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What is 5G? A Comprehensive Guide to the Mobile Technology

Date Published:  December 15th, 2023Date Updated:  December 28, 2023

By now, you’ve heard of 5G. You might already know it’s used to connect your cell phone to faster data speeds. But how much do you really know about the technology?

For instance, do you know what 5G WiFi is? Did you know 5G can be used to connect to the internet at home? Whether you’re trying to figure out what 5G is, how it differs from 4G, or finding the right internet connection for you, we’ve got all the answers you’re looking for and more in this post.

What is 5G?

5G, which stands for “5th generation,” is the latest wireless network technology, following 4G. It’s the fifth interaction of this type of technology and the current standard for this generation of wireless networks. Initially, 5G was released in 2019 to commercial outlets before being offered to the general public.

5G is much faster than previous generations, allowing you to download and upload content at speeds you couldn’t before. 5G technology enhances wireless data speeds for mobile phones, residential internet services, industrial Internet of Things (IoT) applications, and dedicated 5G networks.

5G also connects more devices at once, making everything from your phone to smart home devices work better together. Plus, it reduces delays, so things like video calls and online games are smoother. In short, 5G is all about faster speeds, more reliable connections, and supporting more of your devices at once.

What came before 5G?

If you look at the very start of modern wireless networks, it’s been a long time coming for 5G! Starting in the 1980s with 1G, here’s a look at the generations that came before:

  • 1st Generation (1G): The era of 1G marked the birth of mobile communication, primarily focusing on voice. Using analog technology, it enabled users to make their first wireless calls, freeing them from the constraints of fixed lines. Notably, the Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) system started in Scandinavia in 1981, and the Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS) was launched in the United States in 1983. However, 1G had limitations in terms of coverage, call quality, and security.
  • 2nd Generation (2G): Transitioning to digital technology in the early 1990s, 2G introduced essential services like SMS (Short Message Service), which transformed the way we communicate by allowing text messaging. It also offered better call quality, greater capacity, and introduced data services, albeit at slow speeds, laying the groundwork for future mobile internet applications.
  • 3rd Generation (3G): 3G was a significant leap forward in the early 2000s, providing the necessary speeds to make mobile internet and data services practical. This generation ushered in the era of smartphones, allowing for more complex data services like video calling and mobile internet browsing, fundamentally changing how we accessed information on the go.
  • 4th Generation (4G) and 4G LTE: 4G and its advanced version, 4G LTE, brought about a revolution in mobile broadband by 2009. With significantly faster data speeds, it enabled high-definition mobile video, high-speed internet access, and advanced gaming experiences. This generation laid the foundation for many of the modern mobile applications and services we rely on today, setting the stage for the seamless connectivity that 5G promises to enhance.

How does 5G work?

There are three types of 5G — low-band, mid-band, and high-band. Each type serves a different purpose, and all three offer unique speeds:

Low-band: can more easily blanket large areas and travel farther. This is the slowest of the 5G options, but it’s still noticeably faster than 4G.

Mid-band: this is the ideal spot between speed and coverage. A limited number of cell phone carriers are currently equipped for mid-band 5G.

High-band: this frequency offers the fastest speeds from 5G, but is easily obstructed by trees and buildings, making it only suitable for covering a small area. This is also called millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G.

What is 5G home internet?

5G WiFi or home internet refers to the use of 5G technology to provide residential internet services. Unlike traditional broadband, 5G home internet is wireless, relying on 5G networks to deliver internet access to homes. This is particularly beneficial in areas where traditional broadband infrastructure is lacking.

Typically, providers of 5G and 4G wireless internet will provide plans based on data consumption. Unlike traditional cable, fiber, or other internet connections, consumers won’t select a speed when purchasing an internet plan. Wireless home internet will provide you with the fastest mobile speeds available nearby but will be limited based on the data plan chosen.

EarthLink’s 5G home internet uses advanced cell site technology to provide high-speed, wireless internet access to your devices. With the provided router device in your home, you’ll connect to the nearest 5G and 4G LTE signals. This signal is then converted into a Wi-Fi network, offering you fast and reliable internet connectivity. This approach brings the benefits of 5G speeds and wireless convenience directly into your home, especially in areas lacking traditional broadband infrastructure.

EarthLink’s 5G-powered Wireless Home Internet

When it comes to finding the internet that’s right for you, EarthLink will help you choose the best plan for your lifestyle, wallet, and needs. With EarthLink Wireless Home Internet, you can link up to nearby 5G and 4G LTE signals to power your connection today. Go wire-free with a secure signal, using the fastest speeds available on the data plan that’s right for you.

With quick and easy installation, you can be surfing in no time — now with unlimited data!*

How 5G compares to other internet options

What is the difference between 4G and 5G?

If you’re wondering what the difference between 5G is and 4G, you’re not alone. As technology changes rapidly in this modern age, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s new and what’s right for you.

5G operates on different radio frequencies compared to 4G, enabling it to handle more data at higher speeds. This makes 5G ideal for a range of applications, from streaming high-definition content to supporting emerging tech.

Here’s the full breakdown on how 5G differs from 4G technology.

  • Speed: 5G offers significantly higher speeds than 4G, with potential peak speeds up to 100 times faster, enabling quicker downloads and efficient data handling.
  • Latency: 5G dramatically reduces latency to as low as 1 millisecond compared to 4G, enhancing responsiveness for various applications like gaming and video conferencing.
  • Frequency Bands: 5G utilizes higher frequency bands, including millimeter-wave, allowing for faster data transfer but requiring more transmitters for coverage.
  • Network Architecture: 5G networks are more software-centric, allowing greater flexibility and adaptability compared to the hardware-based 4G networks.
  • Application Impact: 5G’s higher speed and lower latency enable advanced applications like real-time data analytics, autonomous vehicles, and smart cities, surpassing 4G’s capabilities.

In short, 5G is a substantial upgrade over 4G, offering faster speeds, lower latency, and supporting more advanced tech.

What is the difference between 5G and LTE?

LTE, or Long-Term Evolution, provides significant improvements to both speed and latency when compared to 3G.

You often see LTE associated with 4G because it was the foundational technology for 4G networks, serving as a bridge between 3G and the fully realized 4G capabilities. LTE set the stage for the faster and more reliable mobile internet experiences we enjoy today.

In the simplest terms, 4G LTE and 5G both provide fast mobile connectivity, but 5G is faster and more reliable. New 5G technology sets the stage for connected devices and tech that requires large amount of data transmission. Think of it as the tool that will help us move forward with technologies like autonomous vehicles, advanced augmented reality experiences, and more.

What is 5G Plus (5G+)?

5G+ refers to AT&T’s mid- and high-band 5G. This isn’t a new technology, but rather a marketing phrase for AT&T’s higher speeds available with limited range and coverage.

Comparing 5G to fiber internet

5G and fiber internet are both technologies that deliver high-speed internet, but they do so in fundamentally different ways.

5G Internet is a wireless technology. It transmits data through airwaves, similar to how your mobile phone receives a cellular signal. This makes 5G highly flexible and mobile, providing fast internet access without the need for physical cables. 5G is ideal for devices that need to stay connected on the go, like smartphones and laptops.

On the other hand, fiber internet uses physical cables made of thin glass or plastic fibers to transmit data using light. This method is incredibly efficient, offering some of the fastest internet speeds available.

Fiber internet is known for its stability and consistent high speeds. Unlike 5G, it’s unaffected by the distance between your location and the service provider. This type of internet is great for homes and businesses that need reliable, high-capacity internet. With fiber, you can perform tasks with large amounts of data, like streaming high-definition videos, video conferencing, and large file transfers.

Is 5G the same as fixed wireless?

The short answer is no. There’s a common misconception between consumers and even providers that 5G, wireless internet, and fixed wireless are the same. 5G and fixed wireless are distinct technologies for internet access, each with its own strengths.

5G is the cutting-edge technology mainly known for mobile use, providing high-speed internet on smartphones. 5G can give you internet on your phone or other devices through wireless internet, but it’s different from fixed wireless technology.

Fixed wireless internet is a stationary solution that connects your home to the internet using a wireless signal from a nearby point-of-presence (PoPs). These PoPs can be buildings, towers, or other tall structures that provide an prime vantage point for sending the wireless signal.

Fixed wireless is particularly useful in rural or remote areas where traditional broadband isn’t available.

In summary, 5G provides fast, mobile, and versatile internet access, while fixed wireless is a reliable solution for stationary internet. You can use both to power internet in your home or business, but they are not the same!

How fast is 5G? (Really)

5G technology represents a significant leap forward in internet speed and connectivity. Theoretical peak speeds for 5G can reach up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps), which is about 100 times faster than the typical 4G speeds. Sounds like an upgrade, right?

In real-world usage, though, users can expect average speeds to be lower, often around 50-300 megabits per second (Mbps), depending on the network, location, and congestion. These speeds are still markedly faster than 4G, offering near-instantaneous web browsing, quicker downloads, and smoother streaming experiences.

Benefits of 5G

5G technology offers a range of advantages, including:

  • Enhanced Speeds: Significantly faster data transfer rates compared to 4G, ideal for streaming, gaming, and downloading large files.
  • Reduced Latency: Lower latency means more responsive internet, enhancing experiences in gaming, virtual reality, and video conferencing.
  • Increased Connectivity: Ability to connect more devices simultaneously without compromising speed or efficiency, crucial for IoT devices.
  • Improved Network Efficiency: More data can be transmitted over wireless systems, leading to improved network capacity and reliability.
  • Wider Coverage: Advanced technology allows for broader coverage, even in areas where traditional broadband is lacking.
  • Versatility: Suitable for a wide range of applications, from industrial uses to personal devices, due to its high speed and low latency.

These benefits illustrate why 5G is more than just an upgrade – it’s a transformative leap in wireless technology.


5G technology represents a significant leap in wireless connectivity, bringing faster speeds and more reliable internet to users. Now that you understand the intricacies of 5G, are you ready to find the internet for you?

Connect with our internet experts today to see if EarthLink Wireless Home Internet, Fiber Internet, or Fixed Wireless Internet is right for you!

*With the Work From Home Unlimited Plan, you’ll enjoy speeds up to 25 Mbps for the first 300 GB of data usage each month; speeds will reduce to 3 Mbps if usage exceeds 300 GB within that month.

Maddy Hogan

Maddy Hogan

Maddy Hogan, a copywriter for EarthLink, is a New Englander by birth, raised in the South, and a Hoosier at heart. A graduate of Indiana University-Bloomington's Media School, she brings her unique voice and insights to publications like The Island Packet, The Cherokee Tribune, The Atlanta Business Chronicle, and The Marietta Daily Journal. When she's not writing, Maddy is passionate about traveling, art, reading, movies, well-timed memes, and her two kitties.

See all posts from Maddy Hogan.