4G vs. 5G: What’s the Difference?
4G LTE is a wireless network standard that powers cell phone communications across the United States. But in recent years, 4G has taken a backseat with the advent of a new standard, 5G.
Initially introduced on a small scale in the 2019 and 2020, 5G has since become a fast-growing network standard for American cell phone users and internet customers. Using novel technology like massive MIMO and mmWave spectrum, 5G delivers much faster speeds than 4G and also has the capacity to facilitate lower-latency data transfers. It’s not available everyone in the way 4G is, but 5G now powers many cell phones and hotspots and also forms the backbone of new 5G home internet services from Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T.
We’ve been following 5G’s development closely for several years, so read on for a breakdown explaining the difference between 4G and 5G networks, speeds, pricing, and more.
How fast is 4G vs. 5G?
|Provider||Avg. 4G speeds||Avg. 5G speeds||Order Online|
|97.1Mbps||195.5Mbps||View Plans |
On average, 5G is over twice as fast as 4G—and it’s creeping up in speed with each passing year.
4G still rules in small towns and rural areas, where 5G networks are relatively thin (or nonexistent). But 5G is getting a strong foothold in many American cities, and speeds range from slightly faster than 4G LTE to double the speed or more.
You can get faster speeds on 5G because 5G networks use higher-frequency radio bands to deliver signals. Some of these bands previously had very little commercial use, so they have larger capacities to carry data over the airwaves.
5G home internet gives you affordable Wi-Fi with fast speeds
|T-Mobile 5G Home Internet||$30.00–$40.00/mo. (w/ T-Mobile phone subscription) or $50.00/mo. (w/out subscription)*||72–245Mbps||View Plans|
|Verizon 5G Home Internet||$35.00/mo. (w/ Verizon phone subscription) or $60.00/mo. (w/out subscription)†||Up to 300Mbps|
|Verizon 5G Home Internet Plus||$45.00/mo. (w/ Verizon phone subscription) or $80.00/mo. (w/out subscription)‡||Up to 1000Mbps|
|AT&T Internet Air||$55.00/mo. ($35.00/mo. w/ qualifying wireless plan)§||40–140Mbps|
|Starry 300||$50.00/mo.║||Up to 300Mbps||View Plans|
Data as of 10/13/23. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
**w/ Auto Pay. Internet provider not available in all areas; customers ineligible for 5G Home Internet may be eligible for 4G LTE or other fixed wireless options. Regulatory fees included in monthly price for qualified accounts. See full terms.
†w/ Auto Pay. Available in select areas.
‡w/ Auto Pay. Available in select areas.
§AutoPay and paperless billing required. Monthly State Cost Recovery Charge in TX, OH, NV applies. . Service subj. to Internet Terms of Service at att.com/internet-terms. Offers may be modified, or discontinued, at any time without notice. Other conditions may apply to all offers.
║Available in select areas only. Price per month with Auto Pay & without select 5G mobile plans. Fios plan prices include taxes & fees. Plan availability varies. Check availability at starry.com/internet. New customers save $10/mo off select plans for their first year of service. Terms & Conditions Apply.
While it’s mainly used for cell phones, 5G has also made inroads into home internet with the emergence of new services like Verizon 5G Home Internet, T-Mobile Home Internet, and AT&T Internet Air. That’s one thing that wireless customers never got to experience before on 4G networks.
T-Mobile and Verizon’s respective services both start out at $50 a month and give you download speeds in the range of 35–300 Mbps. They come with unlimited data and a range of promotional offers, and they don’t require contracts—making these incredibly cost-effective plans that compete well against older and more established internet types like cable. AT&T’s recently-launched 5G home internet service, Internet Air, meanwhile is mostly geared towards customers who can no longer get DSL service.
5G home internet is marketed primarily to customers who live in large cities, but the carriers have also rolled out 4G LTE versions of their service for rural users. The speeds aren’t as fast, but they offer a more competitive deal compared to the satellite and fixed wireless internet that you usually find in rural and remote parts of the United States. You can learn more about it on our 4G internet page.
Take a look at our Verizon 5G Home Internet review to see how the service stacks up against more conventional fiber and cable internet. (Hint: It’s definitely worth a try.)
What’s the difference between 4G and 5G technology?
4G is the fourth generation of wireless technology. It uses radio towers to deliver both phone service and wireless internet to mobile devices. 5G pretty much works the same way, but it incorporates new technology and higher radio frequencies.
5G networks also use more base stations to deliver faster speeds at a quicker response time. Eventually some 5G providers plan to decentralize their networks (using a technique called “edge computing”) to make them more flexible and adaptable to many uses.
Although 5G networks mostly rely on 4G and 4G LTE towers right now, cellular companies are working to develop “standalone” 5G networks based on a few core concepts.
- Millimeter waves—extremely high-frequency radio waves that give your mobile device gigabit-plus speeds over short distances.
- Beamforming—high-precision antenna arrays capable of directing wireless signals to individual devices.
- Massive MIMO—bulked-up 5G transmitters designed to deliver wireless data to devices at a much higher capacity.
Not surprisingly, all of this stuff will take time to build up—and it will cost a lot of money for providers too.
What are the different types of 5G?
5G networks come in three different types, which tie to the range each type has and the speeds it can deliver to your phone. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Low-band 5G operates on many of the same frequencies as 4G LTE, delivering slightly faster speeds over long distances.
- Mid-band/C-band 5G incorporates higher-frequency radio bands than 4G, including ones that were previously used only for industrial and satellite TV purposes. The clear airwaves make for a much wider network capacity—and thus much faster speeds—for large number of users.
- mmWave 5G uses “millimeter-wave” radio bands that operate at an extremely high frequency. This type of 5G can deliver gigabit-plus speeds, but only in limited areas (like a sports stadium, hospital, or parts of a city’s downtown) due to the frequencies’ weak signal strength and limited range.
4G vs. 5G latency
|Wireless standard||Latency (in milliseconds)7|
5G has lower latency compared to 4G. That means 5G phones are much more responsive when it comes to things like video calls and gaming, minimizing lag and grainy video quality.
Latency (also known as ping rate) is the brief delay that happens when you send a signal from a device to a network server and vice versa. Some small amount of latency is inevitable in all internet connections because of the physical distance between your device and the server that’s giving it an internet connection.
But the lower latency you can get, the better—especially if you need internet to do things that require near-instantaneous connectivity. The lower latency rates of 4G, activities like chatting with someone over a video feed or playing a fast-paced online game become a lot smoother and easier to do.
Wireless tech experts hope that 5G could one day achieve latency rates as low as 1 ms. That would be an incredible milestone, making 5G all the more capable of supporting complex applications like systems for factories and automated cars. But that 1 ms dream is still a long ways away.
Figure out your phone’s latency rate by running a speed test. Remember—the lower the number, the better!
4G vs. 5G availability
|Provider||5G availability (% of cell phone time user connects to 5G)3|
Most cell providers have spent years building up 4G infrastructure, but they’ve only just begun building 5G networks. So 4G is pretty much available anywhere—except for remote areas and rural communities with limited cellular access. 5G’s reach is mostly limited to major cities and towns, although you can get slower 5G speeds basically nationwide.
You need a 5G phone to access 5G networks, but your phone will revert to 4G when 5G isn’t available. A report in July 2023 from Opensignal pointed out that customers with 5G phones were on a 5G network for only a part of the time they were using their phones throughout the day.3 But T-Mobile’s 5G service is expanding to the point where over half of your 5G phone time is spent on a 5G network.
T-Mobile has the biggest 5G network nationwide so far. Read our guide to T-Mobile’s 5G offerings to see how you can get connected.
FAQ about 4G vs. 5G
What is 5G?
5G is the fifth generation of wireless cellular technology. It’s in the process of replacing 4G as the predominant network for cellular companies and phone manufacturers. It’s capable of hitting speeds upwards of 1 Gbps (1,000 Mpbs) and uses technology like beamforming and massive MIMO to deliver wireless signals with less interference and more efficiency.
What are the disadvantages of 5G?
The main disadvantage of 5G is that it has very limited availability, at least for now. 5G networks are unavailable in large parts of the United States, especially rural areas and small towns. Even where you can get 5G, you can only access it with a costly 5G phone—and you’ll still spend the majority of your phone time on a 4G LTE network.
This will, no doubt, change in the coming years, as cellular carriers expand their 5G networks and prices drop on 5G phones.
Will 5G work on 4G phones?
5G will not work on a 4G phone. In order to access a 5G network, you need a phone that’s built to pick up cellular frequencies that fall within the typical 5G spectrum, including sub–6 GHz, C-band, and millimeter-wave radio bands.
What phones support 5G?
There are a lot of 5G phones on the market nowadays, since phone manufacturers have been steadily releasing more types over the past few years. But some work better than others. Read our guide to the best 5G phones for our top recommendations.
- iPhone 13 Pro. The superbly designed new iPhone comes in a variety of styles and setups.
- Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G. A luxurious phone that gives you millimeter-wave 5G speeds and a beautiful display.
- Samsung Galaxy A42 5G. The go-to pick for budget 5G phones—it even has C-band and millimeter-wave.
- OnePlus 9 Pro. It’s all about the features and cameras on this generously appointed beast of a device.
Data as of 3/2/23. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
Amazon.com Price as of 3/2/23. Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon.com at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. HighSpeedInternet.com utilizes paid Amazon links.
What frequency is 5G?
Low- and mid-band versions of 5G use some of the same frequency bands as 4G, ranging between 600 MHz–4.2 GHz. Then there’s high-band 5G, which uses millimeter-wave bands in the range of 25–39 GHz.
Why is 5G bad?
5G is not inherently bad, but the emergence of 5G has awakened widespread health fears and rumors about the effects it could have on the public.
Medical professionals and scientists attest that 5G does not pose any kind of public health risk.6 It does not cause COVID-19, as some online trolls have claimed. It also won’t give you cancer or burn your skin. Millimeter-wave 5G signals do not penetrate the skin and are not transmitted at a high enough wattage to have any impact on your body.
What is 5G NR?
5G NR is a type of radio interface that lets you connect to a 5G network. The NR means New Radio and it basically refers to the new spectrum of frequencies that 5G uses to provide an internet connection over a phone or other cellular device.
Although some have compared 5G NR to terms like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, in reality the term is somewhat outdated. The term 5G NR was circulating a lot as 5G was in the development stage in the late 2010s, but most experts nowadays simply use 5G as the go-to term to describe this latest generation of wireless technology.
- Richard Galazzo, Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks (CENGN), “Timeline from 1G to 5G: A Brief History on Cell Phones,” September 21, 2020. Accessed February 4, 2021.
- Francesco Rizzato, Opensignal, “Mobile Network Experience Report,” July 2023. Accessed October 13, 2023.
- Francesco Rizzato, Opensignal, “5G Experience Report,” July 2023. Accessed October 13, 2023.
- Sascha Segan, PC Mag, “What Is C-Band, and What Does It Mean for the Future of 5G?,” December 29, 2020.
- T-Mobile, “T‑Mobile Nearly Doubles Its Supercharged Mid‑Band 5g in Just One Month,” October 28, 2020. Accessed February 4, 2021.
- William J. Broad, The New York Times, “The 5G Health Hazard That Isn’t,” July 16, 2019. Accessed February 15, 2021.
- Stephen Shankland, Shara Tibken, CNET, “5G Latency: Why Speeding Up Networks Matters,” July 1, 2021. Accessed July 1, 2021.
- i-SCOOP, “What the Internet of Everything Really Is—A Deep Dive.” Accessed November 10, 2021.
- Francesco Rizzatto, “Quantifying the MmWave 5G Experience in the US—July Update,” July 2021. Accessed November 10, 2021.
Author - Peter Holslin
Peter Holslin has more than a decade of experience working as a writer and freelance journalist. He graduated with a BA in liberal arts and journalism from New York City’s The New School University in 2008 and went on to contribute to publications like Rolling Stone, VICE, BuzzFeed, and countless others. At HighSpeedInternet.com, he focuses on covering 5G, nerding out about frequency bands and virtual RAN, and producing reviews on emerging services like 5G home internet. He also writes about internet providers and packages, hotspots, VPNs, and Wi-Fi troubleshooting.
Editor - Aaron Gates