Why Your 5G Device Still Needs Fiber Internet

Erin Ellison By Erin Ellison November 11, 2021

Summary: 5G speeds — and 5G-capable cell phones — are already arriving. But 5G isn’t going to replace the need for fiber internet. In fact, it makes fiber even more important. Find out more about how the two work together, and why fiber is still the best option for home internet.

We’ve talked a lot about 5G for your mobile phone and the way it’s going to affect technology — some of which we probably can’t even imagine today. But for most people, using 5G isn’t a reality yet. And even when it’s more fully available, it will likely be for mobile devices more than for home internet — in the same way that 4G LTE is used for mobile devices (and wireless home internet in harder-to-reach areas).

But the truth is that 5G tech needs fiber internet to really shine. Let’s take a look at how the two work together.

Wait, What is 5G?

Need a quick refresher? 5G is the latest technology in mobile phone networks. It stands for fifth generation and uses different radio wave frequencies than 4G does. It promises better speeds (with some predictions of download speeds up to 20 Gbps), but requires the rollout of new infrastructure. That is, lots of fiber optic internet infrastructure.

Illustration of a cell phone tower that is wired into the internet below ground. The text reads: Fiber is the backbone of the internet, regardless of what type of internet you actually have coming to your house. Cell towers, including the ones that deliver 5G, are wired into the internet the same way homes are.

And 5G is only available in select areas and hasn’t yet reached its potential fastest speeds. In fact, the biggest benefits probably won’t start showing up until about 2023. But that’s normal — technology needs a moment to catch up. Even 4G LTE didn’t revolutionize cell phone apps and capabilities until about three years after its debut.

What Does Fiber Have to Do with 5G?

Maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, but what does my cell phone have to do with fiber internet?” A few things!

Fiber is the backbone of the internet, regardless of what type of internet you actually have coming to your home. Cell towers — including the ones that deliver 5G — are wired into the internet the same way homes are. And there’s simply not enough fiber in the ground yet for 5G speeds to realize their full potential.

Fiber optic networks are the best way to transfer the terabytes of data needed once all our devices are connected to 5G. And, even today, our fiber networks have larger capacity and faster capabilities than current technology supports.

One study in the Nature Communications journal sent 44 Tbps (terabytes per second) of data over a single strand of fiber. That’s roughly one million times faster than the U.S. user’s current internet speed (99.3 Mbps compared to 44,000,000 Mbps). Now that’s fast fiber internet!

So, while the gold standard for internet today is 1 Gbps, it’s clear that there’s tons of room to grow.

Without the expansion of fiber internet, 5G speeds are just a pipe dream. But with fiber internet? The internet of things could reach a whole new level. And that also means tremendous advancements for internet deserts and underserved or rural areas when it comes to things like 5G wireless home internet — more to come on that as technologies develop.

What About 5G Devices?

If you want to take advantage of 5G wherever you can get it, you’ll need 5G-capable devices. For now, that mostly means mobile phones. Any new cell phone (think the iPhone 13, Samsung Galaxy S21, and Google Pixel 5a, among others) is designed to take advantage of 5G networks and connect to them when possible.

But to see these devices functioning at their best while you’re home, fiber internet is the way to go. Wouldn’t it be a drag to get used to blazing-fast speeds when you’re on the go and then have to adjust to a slow connection whenever you’re relaxing at home? Not to mention, 5G is currently only able to travel very short distances. The 5G signal is easily obstructed by things like trees and other buildings, so it’s not practical for covering large areas.

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To solve that, 5G needs a fiber network to transmit the signal to multiple points, reconnect through those physical barriers, and have the bandwidth to support millions of users at once.

We can’t wait to see where 5G technology takes us, but it’s clear that future advancements for this technology must build on current fiber internet infrastructure (and its expansion) to get there.


If you’re ready to take advantage of the fastest speeds available, check out EarthLink high-speed internet or get in touch with one of our Internet Experts today at 866-383-3080 to find the plan that fits your life. Are you in the market for a 5G-capable cell phone (or mobile provider)? We’ve got you covered.

Erin Ellison

Erin Ellison

Erin Ellison is the Director of Content & SEO for EarthLink. She has more than 15 years of writing experience for businesses, agencies, and the media. Her superpower is translating complicated tech jargon into language we can all understand. She currently lives and works in Atlanta. Connect with Erin on LinkedIn.

See all posts from Erin Ellison.

Filed Under: Mobile

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