed. While some areas may have mind-blowing speeds, ultrafast 5G performance will remain a rarity due to the limited number of towers required to achieve such speeds nationwide. Average 5G speeds are currently plateauing around 200Mbps, falling short of the hyped-up expectations.

However, the real value of 5G lies in its latency improvements and the possibilities it unlocks for responsive mobile experiences. It’s crucial to remember that 5G technology is still evolving, and as carriers continue to expand their mid-band networks, we can expect incremental improvements. Ultimately, it’s not just about download speeds but the overall enhancements that 5G brings to our daily lives.

So, while 5G may not be as fast as some hoped, it’s paving the way for a future of connectivity and innovation. As it matures, 5G will continue to redefine how we use our smartphones and unlock new possibilities in the digital realm.