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Why Is My 5G So Slow?

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Even with the benefits of 5G, it is still a new technology. As it continues to grow and work itself out, many people will find that they are not seeing the groundbreaking changes they expected. Here are some reasons why your 5G cellular network might be slow.

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What Is 5G?

5G is the new generation of cellular networks, replacing 4G LTE, which has been the standard for most telecommunications companies. The 2020s have marked the emergence of 5G, with Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile committing to making 5G the primary form of cellular internet by the end of the decade.

Compared to 4G LTE, 5G has higher speeds, higher capacity, and lower latency. It allows users to stream video at a higher quality than ever before possible, and it allows more people than ever to connect to a network at any given time.

Why Could My 5G Be So Slow?

If your 5G seems slower than 4G, it could be frustrating, especially with all the hype surrounding 5G's superior speed and capacity. (Some carriers say it should be hundreds of times faster than 4G, but you may have experienced that's not the case!) Here are some no-nonsense reasons why this might be happening:

  1. Network Coverage and Infrastructure: 5G technology requires a denser network of cell towers compared to 4G, as 5G signals, particularly those on the high-frequency spectrum, don't travel as far and are more easily obstructed (think buildings, trees, and walls). If the 5G infrastructure in your area isn't fully developed yet, your phone might be struggling to maintain a strong 5G connection and could even be switching back and forth between 5G and 4G.
  2. Device Compatibility: Not all 5G-enabled devices are created equal. Some might not support the specific 5G frequency bands used by your carrier, or they might handle these frequencies less efficiently than others. This can significantly impact your device's performance on a 5G network.
  3. Network Congestion: Just because it's 5G doesn't mean it's immune to traffic congestion. If many people in your area are connected to the same 5G network, the increased data demand can slow down speeds for everyone.
  4. Carrier Implementation: Different carriers implement 5G technologies in various ways. Some might focus on deploying mid-band and low-band frequencies that offer wider coverage but slower speeds compared to the ultra-fast mmWave frequencies. If your carrier hasn't rolled out the faster mmWave bands in your area, or if their 5G network leans heavily on lower bands, you might not notice much of a speed difference from 4G.

In many cases, the potential of 5G is still being rolled out, and until the network matures, there might be areas where 4G actually provides a more reliable and faster connection.

How to Fix Slow 5G

If you're stuck with slow 5G for whatever reason, the good news is that you might be able to improve your 5G speeds through a few straightforward steps. Here's what you might consider:

Improving 5G Speeds

  1. Update Your Device: Make sure your phone's software is up to date. Manufacturers often release updates that enhance network connectivity and performance.
  2. Check Network Settings: Sometimes, settings can default to options that don't prioritize 5G. Ensure your network settings are set to prefer 5G when available.
  3. Use a Compatible Device: If your device is older or not fully compatible with your carrier’s 5G network (especially the specific frequency bands they use), consider upgrading to a newer model that supports the full range of 5G frequencies offered by your carrier.
  4. Change Location: If you're in a building or an area with poor 5G coverage, moving to a different location, even as simple as stepping outside, can improve your signal strength.
  5. Carrier Tools: Some carriers offer apps or tools to help optimize your network experience. These can provide insights into your coverage and performance and sometimes even improve connectivity.

Switching to 4G

Switching back to 4G can be a practical temporary workaround if:

  • 5G is notably unreliable in your area, leading to frequent disconnections or slow speeds.
  • Battery Life Issues: 5G can consume more battery, especially if your phone frequently searches for a 5G signal without success.

To switch to 4G, you can typically go into your phone’s network settings and select "LTE" or "4G" as your preferred network type. This can provide more stability if 5G coverage is incomplete or congested in your area.

How Does 5G Work?

Each generation of cellular internet has expanded upon the last. The original iteration was only capable of analog voice, while the 2G of the 90s was delivered digitally. Mobile data as we know it began with 3G in the 2000s, and that was expanded into mobile broadband with 4G during the smartphone era.

5G is the next step, offering ultra-low latency and exponentially higher speeds than its predecessors. Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T are currently building up their 5G infrastructure, building the necessary hardware to make 5G the primary method of interfacing with cellular networks. Each company is at a different step of the process, but all of them are racing to control the 5G market in the 2020s.

What Changed About 5G Coverage in 2020?

The 2010s brought about the prime of the smartphone era, and with that came a newfound ability to use your phone as a personal computer. 4G, and later 4G LTE, was the type of cellular network that made that level of connection speed and quality possible.

2020 was the year that the big three telecommunications companies began rolling out their upgraded 5G networks. While adoption has been slow, 5G has grown and become more prominent by the year.

While some levels of 5G became available in select regions in 2019, 2020 was the year 5G began to grow into a nationwide tool.

Is 5G Always Faster Than 4G LTE?

As we mentioned, while 5G could theoretically hit speeds 600 times faster than 4G LTE, in many network tests, it currently runs slower. In 2020, when the technology was only just emerging, it was found that AT&T 5G was running considerably slower than its 4G network across the nation.

At the time, AT&T was only allotting a small percentage of their 850MHz band for 5G connection, meaning that 5G was running on a very narrow channel. While AT&T got off to a good start in coverage, very little of its network was meaningfully faster than 4G LTE.

It is important to note that this was the intended outcome and that AT&T’s plan was always to start with a wide coverage area and build up the quality of their 5G networks from there. This was in stark contrast to Verizon’s plan, which was to provide top-of-the-line high-speed internet at the expense of rolling out their network as fast as their competitors.

Will 5G Get Faster?

One of the reasons 4G LTE hits such consistent speeds is that it benefits from carrier aggregation. Carrier aggregation is when multiple frequency bands are combined with increasing bandwidth and speed. A phone cannot yet support this on a 5G network, and instead of utilizing multiple 4G channels, your phone is sticking to a single, narrow 5G channel.

Once 5G is integrated into the structural framework of the country’s cellular networks, it will naturally get faster. The expansion of 5G will mean that 4G LTE will eventually be phased out, and resources will be primarily allocated to 5G. Another important fact is that 5G networks are still sparse, and the increase in cell towers that support 5G will lead to faster speeds.

What Are the Fastest 5G Networks?

As of this writing, T-Mobile has better speed, and coverage in its 5G network than either Verizon or AT&T. T-Mobile opted to use sub 6GHz to reach the widest possible array of customers. It reaches over 300 million people with mid-band infrastructure that it acquired through its merger with Sprint.

This speed boost puts it ahead of the competition despite the less ambitious infrastructure it is currently building on. Verizon is focusing on mmWave 5G, which is taking much longer to roll out around the country. It could potentially yield significantly faster speeds than T-Mobile, but as of 2022, it is not advanced enough to compete yet.

The Bottom Line

5G is based around new technology, and it will take the better part of a decade for it to come into its own. Right now, having a 5G phone and connecting to a 5G network might not feel any different from 4G, and in some cases, it might feel slower.

It will be important in the coming years to keep up with the development of 5G to see which company ends up pulling ahead and changing it for the better.

Want to find the best phone deals on a 5G-enabled phone? Try our Phone Deal Finder. Or maybe you want to switch to a network with better 5G coverage. You can compare phone plans to make sure you got the best price on a high-speed data plan using our free, unbiased Plan Finder.

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