How to & Guides

How Fast is 5G? A Comprehensive Guide to 5G Speeds

Cell phone tower shooting off pink beams with a 5G logo next to it.

The advent of 5G technology has revolutionized cellular networks. In the past couple of years, U.S. carriers have extensively deployed their 5G networks, making it available to over 90% of the population. It’s now uncommon to find a modern smartphone without some form of 5G connectivity[^1^].

If you have recently upgraded your phone or live in an area covered by 5G, chances are that you have already experienced its benefits. However, with all the buzz surrounding 5G, you might be curious about how fast it truly is and whether it lives up to the hype[^2^].

Similar to the 4G/LTE networks that have been around for a while, multiple factors determine the speed and reliability of 5G. These factors include the type of phone you have, your carrier, proximity to reliable towers, and the number of users sharing those towers. However, these factors have a more significant impact on 5G due to its broader spectrum of frequencies[^3^].

While 5G offers numerous advantages over its predecessors, it has had its fair share of challenges. Fortunately, performance and coverage across all carriers have significantly improved over the last two years. Now, let’s explore everything you need to know about 5G speeds[^4^].

Theoretical 5G Speed

Samsung Galaxy A14 5G held in hand showing off exterior.

In theory, 5G promises to reach staggering speeds of up to 10Gbps. However, it’s crucial to remember that these are theoretical maximums rarely achieved in real-world scenarios[^5^].

It’s important to note that the 10Gbps number refers to the combined bandwidth available to all 5G devices connected to a single radio transceiver on a cellular tower. Individual devices lack the necessary hardware to achieve such speeds, even when in close proximity to a tower. The 10Gbps bandwidth is meant to be shared among dozens or even hundreds of devices, ensuring optimal performance for everyone. This principle is similar to how Wi-Fi 6 routers function in homes[^6^].

In reality, consumer devices are unlikely to reach these peak 5G speeds, especially before the introduction of next-generation 6G technology. However, it’s worth noting that technological advancements can surprise us, just as previous generations of wireless technology have exceeded expectations[^7^].

To provide some perspective, here is a table comparing the theoretical speeds of 5G technology with previous wireless generations[^8^]:

Generation Theoretical Speed (Gbps)
3G 0.3
4G LTE-A 1
5G (Low Band) 5
5G (Mid Band) 20
5G (High Band) 100
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It’s important to understand that these numbers represent theoretical maximums and not real-world achievable speeds. The actual speeds on each generation may vary due to network conditions and other factors[^9^].

Real-World 5G Download Speeds

Hand holding three phones from three different carriers.

Determining actual download speeds on 5G networks is more complex due to the variety of 5G “flavors” available. Unlike previous cellular technologies, 5G covers a wider range of frequencies, each offering different speeds. However, the fastest speeds are often found in limited areas[^10^].

5G frequencies can be categorized into three distinct groups: low-band, mid-band, and high-band mmWave. Low-band 5G operates below 2.3GHz, offering extensive coverage but speeds similar to 4G/LTE in many cases. The same frequencies are shared by both 4G/LTE and 5G, leading to potential speed reductions for 5G users due to prioritization of older devices. On the other hand, high-band mmWave operates in the exceptionally high 24GHz range, delivering incredibly fast speeds but limited coverage. Midrange 5G, encompassing frequencies around 2.5GHz and the 3.7-3.98GHz C-band, strikes a balance between coverage and performance[^11^].

Additionally, the availability of bandwidth affects overall speeds. Towers have a finite amount of bandwidth shared among all connected devices. For instance, heavily populated areas such as stadiums and airports require the fastest mmWave transceivers to serve large crowds vying for 5G service[^12^].

To understand real-world 5G speeds, let’s examine the deployment strategies of major U.S. carriers:

  • T-Mobile was the first to roll out a nationwide 5G network covering all 50 states using its low-band 600MHz spectrum, which offers broader coverage but modest speeds.
  • AT&T deployed most of its low-band 5G on the 850MHz and 1900MHz (1.9GHz) range, sharing it with its 4G/LTE infrastructure using Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS).
  • Verizon, the last to achieve nationwide coverage in late 2022, also utilized its low-band spectrum in a similar manner to AT&T[^13^].

Initial deployments of 5G networks resulted in speeds that were often similar to or even slower than 4G/LTE. In fact, Verizon faced criticism for its DSS performance in 2020, with users advised to disable 5G[^14^].

However, significant improvements have occurred since then. T-Mobile introduced its 5G Ultra Capacity network, utilizing mid-band 2.5GHz frequencies acquired through its merger with Sprint. Verizon and AT&T also joined the race, deploying their respective C-band spectrum to enhance performance. Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network has expanded beyond mmWave coverage, while AT&T has gradually introduced its own C-band spectrum[^15^].

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As a result, most urban areas now enjoy mid-band 5G coverage on Verizon and T-Mobile networks. Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network encompasses over 200 million people, while T-Mobile’s 5G Ultra Capacity covers 275 million and aims to reach 300 million by the end of 2023. AT&T’s 5G Plus network, available in limited areas, lags behind in terms of coverage[^16^].

Market reports from Ookla and Opensignal provide valuable insights into 5G performance across the U.S. These reports measure median and average download speeds and other performance metrics. As of the latest reports, T-Mobile leads with an average download speed of around 200Mbps, followed by Verizon at around 100Mbps, and AT&T at 80Mbps[^17^].

Median and average speeds should not be considered as the maximum achievable speeds. Many T-Mobile and Verizon customers have experienced peak 5G speeds exceeding 1Gbps, especially in mmWave coverage. T-Mobile is also exploring 5G carrier aggregation technology that combines mid-band frequencies to potentially reach speeds of up to 3Gbps[^18^].

Latency and 5G Speed

OnePlus Nord N300 5G speed test.

Although high download speeds may seem impressive, they are not always necessary for typical smartphone usage. Activities such as web browsing, instant messaging, and gaming rely on numerous small data exchanges. In these cases, low latency, the time taken to establish connections over a digital network, is more important.

5G technology significantly reduces latency compared to 3G and 4G. This low latency improves responsiveness and enables new applications in the Internet of Things. The Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance suggests that 5G networks aim for a latency of 10ms in general and 1ms for special cases requiring even lower latency. Moreover, the alliance suggests that minimum data rates of 50Mbps should be available everywhere, while specific environments like indoor offices could support up to 1Gbps[^19^].

Interestingly, even with slower download speeds, Verizon often outperforms other carriers in terms of 5G gaming experiences. Additionally, both Verizon and T-Mobile demonstrate similar multi-server latency in reports by Ookla[^20^].

How Fast is 5G in 2023?

How fast is 5G? What you need to know about 5G speeds.

While 5G service and phones are now widely available, it’s important to manage expectations. 5G is not a superfast replacement for 4G in its entirety, and its full potential may not be realized for individuals expecting blazing-fast download speeds. The reality is that achieving ultrafast 5G performance everywhere would require an impractical number of towers across the country. Recent reports indicate that average speeds are plateauing around the 200Mbps mark[^21^].

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However, the true value of 5G lies in its other improvements, such as low latency, which enhances the responsiveness of smartphones and enables technologies like autonomous cars to exchange data almost instantly. Additionally, low-band 5G frequencies will no longer need to share the network with previous generations, resulting in improved speeds for users in less populated areas[^22^].

Ultimately, the success of 5G is not solely measured by raw download speeds but by the overall benefits it brings. It ushers in a new era of connectivity and paves the way for innovative applications in various industries. While the dream of universal ultrafast 5G speeds may remain elusive, the advantages of 5G extend far beyond raw numbers[^23^].

Editors’ Recommendations

  • T-Mobile’s huge lead in 5G speeds isn’t going anywhere
  • What is RAM? Here’s everything you need to know
  • Live in a rural area? Verizon 5G is about to get better for you
  • Here’s how fast 5G on your Samsung Galaxy S23 really is
  • What is 5G UW? The real meaning behind the icon on your phone

[^1^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^2^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^3^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^4^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^5^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^6^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^7^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^8^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^9^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^10^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^11^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^12^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^13^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^14^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^15^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^16^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^17^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^18^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^19^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^20^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^21^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^22^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).
[^23^]: Source: Digital Trends (link: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/how-fast-is-5g-speed/).

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