What Is 5G?
“5G” is simply short for “5th Generation.” 5G coverage is the fifth (and most recent) generation of cellular network technology. If you use a cell phone — from Apple, Google, Samsung, or even Nokia — no matter who your carrier is (Red Pocket, T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, etc), you’re connected to a mobile network. Currently, you’re most likely connected to a 4G LTE mobile network, and there are a few reasons you may want to keep it that way.
The best thing about 5G is its speed: at its best, 5G can offer download speeds nearly four times as fast as 4G LTE. A close second best, 5G has the potential to offer a dramatically increased bandwidth — nearly 1,000x as much mobile data per second as 4G LTE. That means one network can handle many more devices without experiencing congestion and slowing speeds for everyone. It sounds almost sounds too good to be true.
Well, it is and it isn’t true. At present, 5G cell towers (or “nodes”) are being installed in cities and towns across the country, but the upgrade efforts have been slow, so even if 5G has fantastic capabilities, few places in America currently have access to the tech.
How Does 5G Work?
Let’s get technical.
4G, the network we’re all used to, relies on large, dispersed cell towers that can transmit signals across vast areas. 5G, on the other hand, relies on a series of smaller towers at shorter intervals. You might’ve seen a 4G tower disguised as a (not very convincing) tree, but a 5G tower is small enough to fit on a roof or a street light.
There are three types of 5G, but only two are commonly used in cellular networks. The fastest is called Millimeter wave (mmWave) or high band. The other is called Sub-6GHz or low band, which is more similar to 4G in terms of speed and availability because 4G also relies on lower-frequency bands. The major carriers are all able to offer both of these, but you may have to do some digging about your carrier’s service in your area to determine which type you’re using.
5G needs a greater concentration of towers because it uses the mmWave spectrum, which can not travel long distances because it is so susceptible to interference. Many things can interfere with this signal, such as dense physical objects or weather; however, placing the small towers closer together minimizes the risk of lost signal.
It might be incredible to build an entire national 5G network with the speed and capacity of the mmWave spectrum, but that wouldn’t be feasible. It’s not uncommon for mmWave to reach only about one city block away from its node, assuming there are no trees or buildings in the way. A 5G device on a low-band network could stray hundreds of miles away from the node before losing 5G connectivity.
Therefore, a national 5G network will be composed of all three types of 5G: high, medium, and low band frequencies. This way, people in densely populated areas won’t experience interruptions to their service, and people in sparsely populated areas will experience faster speeds.
Misconceptions About 5G
Let’s address the FAQs of 5G:
- 5G is not already here: The 5G rollout has begun, but it’s far from complete. With the sharp uptick in internet-connected devices in everyday life, from cars to refrigerators, our previous network needed some major upgrades, and those upgrades won’t happen overnight. Expect 5G to be fully up and running in several years, following several different stages of implementation.
- 5G will not automatically replace 4G or 4G LTE: The rollout of 5G has not been as fast or as widespread as some cellular companies may like you to believe. Not all areas have access to 5G, so 4G and 4G LTE will continue to be fantastic options. You will not need a new phone even when 5G becomes fully operational.
- 5G is unlikely to prevent accurate weather forecasts: There have been some valid concerns from meteorologists about the similarity in the frequencies used by 5G to transmit cellular data and the frequencies used by the satellites that gather weather data. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, posits that this potential interference could reduce forecast accuracy by up to 30%; however, this is a contested claim.
- 5G does not harm wildlife: Specifically, 5G does not harm birds. Frequencies above 10 MHz (which 5G is) do not harm birds in any way. There has been some research done into the impact of cellular frequencies on some birds’ migratory patterns, but there is no evidence that these frequencies harm birds.
- 5G is not a conspiracy to read your mind, give you cancer, track your movements, etc: You’ve heard the conspiracy theories. Of course, none of them are true! 5G is not some cartoonish villain’s dastardly device for world domination; it’s just the next iteration of the same cellular technology we’ve been using since the 1990s.
Why Should I Consider Turning Off 5G?
Here are the top 5 reasons you might want to turn off your 5G.
- Turning off 5G really extends your battery life. Switching 5G off saves battery because, when connected to a 5G signal, your cell phone is basically connecting to a bunch of different, smaller networks all at once. This rapid loss of charge may also cause your phone to heat up.
- Some carriers have limits on 5G usage. Different plans from different carriers set different caps, check your data plan to determine your plan’s restrictions. If you need to reserve your faster speeds for any reason, perhaps you’re saving it for a day you know you won’t have wifi, you can do so by temporarily turning 5G off.
- The speed boost is functionally minor. Currently, the difference in speed and performance between 5G and 4G LTE is negligible. By the numbers, it may sound significant, but users report little practical difference. Most cellular users find very little difference from one mobile network to the other, so why waste battery?
- Lack of support. 5G networks are not yet operating at full, or even half, capacity. AT&T and Verizon have both been called out publicly for their lack of technical support for their burgeoning 5G networks. Verizon, in a tweet they’ve since deleted, directly asked customers to disable their 5G. The companies carrying the networks are trying to tell their customers that the networks are not yet ready to support them.
- Fewer interruptions to your signal. 4G LTE networks are currently more widespread; therefore, your device can roam across many more places without losing signal if you choose to stay connected to 4G LTE.
How Do I Turn Off 5G?
You always have the option to turn 5G off (or on) within seconds. Turning off 5G is always easy, but it depends on what kind of 5G phone you have, though the answer can usually be found within your network options.
On iPhone and iPad:
These instructions are applicable to iPhones and iPads that are running an updated iOS and were produced after the iPhone 12, which includes iPhone SE, iPhone 13, iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, iPad Pro 12.9 inch (gen 5), iPad Pro 11 inch (gen 3), iPad Air (gen 5) and iPad Mini (gen 6).
- Open the “Settings” app
- Go to “Cellular,” then “Cellular Data Options”
- Tap “Voice & Data”
- Select “LTE”
All done! Your 5G is disabled. If your primary concern is battery life, you might consider using “5G Auto” instead of “LTE” because this feature will connect you to the faster speeds of a 5G network only when it won’t impact your iPhone’s battery.
These instructions are applicable to the most recent Samsung phones, the Samsung Galaxy S21, Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Samsung Galaxy S22, Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, and Galaxy Z which are the first Samsung devices to support 5G. These steps will be applicable to other 5 G-enabled Android phones as well.
- Open the “Settings” app
- Go to “Connection,” then “Mobile Networks”
- Tap “Network Mode”
- Select “LTE/3G/2G (autoconnect)”
All done! You’ve now told your Android to only connect to 4G and lower, not 5G. If you want your cell phone to connect to 4G LTE only, select “LTE Only” at step four. However, it’s worth noting that T-Mobile,AT&T, and Verizon shut down their 3G networks this year.
On Google Pixel:
- Open the “Settings” app
- Go to “Network & Internet”
- Tap “SIMS”
- Scroll down, then tap “Preferred Network Type”
- Select “4G”
All done! Your Pixel will now connect only to the type of network you selected. You have the option to select networks older than 4G, but 4G is highly recommended.
Will We Ever Want To Turn 5G Back On?
In the not-too-distant future when the rollout is complete, the benefits of 5G will outweigh the benefits of the older 4G. That’s simply the way technology advances. Yes, 5G will become the default. However, in the meantime, it may be best to stick to what’s working best for everyone: 4G LTE.