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5G Speed: How to Understand the Numbers

How fast is 5G and how does it compare to 4G and LTE?

5G is the next generation of high-speed wireless Internet. Beat 4G in speed by at least less a factor of 10, and it’s still faster than most people get from their cable broadband connection at home.

While that may sound impressive, it’s also hard to realize what it really means to you when you’re using your phone or downloading something from home to your computer. How is 5G faster when it comes to regular tasks like downloading apps and streaming movies?

It’s easy to talk about how 5G can change the world, like enabling enhanced VR and AR experiences, holographic phone calls, interconnected smart cities, and more. However, to understand how fast it really is, let’s look at some more relevant concrete examples. .

5G speed: what the standards demand

For a network to be considered 5G, it must meet certain rules set by government authorities such as 3GPP. One of these specifications is the upload and download speed.

There is a minimum maximum download rate and a minimum maximum upload rate for a network to be called 5G networkwhich means that each 5G base station must support speeds at least this quick:

  • 5G maximum download speed: 20 Gb/s (gigabits per second), or 20 480 Mb/s (megabits per second)
  • 5G maximum download speed: 10 Gb/s (gigabits per second), or 10240 Mb/s (megabits per second)

Note that these speeds are the same, they just use a different unit of measure. Also remember that bits are not the same as bytes (the measurements above are written in bits).

Convert gigabits to megabytes and gigabytes

Since there are eight bits in each byte, to convert those 5G speeds into megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB), you need to divide by eight. Many measurements are in these units rather than megabits and gigabits, so it’s important to understand both.

We find the same 5G speeds but in bytes instead of bits:

  • 5G maximum download speed: 2.5 GB/s (gigabytes per second) or 2560 MB/s (megabytes per second)
  • 5G maximum download speed: 1.25 GB/s (gigabytes per second) or 1280 MB/s (megabytes per second)

Minimum latency requirement

5G also has a minimum latency requirement. Latency refers to the amount of time between when the cell tower sends data and the destination device (such as your phone) receives the data.

5G requires a minimum latency of just 4 ms, assuming ideal conditions are met, but could drop as low as 1 ms for some forms of communication, particularly ultra-reliable, low-latency communications (URLLC).

For comparison, the latency on a 4G network can be around 50-100ms, which is actually more than twice as fast as the old 3G network.

Actual 5G network speeds

The metrics listed above reflect 5G speeds under ideal conditions, with no latency or interference, and only if your device is the only one using that 5G cell.

Each 5G cell supports at least one million devices per square kilometer. The upload and download speed is divided equally between each device in the same cell.

In other words, mobile device users may not experience maximum upload/download speeds. However, it’s possible to get these speeds if you’re using a dedicated fixed wireless access (FWA) system where you don’t have to share bandwidth with other users.

For example, UK mobile network operator Three achieved an impressive 2Gbps download speed in a fixed wireless access (FWA) environment, but Three expects that type of user to only get 80-100Mb/s.

That said, how fast is 5G, Really? If I were to sign up now, what Internet speeds could I expect?

Factors Affecting Speed

Unfortunately, the answer is not that simple. Actual 5G speeds depend not only on where you are when accessing the network, but also on other factors, such as the hardware you’re using, the speeds the network is capable of, the number of other users sharing more than 20 Gb/s and what kind of interference is at play between you and the cell delivering 5G.

With Verizon, for example, being one of the first companies to launch 5G in the US, we can see that a Verizon 5G Home user with FWA can get anywhere from 300Mbps to 1Gbps. Verizon’s 5G broadband service not only guarantees such speeds, but users report the same.

speed predictions

Beyond the statistics that we can collect today with live 5G networks, these are the speculations made by the operators. T-Mobile, for example, lists 450 Mbps as the average speed a user can expect; this should reach 4 Gb/s by 2024.

Some companies have measured a lot faster 5G speeds. The Japanese NTT DOCOMO achieved more than 25 Gbps in a 5G test with a moving vehicle.

That said, it’s still important to remember all the factors at play that affect 5G speed. Being indoors can sometimes slow down significantly, and getting around in a car or even walking down the street can stop top speeds.

What does 5G wireless speed mean to you?

As we mentioned before, without examples it can be difficult to visualize what you can do on a 5G network versus a 4G network or any other slower connection.

Consider this: Download a movie that is 3GB in size, using 5G, 4G, 4G LTE, and 3G networks. Here’s how long it can take to download the movie on these different types of mobile networks (using realistic speeds, not maximum speeds):

  • 3G: 1 hour, 8 minutesone
  • 4G: 40 minutestwo
  • 4G-LTE: 27 minutes3
  • Gigabit-LTE: 61 seconds4
  • 5G: 35 seconds5

Remember that these numbers are just averages. If your 5G connection reached speeds of 20Gb/s, the same movie could be recorded in the blink of an eye, in just over a second.

How fast is 5G really?

Here are some other examples of how long it would take to download files of different sizes on a 5G network, assuming different speeds:

  • 1GB/second: Two seconds to download 75 JPG images (300 MB total)
  • 5GB/s: Eight seconds to download two complete seasons of Office (about 5 GB) via Netflix
  • 15GB/s: One minute to download a 105GB file of your online backed up data
  • 20GB/s: Less than two minutes to download Avatar: Special Edition (276GB)

Of course, everything of your online activities are faster on 5G, but looking at really big files, like the examples above, really shows how blazingly fast things can be on 5G.

1) If the 3G connection averaged 6 Mb/s (0.75 MB/s), a 3 GB (3072 MB) file would take over an hour to download (3072/0.75/60) .

2) With an average download speed of 10 Mb/s (1.25 MB/s), a 3 GB (3072 MB) movie can be fully downloaded in just over 40 minutes (3072/1.25/60) .

3) With an average download speed of 15 Mb/s (1.87 MB/s) for 4G LTE, you can download a 3 GB (3072 MB) file in just over 27 minutes (3072/1, 87/60 ).

4) With a download speed of 400 Mb/s (50 MB/s), a 3 GB file (3072 MB) would take a little over a minute to download (3072/50).

5) Assuming a download speed of 700 Mb/s (87.5 MB/s), a 3 GB (3072 MB) file could be downloaded in just 35 seconds (3072/87.5).

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