What is the Difference Between 4G and 5G

5G forms a crucial link in the chain of continuous mobile network evolution. As the decade is nearing its end, 5G network deployments continue multiplying as service providers relentlessly push for migration. Touted as the newest entrant in mobile communication technology, 5G promises ultra-high speeds equaling peak data rates of up to 20 gigabits, lower latency and improved flexibility than all the preceding generations of mobile networks.

5G broadens the capabilities of mobile networks to bring connectivity not only among people but also across a wide variety of devices, objects, and machinery, thus finding immense scope and application in areas like industrial IoT, enterprise networking, healthcare, etc. Over the next decade, 5G will eventually outpace 4G to bring extended connectivity and support across a myriad of devices, services, and industries.

The Ericsson Mobility Report estimates a total of 13 million 5G subscriptions by the end of 2019. Rapid developments in networking technologies are paving the way for commercial deployment of 5G at a quicker pace, thus becoming the fastest-deployed mobile communication technology along the line.

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of mobile communication technology that is more advanced, efficient and reliable than the previous generations of cellular networks. More like an upgrade, 5G promises enhanced network performance and zero congestion, which delivers greatly on customer value and enhances the user experience. Working at the millimeter-wave spectrum, 5G uses short frequencies between 30 GHz and 300 GHz that considerably expands the bandwidth to allow higher data transfer capacity.

5G works similar to 4G and other cellular networks as it operates via cell sites or designated pockets of coverage where multiple antennas beam data and voice back and forth over the air. 3GPP, the industry association that sets the standards for mobile telephony, has designated standalone 5G New Radio (NR) as the finalized 5G standard. Utilizing higher frequencies, 5G NR allows higher data transfer rates, reduced latency and an end to network congestion, while also enabling more devices to be used across the same geographical area without any interruptions as compared to 4G.

Another connectivity technology, massive MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) is bringing extended coverage in 5G systems across cell sites by selectively targeting wireless beams at a specific direction in space using multiple antenna systems, via a technique called beamforming. This gives users ample coverage and speeds no matter whether they are stationary or moving. Although most other types of cellular networks and devices rely on several antennas, MIMO used in combination with 5G NR systems differs as it uses algorithms to guide antenna arrays for precisely focusing radio beams at a particular location in space.

How is 5G different than 4G?

Current networks, mostly 4G and its precursors have peaked in capacity and are becoming increasingly saturated. They no longer remain compatible with the growing requirements around speed, reliability, and coverage. A typical 4G mobile network and its more advanced counterparts like LTE have reached their limits when it comes to transferring large quantities of data and is vulnerable to increasing traffic.

At present, most 5G systems are deployed at existing 4G infrastructure. The underlying technology remains the same, but 5G is up with major differences. 5G, although an enhanced version of 4G is clearly different from the latter in terms of technology, speed, bandwidth, latency and a lot of other factors.

Peak Network Speeds in 5G Outclasses that of 4G

Speed is the chief differentiator between 5G and 4G networks. Theoretically, 5G promises ultra-high speeds of several gigabits per second, which is far higher than the most advanced 4G networks currently in operation like the LTE and LTE-A.

To see how really fast 5G is, one can bring numerous factors into the equation like network traffic, device capabilities, coverage, etc. Even when taking all these underlying factors into consideration,  a typical 5G network will give its users average speeds of around 50 Mbps, which still outrivals a 4G network.

Whereas, peak speeds in 5G can escalate anywhere from 1 to 10 Gbps. Gigabit speeds widen the possibilities of the network by opening the doors to multiple use cases for data-rich applications like VR and giving users the ability to download huge files within seconds and live stream ultra high definition or larger bitrate videos without a glitch.

Low Latency Brings Seamless Connectivity to 5G

Low Latency Brings Seamless Connectivity to 5G

5G leads ahead with its reduced latency than 4G that delivers on customer value by offering a uniform user experience and consistent data rates. Latency can be defined as the time taken for data from a device to reach its intended target and back within a network platform. Measured in milliseconds, latency is a crucial part that defines the response time offered through a network, which very much determines the outcome in several real-time scenarios such as gaming.

In 5G networks, the latency is significantly lowered to 1 millisecond as compared to the usual 40 – 50 milliseconds in 4G. On average, 5G can provide a 10-millisecond latency, which still is marginally lower than that of most 4G networks. This considerably improves the response time and delivers faster upload/download speeds than was possible before. Due to its lower latency, 5G adoption is being considered across numerous real-time applications such as self-driving cars, virtual reality, cloud gaming, etc.

5G’s Higher Bandwidths Delivers 100x More Connectivity

5G operates in the millimeter-wave spectrum using high-frequency bands and provides wide transmission bandwidths than a 4G network. This broadens the network capacity to transfer large quantities of information in real-time. New standards like 5G NR use the millimeter-wave spectrum that expands on the bandwidth to accommodate 100 times more devices per unit area compared to 4G LTE thus virtually ending network congestion issues.

It’s more important than ever as the global rates of devices and users continue proliferating. Current networks like 4G can lag when it comes to increased network traffic that severely affects the speed and performance experienced by the user.

Although some like 5G low-band uses relatively lower frequencies, their coverage is limited due to their shorter range and other barriers like the inability to penetrate and pass through buildings. To counteract these, telecom carriers keep coming up with new ways to extend coverage across the unit area such as by dense deployments of small antenna arrays, increasing the small cell sites and switching to newer technologies like MIMO to broaden coverage across the designated areas.

Optimal Efficiency of 5G Networks Leads to Energy Savings

Current 5G architectures like the 5G NR is built to operate at low energy and consumes less than a 4G network. Since most of the energy consumption in cellular networks go into operating the base stations, carriers often have to deal with increasing operational expenditure to keep the systems running. With dense network deployments, come high energy consumption, which is seemingly not the case with 5G. New standards like 5G NR promises a significant reduction in energy usage compared to 4G even when the deployment density is high.

In 5G NR, each base station site can switch off its hardware components to enter a sleep mode or stay active depending on the traffic activity. For instance, a base station can switch to sleep and reduce the power consumed when it detects zero ongoing network activity, thus saving energy in the process. Besides, a 5G network relies on fewer cell-specific reference signals to secure coverage with each user device than 4G, thus extending the sleep periods during times of reduced network activity, resulting in an overall reduction in network energy consumption.

Summing Up

5G rollout continues across the world with several carriers already successfully deploying trial and experimental versions in cities and other high population density areas. In the US, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc. have begun conducting trials at the lower band and brought in nationwide rollout covering its major cities. Whereas in South Korea 5G was launched commercially this year by leading carriers such as SK Telecom, KT, and LG Uplus with subscription rates soaring ever since.

In the coming years, 5G trials will yield successful results and eventually will turn out completely interdependent of 4G. Its higher speeds, latency, and reliability brings greater advantage to users in terms of the experience offered, thereby prompting users to switch to 5G from their current networks. This will open up a radically new world of enhanced connectivity, which will usher in far-reaching transformations across diverse areas of human activity.

Tony JosephTechnology
5G forms a crucial link in the chain of continuous mobile network evolution. As the decade is nearing its end, 5G network deployments continue multiplying as service providers relentlessly push for migration. Touted as the newest entrant in mobile communication technology, 5G promises ultra-high speeds equaling peak data rates...