5G is the next-generation mobile network, currently being rolled out across the UK. It improves on the previous 4G mobile network, with faster speeds, higher capacity for users, and lower latency (lag). But how does it compare to your home WiFi network?
5G has theoretical maximum download speeds of between 1Gbps (1,000Mbps) and 10Gbps (10,000Gbps). But those results have only been achieved in laboratories, and no mobile network for consumers in the world is consistently delivering them. But that will change as mobile operators further build out networks.
However, 5G is still really fast, compared to both 4G networks and to many fixed-line broadband connections (the connection broadcast as your home WiFI). In the first half of 2021, 5G networks in the UK had a median download speed of 167.38Mbps, according to Speedtest. At the same time (March 2021) the median download speed of UK home broadband connections in March 2021 was just 50.4Mbps, Ofcom found.
So it appears that 5G is more than three times as fast as our home broadband. But there are some caveats.
First, the 50Mbps median isn’t the fastest broadband speed available to most households. Around two-thirds of UK homes can sign up for gigabit broadband. With download speeds of up to 1Gbps (1,000Mbps), these packages far outpace what 5G currently achieves. But many people haven’t yet taken advantage of the fastest home broadband available to them.
Conversely, 5G isn’t available in most of the country yet and sometimes where it does pop up, it isn’t yet achieving stellar speeds.
Additionally, download speed isn’t the only metric by which to judge an internet connection. You also have to consider upload speed, the speed at which you can send data over a connection, such as when making a video call.
Speedtest says the UK’s 5G networks offer median upload speeds of 15.91Mbps, marginally better than the 9.8Mbps median Ofcom found for home broadband connections. However, around a third of UK households have access to full-fibre broadband, with symmetrical upload and download speeds of 1Gbps. That's upload speeds 62 times faster than what 5G offers.
The latency of a connection is also important. This is the amount of time it takes to send a single data packet to a server and back. With high latency, video calls will be glitchy and video games almost unusable.
While 5G has theoretical latency of just 1 millisecond (ms), active 5G networks had latencies of between 29ms and 33ms when tested by Ookla in 2021. Those figures are still within the acceptable range for most internet activities. But nearly all fixed home broadband connections will have less lag.