We often hear how 5G will be able to achieve speeds 10 times, or even 100 times, faster than 4G networks. However, it is much more complex than that – speed itself is not the only element that is important to 5G. Instead, several sub-elements are all key to increasing the performance of 5G networks.
The speeds 5G networks should adhere to are defined in the IMT-2020 standard requirements, drafted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). This standard aims to speed up connections in different areas such as:
- Peak data rates (from 1 Gbit/s under 4G to 20 Gbit/s under 5G)
- Latency, or the time delay for the signal (from 10 millisecond delays under 4G to 1 millisecond under 5G)
- Connection density, or the number of devices that can be connected per area (from 10^5 devices per square kilometre under 4G to 10^6 devices per square kilometre under 5G)
All of these sub-elements of speed are important to the new applications that 5G might allow. Connected and self-driving cars, for example, require low latency, as they need to make very fast decisions while on the road, and a delay in the signal might lead to an accident. And in order to create a smart factory, being able to connect a high number of devices is crucial.
Current 5G networks, however, do not live up to these standards yet, and they probably will not be able to for a few more years – the higher potential speeds depend on the implementation of innovations such as the mmWave spectrum, small cells, and 5G core networks. Current speeds are measured by private service providers like OpenSignal or Rootmetrics. Their studies show that current 5G networks do improve data speeds compared to local 4G networks, but that the key elements for the success of 5G, such as lower latency, are still lacking in most countries’ public 5G networks. Latencies for 5G networks in Japan, for example, reach around 20 ms on average, which is much slower than the promised 1 ms. Similarly, data from the UK in 2019 showed latencies of around 21 ms.