Carriers are promising that their new 5G cellular networks will reach speeds 10 or 20 times faster (depending on the carrier) than their current 4G cellular networks. These kinds of speeds allow for lag-free online gaming, buffer-less 4K streaming, and large file downloads and uploads in the blink of an eye. How does this compare to older cellular technology? Read on as we look at how 5G speeds compare to 2G, 3G, and 4G networks.

Mobile Networks Explained 5G Speeds Compared Real World Speeds Latency
Bandwidth and Streaming Network Coverage



Mobile Networks Explained: What’s with the G?

You’ve likely heard cellular networks described as “3G” or “4G” before. Each of these represents the next iteration of cellular network technology. The “G” stands for generation, so 2G (second generation) came before 3G, 3G before 4G, and so on.

5G is the newest and most advanced generation of cellular technology, and it comes with faster speeds, better network reliability, higher bandwidth, and lower latency. It’s currently being installed across the country by the top U.S. carriers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

Read our other 5G articles:

What is 5G? 5G Phones AT&T 5G Phones Sprint 5G Phones T-Mobile 5G Phones Verizon 5G Phones


5G Speeds Compared to 2G, 3G, 4G

Each new generation of mobile network technology delivers faster download speeds than the one previous. 5G networks are still rolling out, so the average speeds of this latest generation are still being determined.

The 5G speed information we’ve gathered below is based on current speed tests. For example, most network speed tests done on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network in Minneapolis and Chicago have shown download speeds ranging between 500-700Mbps.

Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband

That’s much slower than theoretical peak speeds of 10Gbps (some networks also claim 20Gbps for a limit), but you can still easily download a full-length HD film in less than two minutes. For the full comparison, take a look at our speed comparison table below.

Mobile Network Generation Speeds Compared

Mobile Network Average Speed Peak Speed
2G 0.1Mbps 0.3Mbps
3G 3Mbps 7.2Mbps
3G (HSPA+) 6Mbps 42Mbps
4G LTE 20Mbps 150Mbps
4G LTE Advanced 42Mbps 1Gbps
5G 500-700Mbps 10 or 20Gbps

Note: 5G speed estimates gathered based on current speed tests available on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network. Carriers claim 5G speeds are 10 or 20 times faster than 4G LTE.


you can download aN HD film in less than two minutes with 5G speeds.

Data Speeds in the Real World

Not all of us will download 4K videos or insanely large games on our phones, so you might be curious how fast you can download an average HD movie, music album, or podcast. Below we show you how fast (or slow) you can download each via 2G, 3G, 4G, or 5G networks.

Cellular Network Download Times Compared (based on average speeds)

Downloadable Content 5G
Download Time
4G
Download Time
3G
Download Time
2G
Download Time
1080p Netflix film (6GB) 1.5 minutes 1.5 hours 5 hours 14 hours
Music Album (700MB) 9 seconds 11-12 minutes 30 minutes 1.5 hours
Podcast (60MB) Instantly 15-30 seconds 3 minutes 8 minutes

5G is so fast latency can be as low as 1 millisecond.

What is Latency and Why is it Important?

If you grew up in the 90s, you know the frustration of waiting endlessly for videos to buffer or online games to catch up with servers (always in the midst of an important battle). This was due to network lag, also known as latency.

Latency measures the time it takes to receive data back from servers after your computer (or your smartphone) sends its own data. The longer that time is, the higher your latency is (worse), and the shorter it is, the lower your lag (better).

2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G Latency Compared

Mobile Network Technology Latency (milliseconds)
2G 300-1000ms
3G 100-500ms
4G 50-100ms
5G 1-10ms

Low latency is an important aspect of 5G technology, as its latency can theoretically be reduced to as little as one millisecond—which is virtually unnoticeable. Beyond the elimination of general lag and buffering, 5G technology has the potential to benefit future interconnected technology, known as the Internet of Things (IoT).

Some IoT 5G possibilities include:

  • Autonomous cars, trains, or buses communicating via 5G to avoid accidents
  • Smart cities: 5G-connected city infrastructure and utilities that can adjust based on time or weather
  • Improved military communications and defense systems

Bandwidth and Streaming: 4G vs 5G

If you’ve ever watched YouTube on your phone and noticed the streaming quality plummet, you’ve been a victim of network congestion and low bandwidth. This is a common problem on 3G and 4G networks (you can’t really stream on 2G), where the radio frequencies used to transfer data can only support a limited amount of devices at once. 5G technology looks to change that.

Because 5G uses higher radio frequencies, it supports higher data speeds with less device interference. In fact, 5G can support 10 times more devices per meter than 4G can. That translates to more consistent data speeds for high-quality streaming (like HD videos) for more devices per square kilometer. That’s especially useful in a place like New York City, where millions of people use the same networks in a small area.

But 5G doesn’t come without its drawbacks. The same radio frequencies used to improve speeds and network congestion do not penetrate buildings or walls very well, and they also don’t travel as far. That’s why 5G phones also come with 4G antennas to seamlessly switch between 5G and 4G cellular networks as needed.


Network Coverage: 2G vs 3G vs 4G vs 5G

5G networks are still very under construction in the U.S., with most major carriers expecting to install 5G sites within 15 to 30 cities by the end of 2020. Meanwhile, 2G, 3G, and 4G LTE networks are already well established across rural and urban areas in the United States. Plus, carriers are still improving their current 4G networks with upgrades to 4G LTE Advanced, which offers awesome potential peak speeds of 300Mbps.

3G and 4G Carrier Coverage Comparison Map

Verizon, for example, boasts that its 4G LTE Advanced network is present in over 450 cities. However, they currently only have two 5G sites available in Chicago and Minneapolis, with 28 more cities coming this year.

Meanwhile, Sprint also has 4G LTE Advanced in hundreds of cities across the country and just launched their 5G network in four cities—Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Kansas City—which will be used via the LG V50 ThinQ 5G.

All that said, If you’re holding your breath for 5G outside of a downtown area before the end of 2020, you’re going to turn blue.