Your cookie preferences

We use cookies and similar technologies. You can use the settings below to accept all cookies (which we recommend to give you the best experience) or to enable specific categories of cookies as explained below. Find out more by reading our Cookie Policy.

Select cookie preferences

Skip to main content

What is 5G? Everything you need to know about 5G

It's 4G vs 5G, as we see if 5G really is that much faster.
Share this guide
mobiles - guides - What is 5G? Everything you need to know about 5G | Uswitch

What’s so special about 5G? How much does 5G cost? Is 5G better than 4G? Will 5G make your life better? Read on to get the answers to all these questions and more.

What is 5G?

5G is the next-generation network technology that’s set to replace 4G as the means through which we connect to the internet on smartphones, tablets and a huge range of other web-enabled devices.

5G technology has the capacity to handle the surge in demand for bandwidth generated by the explosion in the number of internet-connected devices. That means the mobile web won’t become congested and slowed down by the sheer weight of demand.

This could lead to a revolution in how we access the internet at home as well as on the move.

Struggling to get 5G in your area? Take a look at our best 5G coverage UK guide

How fast is 5G?

On paper, 5G is much, much faster than 4G. The theoretical maximum speed for 4G is 1Gbps. By way of comparison, the theoretical maximum speed for 5G is 20Gbps. So 5G is up to 20 times faster.

In practice, according to the most recent Ofcom study, the UK’s actual current average 4G speeds are well below that. Even on EE, which is the network with the UK’s fastest 4G service by some distance, customers experience an average speed of 20Mbps.

With that in mind, it’s unlikely that actual 5G speeds for consumers will be anywhere close to the 20Gbps that the technology is capable of. But tests conducted under real-world conditions still bode well for a much faster service than 4G.

In 2015, Chinese phone-maker Huawei teamed up with the Docomo network to give customers participating in trials 5G connection speeds of up to 3.6Gbps. That’s superfast by anyone’s standards.

4G vs 5G

So 5G is the new standard for ultra-fast mobile connections, but how exactly does it compare to 4G? Do you need to make the change ASAP? Ru Bhikka, one of our mobile experts here at Uswitch certainly thinks so:

"We cannot help but marvel at the speed of 5G compared to 4G but it's important to note the technology is still in its infancy. When readily available to the masses, this technology will change the way we live forever and interact- not just with products but with each other as we truly start to adopt the Internet of Things."

The ‘Internet of Things’ refers to smart home devices that connect to the internet such as fridges, cars, lighting, security and radiators. Smart home products are no longer a novelty found in only a few homes, and as they become even more common in our homes, 5G will play a vital part in ensuring your smart home products and your smartphone all work effortlessly well together.

How much faster is 5G than 4G?

So how much faster is 5G than 4G for the everyday mobile phone user? We tested it out by comparing EE’s 5G against its 4G on a 5G-enabled smartphone. With the help of a a speed test app, we saw the following results:

As you can see, the 4G tops out at 7.1 Mbps, but the 5G goes all the way up to 450 Mbps - almost half a gigabyte. This is a phenomenal increase and makes everything from web browsing to social sharing to video streaming instantaneous. With speeds like this, you’ll never have to wait for pages to load, for pictures to send or for videos to buffer.

With the theoretical maximum 5G connection speed of 20Gbps, you could download an entire 25GB UltraHD movie in about ten seconds. And you’ll be able to stream UltraHD and 3D video more smoothly, too.

With 5G you can, of course, still surf the web, stream video, download content and apps and do everything you do now. But you’ll be able to do it a lot quicker. You’ll also notice response times are much faster when you’re playing online games on your phone.

What factors affect 4G and 5G speeds and connection quality??

It might be lightning quick, but the very same things that impair 4G and 3G speeds will also affect the speed and quality of your 5G connection. Think: buildings (especially tall ones in high-density areas), microwaves and other Wi-Fi signals.

Is 5G more expensive than 4G?

Since 5G launched in the UK, most of the major mobile phone networks now offer various different 5G plans. While you might think you’d be expected to pay more for 5G than 4G, in many cases, you'd be wrong.

Networks like Vodafone, Three, O2 and EE have made 5G a standard part of their new plans. It just comes down to whether you have a 5G-compatible mobile phone to actually be able to use it.

However, one thing to note is that your data allowance will play an important part in factoring your costs. If you’re using 5G to stream and download a lot of content on your smartphone, you’ll end up using more data. As long as you’re on a big data plan, this wont be a problem. But if you’re on a much smaller data allowance, you might end up running out sooner than you’re used to on 4G.

How much does 5G cost?

You might assume 5G will be expensive, but it could be cheaper to get connected than you think. If you already own a 5G-compatible smartphone, you can pick up 5G SIM only deals from as little as just £5 a month, although these deals don't come with a huge amount of data. But to get more data than you’ll ever need, you only need to pay £15 a month to get unlimited 5G data on a SIM only deal. So, as you can see, prices will vary depending on how much data you want.

More interested in a pay monthly plan that includes a 5G smartphone? You can get the latest iPhone 14 on all sorts of deals that include 5G. When it comes to the cheapest 5G phones, factors that determine the price include the smartphone you get with the deal, how much you pay upfront and how much data you need.

Is 5G worth it?

Seeing as the majority of 5G plans are the same as 4G plans, and most new smartphones are 5G-ready, it’s a no-brainer to say that yes, 5G is worth it. In most cases, if you’re getting a new handset or deal, you’ll probably get 5G included at no extra cost, and then you’ll get connected to superfast download speeds.

However, it’s worth remembering that 5G is still not available throughout the whole country. So there are areas where you won’t be able to access it, even if you have both a 5G price plan and a 5G phone.

Should I get a 5G phone?

If you’re due an upgrade or are just looking for a new smartphone, it would make sense to get a handset that’s compatible with 5G. Luckily, most new smartphones are. Whether you’re interested in premium devices like the iPhone 14 Pro or the Samsung Galaxy S22, or more affordable mobiles like the iPhone 13 mini or the Samsung Galaxy A52, there are 5G phones to suit all budgets.

And since you won’t have to pay anymore than you would for a 4G price plan, it makes sense to get onboard with 5G. That way, you’ll be able to get connected to faster downloads, buffer-free streaming and seamless scrolling.

Will 5G replace Wi-Fi?

No, 5G probably won't replace your home Wi-Fi anytime soon. In the same way 4G is primarily used on mobile devices, you'll likely only use 5G on your smartphone... for now. We've already seen a few 5G routers on the market. And 5G's speeds could certainly provide a boost to your home network, but it's one for the future.

Already got a 5G smartphone? Get a cheap 5G SIM only deal today