Should you go for a 4G or 5G device? Differences explained

We’re in the middle of a transition period, right now with mobile wireless connectivity. For some years 4G has been the standard for mobile phones and wireless systems, but there’s a new “generation” that is rapidly rolling out: 5G. Currently, 5G is only available in major centers, but this was the case as 4G started to supersede its predecessor (3G) as well. As the technology rolls out further it will cover more of the country and more products and services will support 5G connections. Despite that, it will be many years yet before 4G options aren’t available to consumers that don’t need or want 5G services.


Once 5G is available in your area, then, the question will be which of the two options is right for you? Ultimately, it will come down to a price and performance discussion.

Dealing with the myths about 5G first.

The first thing to understand is that there are some wild conspiracy theories out there about 5G, including the idea that it is the cause of COVID-19, that it causes cancer, and even that it allows the government to track and monitor people. These are, to be blunt, utterly ridiculous examples of the wildest of speculation.

The closest that any of these fabrications come to the truth is the possibility that the radio waves emitted via 5G (and then broadcast to humans via their phones) could, potentially, be linked to cancer. Research shows that lab rats can develop cancer when exposed to these kinds of radio waves. However, the rats were exposed to much greater levels than humans are, and the devices that use and emit radio waves are considered safe. Finally, 5G is no different from 4G here, so if this is a concern for you then it will preclude you from using any wireless technology.

So let’s put aside health and safety risks with 5G. They’re nonsense, and the decision of 5G over 4G is a purely economic and powerful one.

5G’s advantages over 4G.

There are three significant advantages that 5G has over 4G technology:

  1. 5G is much faster. The theoretical speed possible with 5G is 10-30 Gbps, and while that will never be achieved in the “wild,” actual speeds for countries with leading 5G networks are around 250Mbps. This is streaks faster than the best 4G performance, which caps out at around 50Mbps. What this means is that you’ll be able to do so much more with a 5G device. Current 4G connections allow you to watch streaming video on the go, but 5G opens up rich AR and VR applications. You’ll even be able to ditch the land-based fiber connection to your home or workplace and work online with 5G, since it’s going to be faster than most standard fiber connections.
  2. 5G offers lower latency. 4G latency ranges from 36 to 48 milliseconds, and 5G latency is already half that (17-26 milliseconds) with the expectation that it will get down under 10 milliseconds in the years to come. The difference here is difficult for the human eye to notice, but it does mean that 5G operates far closer to real-time than 4G. For a wide range of applications, having a latency of as close to 0 as possible is essential – imagine the required action time of self-driving cars. 5G will make those applications possible.
  3. Reliability. The underlying technology that provides the 5G infrastructure can have many more devices connected to it simultaneously, when compared to 4G. This means fewer dropouts and issues with slow connections for users.

The benefits of 4G.

In comparison to 5G, the legacy 4G technology has two principal benefits right now: firstly, it has range. Unless you’re frequently located within a 5G zone, paying for 5G is a pointless exercise. Note, though, that your phone or device will still work, it will just roll back to 4G.

The other benefit is that 4G is cheaper, both in terms of the cost of plans, and the cost of the devices themselves. Smartphones and other devices with 5G capabilities are the new and hot items on the market, and that comes at a premium. Meanwhile, 4G devices can be a few years older and therefore much cheaper.

Finally, after weighing up the pros and cons of 4G and 5G and your immediate needs, you should also think about the future. A 4G handset that you buy today cannot be upgraded to 5G. If it becomes necessary (or worthwhile) for you to buy a 5G handset you’re going to need to make an additional purchase (and potentially deal with contracts).

Meanwhile, buying a 5G device is future-proof. You might not need it now, but you may well need it in a year or two, and then, suddenly, the additional expense starts to make sense. 5G is going to become the standard and be around for many years to come. Keeping that in mind as you make technology purchases now will allow you to stay on top of the technology curve as it continues to evolve.

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  1. Mani Sharman Avatar

    Hi Atul,

    Smartphone brands like Samsung, Redmi, Oppo, etc., come with 5G Smartphones. But I am still not sure If I should buy one before the actual launch of 5g in India.

    After reading this article, I have decided to stay with my 4g phone as long as 5G will not become reliable, cheap, and accessible.

    Let me know when 5G will be ready to match the cost and accessibility of 4g.


    1. Atul Kumar Pandey Avatar

      It is better to wait if you can, once 5G is rolled out in the country 5G will become cheaper. As far as launch news is available, 5G will be launched first in cities and later in sub-cities and it may take more than a year or two for villages. Plan decisions accordingly.