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.