Despite the initial U.S. rollout in 2019, there’s still considerable confusion over 5G – especially how it’s different from its predecessor 4G.
In a word: Millimeter waves (mmWaves).
These ultra-high-frequency radio waves, between 30Ghz and 300Ghz, are used to supercharge 5G connections and deliver download speeds of multiple gigabits per second. A mmWave can handle an incredible amount of data, and an incredible number of users simultaneously. That makes it better for densely populated cities, as well as places like stadiums and arenas – not to mention the crazy fast speeds.
On the other hand, 4G operates in the lower 2-8Ghz frequency band, which accounts for 4G’s much lower download speeds.
But there’s more to it than that. Another reason operators petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to open up the seldom used mmWave band is because the 4G band was nearly saturated with users, which made it difficult to handle all the new mobile phone users in a new wireless network.
5G technology also offers an extremely low latency rate. Latency is the amount of delay (or time) it takes to send information from one point to the next. Latency is usually measured in milliseconds.
Low latency is what allows streaming without interruptions. The delay between the sending and receiving of information is about 200 milliseconds for 4G, but only 1millisecond with 5G.
But not all elements have been in 5G’s favor. While mmWave connections can deliver superfast download speeds, the high-frequency radio waves can’t travel long distances and can’t really get through obstacles — for the most part, even a window or leaves of a tree can block the connection.
Consequently, carriers have had to create a new infrastructure in order to deliver all the 5G benefits. To have a robust mmWave network, carriers have had to build and attach hundreds to thousands of small network cells in every city. This has been a costly and slow process, which accounts for 5G first appearing as a kind of hybrid of both 5G and 4G technologies.
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