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5G: Do you need it?

Everybody loves faster and better, particularly in technology circles. 5G, the new cellular technology, promises faster speeds but is it better and do you need it?

5G speed tests range 460Mbps to 1.3 Gbps with a "dedicated special" AT&T Warner Bros Studio area hitting 1.8Gbps. These are speeds to your phone, a device with a relatively small screen and limited storage. For example, the Galaxy S10 5G has a 6.7" screen and 256GB or 512GB of storage but does NOT include a microSD card slot.

So do you need 5G 460Mbps or higher on your phone? What kind of things could you do with that much bandwidth?

Those things lead us to the next problem, storage! We just found that 100GB of data can be downloaded in 30 minutes on the slowest 5G. At the high end of 5G test that could be down to 10 minutes.

So lets assume you have the 256GB Samsung S10 5G phone and are downloading HUGE files (movies, data, whatever) and the slowest 5G speed (460Mbps). 30 minutes fills up 100GB and in 1 hour and 15 minutes you can completely fill the storage on the device. Even the 512GB model is full in 2.5 hours.

For some perspective on these high Mbps and Gbps speeds lets look at something in the real world.

Valdosta State University (chosen because I found an article from 2018 about their connection speeds) is one of Georgia's comprehensive state universities. They have 11,220 students and 1728 employees. In Summer 2018 they moved from a 2Gbps connection to the Inernet to a 5Gbps connection.

In July 2018 they had 2Gbps supporting all of their campus activities and a single phone at Warner Bros on their 5G network has 1.8Gbps tested throughput. Take some TCP/IP overhead out of the 2Gbps pipe and tested speeds are probably very close to the 1.8Gbps test at Warner Bros and only 4x the speed of the "slow" 5G at 460Mbps. So the network that supported over 12,000 people on a campus spring 2018 is 1 to 4 times the speed of 5G you could have in a few places. (I know not all of them use the campus network constantly and they all have their own cell phones, but it is a university campus with all of their PCs and people using WiFi to save their data plans or get faster speeds).

How do these 5G speeds in limited areas compare to our good old 4G speeds? In a 2019 4G speed test review TomsGuide found download speeds of 30Mbps or more for all major providers except Cricket Wireless (Boost was close enough). Cricket Wireless users are not likely to be first adopters of 5G due to the cost. Let's use 30Mbps to compare things.

Using 30Mbps 4G LTE

One important thing to note about 5G is the coverage will be more limited- the mmWave 5G signals do not travel very far or through obstructions (walls, windows, trees, etc.) very well. Sub-6 signals will do a little better but are going to be slower. This means you will see these in high density areas like big cities. If you do not travel, live or work in one of these areas 5G may not be in your near future (years).

So do you need to get a 5G phone and plan to have 5G help you? No, if you are in 5G areas and the bandwidth hogs that really need 5G move to it your 4G experience will improve! When we all have 8K (or 16K) streaming video needs we will need 5G. We are also moving towards more data in general so at some point in the future people will point to this ancient article and laugh at how we thought 5G speeds were just overkill- but it won't be in 2019 or 2020.

How about a 5G hot spot for home? This is definitely a cord-cutters dream if the pricing is right- high speeds and portability if needed.