August 22, 2023
NBC Cloud runs through the main factors to consider in the 4G versus 5G debate to provide you with an understanding of the differences and similarities, so you can make educated decisions on your network.
With internet usage growing exponentially each year and its requirement for using our phones, watches, cars, and even household appliances, known as the Internet of Things (IoT), our mobile networks and technology have to develop to support this. Each generation of wireless mobile technology, therefore, aims to build on and exceed that of its predecessor to keep up with the increasing demand.
As of 2019, 5G is a new network available in the UK. But, what exactly is the difference between 4G and 5G and is it worth switching to a provider that can offer 5G? We look at key factors to consider when weighing up 4G vs 5G, to ensure your business chooses the right network setup for your needs and goals.
The main difference between 4G vs 5G is their speed performance, caused by variations in the way the two types of connections function. 5G uses shorter wavelengths and higher frequencies than 4G which means it is able to support far more connections at once.
We have likely all experienced poor connectivity when in busy, tightly packed areas like concerts, where a large volume of people are attempting to use a connection and thus the speed is far slower. 5G is different as it allows for large volumes of simultaneous connections without this impacting your connectivity and causing it to cut out.
With speed being the main differentiating factor between 4G and 5G, it’s important to understand why 5G is so much faster than its predecessor. The connectivity speed of the two ultimately comes down to their latency, which refers to the delay before data is transferred once an instruction to do so has been made.
5G has a much shorter latency than 4G at less than 10 milliseconds due to its spectral efficiency, meaning it can transmit more data over electromagnetic radio frequencies than 4G was able to. 4G’s latency is by no means slow, however, it is considerably longer than 5G at around 20-30 milliseconds.
This improved latency will have huge implications for the IoT and the development of new technologies such as cars, virtual reality, and much more.
5G is able to operate on a newer higher frequency spectrum known as Millimeter Wave (mmWave), which has longer wavelengths of between 30-300 Ghz compared to 4G LTE’s wavelengths of under 6GHz.
These longer wavelengths mean 5G has the capacity to support a much higher volume of connections of up to one million devices per square metre compared to around 4000 devices with 4G. In comparison, 4G networks have less capacity and therefore will require one person’s connection and speed to be decreased to be able to accommodate another person’s connection.
5G’s ability to seamlessly connect high volumes of users without anyone’s speed being limited is crucial in a day and age where our internet usage and reliance are only increasing year on year.
5G networks also differ from 4G in their download speeds. 5G’s download speeds can reach up to 10Gbps, which is up to 100 times faster than 4G. While this is beneficial for individuals attempting to download TV shows or films, it also offers hugely increased opportunities for businesses and enterprises to improve their infrastructures and performance.
See a clear comparison of the differences in speed and latency between 4G and 5G below.
|Average speed (download/upload)||5.6Mbps/|
Another key difference between 4G and 5G currently is the availability and current coverage. 5G only first became available to the everyday user in 2019 and at that point was only offered by selected carriers, compared to 4G which was first launched and made available in the UK by EE in October 2012.
While the majority of areas in the UK may have 5G available to them by now, the new network is still very much in the progress of being deployed. Despite being launched in 2019, 5G isn’t predicted to finish rolling out and overtake 4G’s network coverage until 2025.
It’s also important to consider that although a carrier may state to offer 5G in your city, this may not cover the entire area so it’s important to check specific coverage before committing to or changing your company’s infrastructure.
In addition, as 5G uses small cell technology, it requires small cells to be installed in base stations in a higher volume and more dense number of locations for the carriers to be able to offer their faster speeds and mmWave frequency connections to households and businesses.
Because of these factors, the coverage of 5G is still currently more limited and in the progress of being deployed to a wider range of homes and businesses as carriers adapt their systems and catch up with the demand.
You can use Ofcom’s mobile and broadband coverage checker to identify if 5G is currently available in your local area, and if it isn’t, which networks are available to you instead.
5G is an improvement to 4G in its ability to adapt to the type of device being connected and its characteristics. For example, rather than offering all device types a consistent level and speed of connection as standard as 4G networks do, 5G can adapt its performance to suit the connection required by the specific device.
Let’s say you are requiring a connection for various small smart home devices or smart watches, the 5G network would identify a less strong connection is required in terms of speed and reliability. As a result, you can save energy usage.
When 4G was introduced, it was revolutionary in its ability to allow cloud services like VoIP to be used on mobile devices. 5G networks go even further by allowing devices connected to pass heavier processing tasks like games or data distribution to the network itself to handle, taking the pressure off the device itself.
Where 4G networks are primarily aimed at mobile usage, 5G networks are much more flexible and suitable for use on a wide range of devices. Due to its 5G Core, 5G offers a new technology known as ‘network slicing’ which allows you to slice your network connection to act independently and suit different purposes simultaneously.
This way, you can design complex infrastructures, where each ‘slice’ of your network can act in a way that suits the characteristics of that device or service. Homes and businesses can adapt the speed, capacity and security levels of these individual networks to fit the purpose, without powering up all devices in the same network with the same level of power and wasting resources.
While 5G offers businesses and households more opportunities, it’s important to consider security before committing to or changing any infrastructures. As 5G offers an increased volume of networks, this also means increased opportunities for potential attacks and hackers. To counter this, 5G networks offer in-built security features to providers through 5G SIMs, which encrypt sensitive data within secure elements (SEs). SEs are tamper-resistant processor chips that protect assets like sensitive data and applications from high-level software and hardware attacks and hackers.
The largest difference between 4G and 5G networks is the fact that 5G allows for much higher volumes of connections, and customisable sliced networks, opening the door even wider for the IoT across the UK and beyond. The IoT has implications for the way businesses design and manage their infrastructures with the ability to have many devices connected to their own networks uninterrupted all within close proximity.
To summarise, 5G is different to 4G with its improved latency, much faster speeds, and capacity for the sheer amount and complexity of the devices you can have connected at one time.
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