In the present day, virtually every flagship smartphone, whether it runs on Android or iOS, has the capability to connect to the 5G networks established by major US carriers over the past few years. The introduction of this new 5G technology was anticipated to herald an era of exceptionally high-speed mobile connections, where we could effortlessly download large files within seconds and stream 4K video or enjoy console-quality gameplay via cloud services. However, as with many bold claims about next-generation technology, the real-world experience often falls short of such ambitious promises.
To be fair, 5G undeniably offers faster speeds compared to its predecessor, the 4G LTE networks. In certain scenarios, 5G networks do deliver the rapid speeds initially advertised. Nevertheless, it’s essential to recognize that not all 5G networks are created equal, and even if your smartphone indicates a 5G connection, it’s improbable that you’re actually utilizing a “true” 5G connection.
High, mid, and low-band 5G
Indeed, the world of 5G isn’t as straightforward as it might initially seem. There are multiple versions of 5G, each with its own set of characteristics in terms of connection speeds, ranges, and coverage zones:
- High-band 5G (Millimeter Wave or mmWave 5G): This is often considered the “true” 5G, capable of delivering download speeds up to 10 times faster than 4G LTE. However, high-band 5G comes with certain limitations. It requires a completely new cell tower infrastructure, and connections are susceptible to interference and limited by distance. The ultra-fast speeds promised by high-band 5G are often experienced in relatively small and densely populated urban areas.
- Low-band 5G: Low-band 5G, on the other hand, offers only modest speed improvements, typically around 20% faster than 4G LTE at best. In some cases, there may be no discernible difference from 4G LTE. What sets it apart is that it can work alongside existing 4G LTE networks, making it easier to roll out and extending coverage to more areas.
- Mid-band 5G: Mid-band 5G represents a recent addition to the 5G spectrum and provides a compromise between high-band and low-band variants. It offers speeds significantly faster than LTE (approximately six times faster), a more extended connection range than high-band, and better availability compared to high-band 5G.
It’s worth noting that even within each of these three categories, there are further variations based on the specific wavelengths used. However, broadly speaking, these specifications are consistent among the three major US carriers: T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon. What varies significantly is how each carrier names and differentiates between high, mid, and low-band 5G, leading to potential confusion for consumers.
As the 5G landscape continues to evolve and expand, it’s important for users to understand which version of 5G is available in their area and what kind of performance they can realistically expect from their 5G-enabled devices.