5G would be awesome. Do you remember the hype? 5G should be faster than many home internet connections and available practically everywhere. The reality is that 5G often seems to be worse than 4G LTE.
How 5G Has Been Overrated (And Why Your 5G Is Slow)
The industry promised speeds of up to 100 Mbit/s for 5G, and 5G would never live up to this hype in typical use.
Here’s why: There are several types of 5G, including mmWave, mid-band, low-band 5G. All the hype about insane 5G speeds and low latency has revolved around mmWave 5G. This type of 5G is super fast but has very short ranges. To use it, you need to be near a mmWave cell tower – and the signal isn’t good at penetrating walls.
In a densely populated city, you might have good mmWave 5G coverage. A sports stadium may have enough towers for good mmWave coverage. Maybe now everyone in a dense city center or at a football game has a solid, fast signal! That’s great.
But what about on the way home? In most places, you don’t have that mmWave coverage, so there’s no hope of consistently hitting those theoretical mmWave speeds.
It’s like a pizza chain promising a new delivery service that could deliver a pizza to you in just ten seconds. That sounds amazing! But the fine print would be yes, if you stand in front of one of their restaurants, they can bring you a pizza in ten seconds. Otherwise you will have to wait 30-45 minutes for the delivery to arrive. That’s a little less impressive, although technically it’s true that they can reach insane speeds in an ideal situation.
But why does 5G shine Worse As 4G LTE?
Beyond mmWave there is mid-band and low-band 5G. In theory, mid-band 5G should be faster and better than 4G LTE, even if it falls far short of mmWave’s promised speeds.
But it doesn’t seem to work that well. We’ve noticed many instances where our phones are going from 5G to 4G LTE as if they’re struggling and can’t maintain that 5G connection. It’s something we’ve noticed across the country.
Marques Brownlee has had the same experience, saying it’s “worse than 4G. It’s slower, it’s less consistent, and it’s more expensive.”
If you’re actually only connected to a low-band 5G network, there’s a good chance it’s slower than 4G LTE. Low-band 5G should further extend cellular coverage to remote rural areas that may have had poor coverage from 4G LTE. That’s better than nothing, but it’s no surprise that it’s no better than 4G LTE.
Smartphone 5G icons are confusing
Additionally, 5G doesn’t really mean 5G when you see it in your phone’s status bar. AT&T’s 5G isn’t true 5G – it’s 4G LTE with some improvements. When you see “5G UC” it stands for “5G Ultra Capacity” and is T-Mobile’s name for mid-band 5G: a little much closer to 4G LTE than mmWave 5G. However, if you’re using AT&T and you see “5G+,” that means you have mmWave signal, so that’s good. There’s a lot of talk about C-band 5G, but that’s a different kind of mid-band 5G.
All those logos are tipping the waters as you might not even be connected to 5G if your phone says ‘5G’. Even if you are, many of the 5G status icons you see don’t indicate that you’re connected to the fast 5G that the tech industry has praised highly. This applies regardless of whether you use Android or iPhone.
And even when connected to this fast mmWave 5G network, you might see a drop in speed as you get further away from the tower or behind a building. Then your phone may decide to switch to 4G, which can cause connectivity issues as well as drain battery life as your phone keeps switching between towers.
Hopefully 5G will get better
Where does that leave us? 4G will be around for many years to come – plans to switch off 4G networks are not expected to begin until 2030. Still, new investments are flowing into 5G instead. We’re paying for 5G hardware in our new phones, our cell phone plans now include 5G services, and carriers are pouring money into infrastructure upgrades for 5G.
Hopefully things will get better. Hopefully, a combination of infrastructure upgrades, chipset improvements and advancements in 5G itself will result in a signal that’s slightly better than 4G LTE across most of the country. It seems likely that the industry will eventually find out.
Still, that feels pretty bad. 5G should be a big upgrade, but it feels like we’re struggling to make it competitive with 4G LTE. Those insane speeds of 100Mbps everywhere with almost zero latency just aren’t going to happen.
The best-case scenario is that 5G lives up to what it originally should have been marketed for: an improvement on 4G LTE, delivering super-fast speeds in small areas near specialized towers and slow cellular service deeper into rural areas with no existing ones expand cell phone coverage.
It’s not what many people expect from 5G, but it would still be an improvement.