The Truth About 5G Speeds From Your Wireless Carrier

Submitted by News Desk on

Who's honest and who's really a liar liar pants on fire in the race to the ultra-fast 5G wireless data speeds? The nation's wireless carriers have launched all kinds of marketing gimmicks and campaigns to tout their 5G as being the first, the fastest, the best coverage or cheapest cost, but who's really telling the truth? In this article we will break down what is 5G, how it works and what the speeds each wireless carrier will be providing you, all in non-technical layman's term.

5G is defined as a frequency spectrum of radio waves which is divided into three classes, millimeter wave, mid-band and low-band according to 3GPP, or 3rd Generation Partnership Project, the agency that sets and maintains wireless data speeds worldwide. Below is a description of each type, the speeds they are capable of achieving and which wireless carrier is using which type of 5G.

True 5G is broadcasted in the 24 GHz to 72 GHz range and has data speeds of 1-2 Gbit/s down, which is capable of downloading a high definition full length movie in about a minute. It uses millimeter wave technology which transmits superfast signals but those signal can only travel a short distance and can not get through walls, hills or other object very well. This is the most expensive version of 5G for the wireless carriers as it requires a completely new infrastructure to be built and requires far more cell sites than the current 4G which we use now, this means more cell towers and cell repeaters.

Next up is the mid-band 5G. This middle tier class broadcasts in the 2.4 GHz to 4.2 GHz range and has speeds of 100-400 Mbit/s down. You can download the same High Definition movie in about five to 15 minutes. The lower frequency range means the signal can travel further and get through many walls but can not get around hills or dense obstructions.

Lastly, there is low-band 5G. Low-band 5G is really just 4G LTE that has been slightly improved. Broadcasting in the 600 MHz range, it has speeds of 25 Mbit/s to 50 Mbit/s down, which is roughly the same speeds of the current 4G LTE speeds of AT&T and Verizon according to Root Metrics, an independent agency that tests and monitors wireless data speeds in the U.S. You can download that same high definition movie anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours, depending on network congestion and tower speeds available in your area.

Now, which carrier uses which version of 5G? We researched and compared information available from each carrier along with data from Root Metrics and 3GPP.

5g matrix

For the fastest 5G, the nation's two largest carriers, Verizon and AT&T respectively, are building out the ultra-fast millimeter wave 5G technology, and have already set up working locations in select areas of Los Angeles, New York and Boston.

And the mid-band range 5G? This will be Sprint's primary 5G network as the carrier is actively building new cell tower sites and upgrading some LTE towers that are capable of being upgraded. Additionally, both Verizon and AT&T are building out this 5G network speed for their less densely populated suburban areas and rural customers and for backup service to their millimeter wave 5G in urban areas, with their coverage maps looking like a layered cake for 5G data speeds.

As for the low-bad 5G, that will be exclusively T-Mobile's nationwide 5G network. In doing this route, T-Mobile could claim to be the nation's first nationwide 5G provider, though certainly not the fastest speed provider, but they seem to have left that detail off of their latest round of 5G commercials. Additionally, AT&T is using this low-band 5G network to claim they were the first to have 5G, again it's really just 4G LTE that has been slightly improved and they were cheeky enough to relabel many of their customers smartphones with the 5G logo despite it really only being 4G LTE.

Both Verizon and AT&T will be primarily the ultra-fast millimeter wave and mid-band levels of 5G to provide most of their coverage and using low-band in very rural areas for coverage of their entire network whereas Sprint will only be using the mid-band and T-Mobile will only be using low-band 5G, at least for now.

At the time of this article's publishing, only AT&T and Verizon are building millimeter wave type 5G in the United States, the truly fastest type of 5G according to 3GPP.

Sadly, we are starting to see both Verizon and AT&T tack on an extra monthly charge for customers who wish to use their shiny new 5G mid-band and millimeter wave networks in the form of 5G access fees. These extra fees are in addition to the customer needing to buy a new phone capable of 5G and paying their existing monthly phone and data plans. When 4G and LTE rolled out, no carrier charged extra for the newest and fastest data speeds, customer's only needed to buy a new 4G compatible phone. To be fair though, 4G did not require a wholesale building of a new infrastructure nationwide with new towers and new equipment like 5G mid-band and millimeter wave will require of the wireless carriers.

But what if you're using prepaid service?  As far as we can find, no prepaid phone services such as Cricket, Boost, Metro PCS, AT&T Go, or any Verizon prepaid services will have access to 5G.