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5G vs. 4G: What Are The Big Key Differences?

a close up of the back of a phone saying 5G

Mobile connectivity has been rapidly improving over the past five years, with dependable coverage and speed becoming more and more accessible by the year... Since 2020, the new innovation-making wave has been 5G, the fifth generation of telecommunications networks.

5G makes browsing the web faster, easier, and more reliable, and it is currently being implemented around the country. With 5G on everyone’s minds, what is being upgraded from previous iterations? More importantly, what should I consider when thinking about 5G vs 4G phones and phone plans?

What Are the Key Differences Between 5G and 4G?

  1. Speed
  2. Latency
  3. Coverage
  4. Bandwidth

With 5G being added to this lineage of mobile networks, what exactly does it have to offer compared with the 4G network he had been accustomed to for a decade?


On a mobile network, speed is limited by the frequency band of the radio waves utilized. This means that the amount of data that can be used is finite, and if multiple people get on a network,

it is likely to start having problems. This was a common issue with 4G, and with traffic growing by 60% every year, it is getting harder and harder to keep a stable connection with 4G alone.

5G networks can handle up to a million devices per square kilometer and are built to massively increase the capacity for downloading and streaming and personnel in one area.

While 4G can theoretically handle 1GB per second, 5G could potentially hit 20 times that figure. This means that speeds are faster, but they are also less likely to get congested and slow down.


Latency is an area where 5G sees a massive upgrade. With 4G, the average consumer could see a latency of around 200 milliseconds, which is fast. 5G can have latency closer to a single millisecond, or .001 seconds.

Speeds would be nearly instant in this case, with latency becoming something that people no longer have to worry about as they transition to 5G coming to fruition.


Building up network coverage takes a long time, and 4G spent the better part of a decade becoming the primary method of accessing the web in the United States. 5G, as a result, is considerably less accessible than 4G because it has only been around for a couple of years.

However, many network providers are making 5G their primary focus moving forward in this new decade. For example, Verizon’s unlimited network plans are currently based around 5G integration, and T-Mobile has set an impressive pace—covering over 305 million people already.


Someone working with 100 MHz for their network could see an increase of 10 times, leading to massively increased bandwidth.

People will be able to share network connections without the networks becoming overburdened, allowing more people than ever to connect to the internet when they need to.

How Does 5G Work?

5G builds upon the architecture of 4G at both a hardware level and a software level. As far as hardware goes, new antennas can incorporate multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) technology.

This increases the capacity for multiple transmitters and receivers to transfer data. 5G also operates on a vastly expanded wave spectrum compared to 4G.

5G comes with a greater emphasis on virtualization, machine learning, and cloud technologies in terms of software.

This means that software will play a greater role in managing these networks than it ever could with 4G. With this comes both cheaper and more accessible network infrastructure.

What Are the Pros of 5G?

5G is an upgrade over 4G in every way. It is easier to use, much more powerful, and it can be integrated better in densely populated urban areas. More people will be able to connect to networks without slowdown, and speed and latency are massively improved.

As of 2024, 5G has already reached coast to coast of North America, and it is only continuing to grow.

As the decade goes on, 5G will become the primary method of interfacing with the internet on our mobile devices, slowly phasing out 4G entirely just like 4G did to 3G.

What Are the Disadvantages of Using 5G?

At this point, the primary problem with 5G is that coverage isn't quite to the same level that 4G coverage is, though the carriers are working on expanding it.

While 5G will eventually phase out 4G and match its coverage later in the decade, we aren’t at that point yet.

In addition to a lack of coverage, it is important to note that many devices are not 5G compatible yet.

While new phones are being released with 5G capability already implemented, people who got their devices in the 2010s may need to upgrade before reaping the benefits of the 5G expansion.

Phones that came out in 2019 or later, such as iPhone 12 models and up, are compatible with 5G.

Is 5G Different Than LTE?

LTE stands for long-term evolution, and it usually refers to the current form of 4G network that people use in their everyday lives.

When we refer to 4G, we are talking about the current iteration of LTE that exists. All of the upgrades that 5G brings to our mobile networks are improvements over 4G LTE.

The hardware and software changes to our infrastructure will be massively more impactful than the changes that led to LTE’s creation. It is an entirely new generation of mobile networks.

The History of Mobile Networks

It is easier to understand 5G when you have an idea of what led to our current technological innovations.

  • 1G: 1G is what we call the original mobile network. Back when lines could only carry analog voice, 1G was the first wireless cellular network in the world. 1G began in Tokyo in the 1980s.
  • 2G: 2G networks were created in the 90s, giving networks digital capacity instead of just analog. We also could use data in addition to voice.
  • 3G: In the 2000s, 3G allowed us to utilize mobile data on our devices. Our phones became miniature computers, capable of surfing the internet to an extent and increasing connectivity worldwide.
  • 4G: 4G was a massive upgrade over 3G, increasing speeds by values exceeding 100 times its predecessor. With 4G, mobile devices became methods of connecting us to the world around us through incredibly fast internet and large coverage areas.

The Bottom Line

5G has changed the way we interface with the internet on our mobile devices. At this point, 5G has been fully integrated into our society the way 4G has, and as a result, it is totally necessary to prioritize 5G capability.

Soon, we will start phasing out 4G, so it is important to be ready for that possibility. By keeping your devices up to date and doing your research, you can make sure that you make your transition into 5G and beyond a smooth one.

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