In Depth

5G network: what is it and how much faster is it than 4G?

From download speeds to super-fast cities, here’s are all the details on the next-generation network

The next-generation mobile signal finally arrived in the UK in 2019, with leading providers launching their 5G networks across Britain’s major cities. 

EE launched its 5G network in six UK cities in late May and rival Vodafone followed suit in early July. O2 is the latest provider to activate its 5G signal, flicking the switch on the next-generation network in six cities, including London and Edinburgh, in October.  

The network provides significantly faster download speeds for mobile users on the go, but those aren’t the only benefits 5G brings. According to CNet, the technology could be used to replace home broadband systems and even help self-driving vehicles communicate with each other. 

Given that the network is still in its infancy, 5G-connected cars appear to be a few years away at the very least. Tech lovers can, however, sample the technology now by picking up one of a select few flagship smartphones.

Here’s everything you need to know about the network, from download speeds to compatible devices: 

What is 5G?

Simply put, 5G promises to bring broadband-equivalent download speeds to smartphone users. It runs alongside the 4G and 3G networks currently available across the UK.

As well as being much faster, 5G will also be able to handle more data and connect more devices simultaneously, says PC magazine, while latency - the time it takes for information to transfer after a command has been given - is also lower than the older connections.

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Just how fast is 5G compared to 4G?

In London, users can expect average download speeds of around 200Mbps, though some patches of the city have dramatically faster connections, The Verge reports.  

For example, the tech site says it experienced speeds of 500 or 600Mbps in certain areas of London, with one place delivering a download rate of 980Mbps. 

In London Bridge, which is one of the city’s “choke points” – an area with large numbers of mobile users on one network – a 5G network was found to deliver speeds of around 130Mbps, notably more than the 530Kbps offered on a 4G signal, The Verge says.

A study by Which? in 2017 found that the average download speed of a 4G network in London was 20.5Mbps, Wired reports. London was ranked in 16th place out of the 20 cities in the UK surveyed for data coverage. 

Stoke-on-Trent, the best city for 4G connectivity in 2017, recorded an average of 26.6Mbps, while the worst was Brighton with 17.6Mbps, the tech site says. 

Either way, 5G marks a significant step up in download speeds over its predecessor. 

When does it arrive in the UK?

It’s already here, but only in certain major cities across the UK.   

So far, only EE and Vodafone have flicked the switch on their 5G networks, with O2 set to join them later this month. Three also has its own 5G signal, but it currently takes the form of a home network and is only available in certain parts of London. 

EE’s network is currently available in the following cities: Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Manchester.

Vodafone’s, meanwhile, can be accessed here: 

Birkenhead, Birmingham, Bolton, Bristol, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow, Lancaster, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newbury, Plymouth, Stoke-on-Trent, Wolverhampton.

More cities will be added to these lists later this year and throughout 2020.

Finally, O2 has six connected cities - Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London and Slough - to the new network.

The company plans to add another 14 to the roster by the end of the year, with the ultimate aim of connecting 50 cities to 5G by summer 2020, says Metro.

What phones support it?

If you want to connect to one of the new 5G networks across the UK, you’ll need a handset that supports the faster signal. Thankfully, there are a range of cutting-edge smartphones to choose from.

The most recent addition to the 5G line-up is the long-awaited Samsung Galaxy Fold. Not only is the phone capable of connecting to the next-generation signal, but it’s also the only mobile on sale in the UK with a foldable screen. 

Other 5G-enabled models include the Galaxy S10 5G, OnePlus 7 Pro 5G and the newly announced Huawei Mate 30 Pro 5G.

One key omission, however, is the iPhone. Apple opted not to offer 5G support on its new range, allegedly because of a legal battle with chipmaker Qualcomm that ended in April, says CNet.

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