A Basic Guide to Wireless Network Technology: 5G, 4G, and More

5G network technology has finally arrived across much of the country. 5G is the new state-of-the-art for wireless users, delivering increased connection speeds and improved call quality, offering lightning-fast speeds along rapidly upgrading networks.

But for many casual wireless users, the distinction between 5G and its predecessors—and how, or if, it will impact them—can be confusing. Here’s what you need to know to compare 5G vs. 4G vs. 4G LTE technologies.

First, it’s important to understand what “5G” means. The “G” stands for “Generation”—meaning this is the fifth generation of mobile networks since the industry started. It is a new global wireless standard, following 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks that preceded it. The technological advancements of 5G (providing higher data speeds during peak usage times, reducing lag time, etc.) were driven by the need to keep pace with the explosive growth of wireless use since the last standard (4G) was rolled out in 2010.

You’ll also sometimes see the term “LTE”, or 4G LTE. What is LTE? LTE stands for “Long Term Evolution” and is a marketing phrase to signify progression toward true 4G. It’s slower than “true” 4G but significantly faster than 3G, which originally had data rates measured in kilobits per second rather than megabits per second.

All of this is to say that mobile networks have a limited amount of bandwidth to operate on. This means that when a new “Generation” of technology is rolled out, an older one has to be turned off to make room for it on the network. In the case of 5G, it will be replacing the oldest “Generation” which was still in use, 3G. 3G networks have been in use since 2001, and providers expect them to be out of service by the end of 2022, if not sooner.

Whether or not you need to act quickly to replace your wireless device depends entirely on how old it is. If you are still using a flip phone or smartphone that connects to wireless networks using 3G technology, you can expect less than a year or less of use before you will be unable to make or receive calls, or connect to mobile data, with it.

Consumer Cellular now offers a wide variety of phones which are compatible with 5G networks. However, if you have a phone purchased in the last few years that uses 4G (or 4g LTE), you probably won’t need to make a change anytime soon. As we see from 3G, the lifespan of each “Generation” of wireless technology lasts for around 20 years, so you’ll likely be able to stay connected using 4G for at least another ten years (though your phone itself may not perform satisfactorily for that long).

For most users, the faster speeds provided by 5G networks will be noticeable primarily when performing data-heavy tasks with your phone, like streaming high-definition video or downloading large files. If these are important to you, upgrading to a 5G device will be a definite benefit. However, if you are satisfied with the performance of your current phone using 4G or 4G LTE networks, this standard will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

14 Thoughts on "A Basic Guide to Wireless Network Technology: 5G, 4G, and More"

  1. Bob Wagner says

    You left out the part about 5g that coverage (physical distance) is not near as good as 4g. To really use 5g you must now be within 2 miles of the tower, whereas 4g was about 5 miles, rather significant difference. So unless WAY more towers are put up 5G is rather insignificant to those of us not in a big city. Especially when a 5G phone is 2-3x more expensive than a 4G phone.

    reply to Bob

  2. Rick says

    Will 5g give a better receiption in dead zones

    reply to Rick

    • Nicole at Consumer Cellular says

      Hi Rick, that will vary depending on where 5G towers are implemented. We can definitely check your area if you give us a call at 888-345-5509 or chat with us here.

      reply to Nicole

  3. William says

    I can’t find the promotion you had on basic flip phones.

    reply to William

    • Nicole at Consumer Cellular says

      Hi William, we don’t currently have any promotions running on our phones. If you received something in the mail, I recommend giving us a call at 888-345-5509 or chatting with us here.

      reply to Nicole

  4. Deanna McFarland says

    When will you have VOLTE hot spots available I understand our current 4G LTE hot spot will not compatible after February ’22. We live in a rural area where we can’t get a cable company to install internet. I have looked online to replace & many tech stores no place have them available.

    reply to Deanna

  5. Dale says

    I’m considering purchasing a new phone, but what I need to know is if I purchase a 5G phone will it still connect to 4G. I live in a VERY rural area where towers are few and far between.

    reply to Dale

  6. Jan says

    One thing you didn’t mention is how can I tell if my phone is 5G compatible or what “generation” my phone is. How do I know if I’m going to be out of luck when 3G is turned off?

    reply to Jan

    • Nicole at Consumer Cellular says

      Hi Jan, since the available 5G phones on the market are limited, they will normally say “5G” in the name. We’d be happy to check if your phone will continue to work as 3G service is phased out if you give us a call at 888-345-5509 or chat with us here.

      reply to Nicole

  7. Rita DeVern says

    I live in Gastonia NC.,Crowders Mtn. Area
    I can’t make a call from where I live . I’m going to have to change carriers.

    reply to Rita

  8. Anita Beggs says

    I just moved from Verizon to Consumer Cellular this month. I have a Moto G Stylus phone – 4G LTE. CC sent me a sim card and it works great. Last week I received an email saying I must purchase a new phone within 30 days, because after that, mine won’t work for voice calls with new VoLTE & 5G services. HOWEVER one of the phones CC sells is the Moto G Stylus. Customer service is unable to explain why the phone I JUST paid off two weeks ago is now unusable. It would seem to me there must be a way to program the current device or something… ? It’s the same phone they are willing to sell me.

    reply to Anita

    • Hi Anita, thanks for your question. When a phone transfers over to our network, we can’t guarantee compatibility for all features. If you’re getting that message regarding your phone, that would mean the VoLTE feature in the current phone isn’t going to be compatible with our network for going forward so the phone will need to be upgraded so that way you don’t lose service.

      reply to Jacob

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