How can one companies 5G be “better” than another? Doesn’t 5G refer to the speed/strength of the connection?



How can one companies 5G be “better” than another? Doesn’t 5G refer to the speed/strength of the connection?

In: Technology

It all has to do with “coverage.” 5G is a *standard*, agreed upon by industry. The only difference has to do with how close you are to a 5G-capable cell tower (signal strength), which determines just how much you’ll be able to do.

Anything anyone says apart from that is…marketing drivel.

The technology is the same, but the technology is just about how fast the connection is between your device and the antenna. The actual internet connection the antenna is connected to could differ.

You may confuse the G in 5G to be short for Gb/s or GHz as these terms are used in other technologies. But in cell phone terms the G stands for generation. 5G is a collection of different protocols and standards set to replace the 4th generation ones. The actual speed you get depends on a lot of factors such as the distance to the cell tower and the spare capacity of that tower.

5G is a minimum standard. Specifically, it’s the fifth generation of standards for cell networks (hence 5G). It’s not so much a specified speed as it is an agreed-upon set of technologies and protocols that allow different networks and devices to work together. These technologies and protocols are more advanced than the previous generation, and as such networks built to that standard will deliver better speeds than networks built to 4G standards.

Put another way, we’re moving from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles. Some automobiles will be faster than others, or more reliable, or more luxurious, but they’re all cars in the end. As long as you’ve got brakes, headlights, taillights, rearview mirrors, windshield wipers, and so on, you can register your car, slap on a license plate, and drive your car on public roads.

5G networks are the same way. As long as they’re built to that standard, they’re considered 5G. Yes, 5G marketing to the end user mostly just emphasizes connection speed, but coverage is also a big factor in what makes a network “better”. Both also vary wildly according to the frequency used by the cell tower you’re connected to: higher frequencies mean higher connection speeds, but higher frequencies also have a shorter range and are more easily blocked by trees, walls, windows, etc. Some networks are built out faster than others or prefer higher or lower frequencies. All these factors mean that the quality of a 5G network can be highly variable; even the quality of the *same* network can vary highly by location.

5g refers to the 5th generation of wireless technology. The industry standard for 5g uses a different higher frequency which means more information per second can be sent but at the cost of lower range. Different providers can still offer different packages that include faster or slower throttled speeds and their networks might have more or less coverage based on how many towers in your area. Some companies contract to share towers with other networks so they might be more reliable but also more expensive.

5G refers to the technology they use- these are the 5th generation cell technologies. It’s an important component of speed, but speed can also depend on a ton of other stuff, like the radio frequencies they use, how close you are to a cell, and how many other people are on a cell.

For example, Verizon has spent a lot of time setting up high-frequency 5G. Using higher frequencies makes it much faster than using the same technology at lower frequencies, but the tradeoff is that it doesn’t travel as far so they need way more towers to get good coverage. As a result, Verizon only has 5G coverage in and around cities. T-Mobile, on the other hand, has been focused on the lower frequency 5G. As a result, even though your phone is doing the same thing once it connects to the radio tower, T-Mobile has much broader 5G coverage while Verizon’s got a faster connection if you manage to connect.

5G is an agreed upon set of protocols and processes. Every equipment vendor and company implements these protocols using their own interpretations of those standards. Now, what makes one better? The main bottleneck for speed are the bands [frequencies] used by the radios [cell towers]. Some may agregate multiple low frequency bands to attain speed, some may use higher frequencies. The higher the frequency the shorter the distance you need to be from the tower. Think of whales using low frequencies to communicate across oceans. Once your cell communicates with the tower there are several limiting factors. First, bandwidth to the tower. Second, number of high bandwidth users attached to that tower. Tower density and overall coverage where you go also are important. Second, once your packet leaves the tower it goes to the Packet Core. This is the heart of the network. Factors like latency [how close is the Packet Core from the tower], Packet Core capacity [how much bandwidth can the core handle], and local user plane traffic elements [are gateways near the user, or centaluzed] play a key role in performance. Most Packet Cores are centralized, with a few cores per region [east, central, west]. This is a simplified model, but you get the point

While 5G is suppose to be faster then 4G, the advantage 5G has is access to higher frequencies.

Think of frequencies as highways. The lower the frequency the less lanes it has, but what isn’t used to make the other lanes is used to make the highway longer. The cars on the highway is the data being sent to your phone. A 1 lane road 100 miles long (low frequency) can’t support as many cars at once, so it takes longer for 100 cars to travel on it. As the frequency increases more lanes are added, increases how many cars can travel at once, but it also makes the road shorter. So while 100 cars can travel quicker, then can no longer travel as fast.

5G adds support for really high frequencies that cell phones never really used before. Think of it like a 100 lane highway. Now those 100 cars can go at the same time, but the road is now only one mile. The trip is done way quicker, but now you gotta be real close.

Low band 5G will be faster then the 4G LTE already using those frequencies eventually (short answer on eventually, not enough lanes are being given to 5G to be noticeably faster in some cases), and high band 5G is unimaginably faster then anything your cell phone has ever done, but the frequency is so high, that if you can’t physically see the cell tower you will not be able to take advantage of the speed.

One factor is that 5G uses different frequencies of light (referred to as spectrum). The cell towers are a lot like a lighthouse where it’s shining a really bright (but invisible to your eye) light. Different frequencies of light interact with physical objects in different ways. To some frequencies of light, a brick wall is like a glass wall and will just pass through it. Others will go right through you like a glass version of you. Glass would be opaque to some of them. Some can really only go through the open air, the moment anything solid gets in between it stops the signal (the light from the tower).

In the US, spectrum is managed by basically selling it to different carriers. AT&T owns a range of frequencies part of the 5G standard. Verizon owns a different range. T-Mobile a different set. They generally interact with physical objects the same way but there will be differences. Some frequencies are better than others. This means that for places like cities the companies have to pay special attention to how their spectrum for 5G interacts with buildings and humans to correctly position their cell towers.