5G vs. 5 GHz Wi-Fi: What are the Differences?

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Are you confused about what makes 5G and 5 GHz different? Both seem to perform a similar task –transmitting data over a network. But while these two technologies share a similar name, there is a significant difference between them. 

5G refers to the 5th generation of telecommunication standards. It provides cutting-edge mobile internet access for mobile devices. In contrast, 5 GHz is a frequency band used in modern consumer WiFi technology responsible for wireless local network access.

If the two seem confusing, you’re not the only one who feels this way. Not only are they fairly similar to the untrained eye, but manufacturers often brand their devices incorrectly. But once you discover what makes them different, you’ll understand why you shouldn’t use the two terms interchangeably. To better grasp these technologies, let’s explore what makes them similar and what makes them different.

Understanding the Similarities and Differences of 5G and 5Ghz Internet

Concept of 5g technology with floating island

While both terms may seem relatively new, you might be surprised to find out their origins. First thing, 5 GHz is almost two decades old. It’s been around since 1999 and became popular with 802.11n routers around 2009. 5G, on the other hand, has only started to creep up, in fact, it has been controversial among a certain group of people on the internet. History aside, many things separate the two technologies, however, some things connect them.

These types of technological advancements are never just as simple as roping it all together. Both 5 GHz and 5G play a role in communicating, engaging with the world, and connecting our devices. There are also other internet technologies to worry about, in fact, we’ve had to talk about why 5G won’t replace Wi-Fi in other articles, but that’s neither here nor there. Some of these questions are based on a misunderstanding of the technology. To help you understand 5G and 5 GHz, let’s look at some basic explanations of each.

What is 5 GHz?

When people refer to 5 GHz, they are referring to the telecommunications frequency band. It is often used to transfer wireless internet for a home network. Right now, most WiFi routers operate on the 2.4 GHz band. Over time though, this band has gotten congested. Most are unaware of how many devices operate on the 2.4 GHz frequency band including everyday technologies like Bluetooth, IR signals, and even microwave ovens. As the band grows in popularity and it’s used more and more by various devices, it also becomes more congested and slower as a result.

Much like traffic on a highway, too many devices trying to use the 2.4 GHz will make the frequency band much slower to use. Consequently, a higher band is needed to mitigate these traffic jams. 5 GHz is the answer to the problem. Not only is it less crowded, but it also can support higher data transfer speeds. It does come with some issues—like a limited range—but overall it’s currently in the middle of becoming the new Wi-Fi standard that we all use. Routers equipped with 5 GHz can give you access to the internet. Remember, you will still need to hook into a cable, fiber optic, or satellite network. 

What is the Difference between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz?

When a router says it uses a 2.4 GHz band, what does that mean? Well, it means that it transfers its data at a rate of 2.4 billion cycles per second. If you could look at this data, it would appear as a sinusoidal pattern— more commonly known as a sine wave. This sine wave is responsible for handling your connection to the internet. 5 GHz just means it is traveling even faster at 5 billion wave cycles per second. This means that 5 GHz transfers more data in the same amount of time as a 2.4 GHz signal. 

What is 5G?

5G network with motion

5G is simply the fifth generation of cellular data networks. Much like its predecessors 2G, 3G, and 4G, 5G encodes data and transfers it wirelessly. This newest standard does it much more efficiently than previous generations. It can use wider channels and communicates with lower latency to the network’s remote servers. What this translates to are cellular networks that are much faster and that can handle larger amounts of data.

It is worth noting that 5G only allows for data transfers on wider bands. The development of these bands are left up to telecommunications manufacturers. While it is still in its fledgling stages, people are optimistic about its potential. 5G doesn’t just mean faster cellphones; it means our cellular networks can do more too. Other applications of 5G include the following:

  • Self-driving cars—Future generations of driverless vehicles will need to utilize the 5G network to interact with each other and the smart road systems.
  • Virtual reality—While VR exists today, the transfer speed needed for a fully immersive experience will soon be available for mobile devices. 
  • Fiber optic internet—5G can help spread fiber optic internet by using community “towers,” allowing consumers to connect. 

What Makes 5G Different from 5 GHz?

What adds to the confusion surrounding the two is that 5G can’t use the 5 GHz frequency band. They are not compatible with each other. They cannot intercommunicate. The two technologies don’t use the same radios, can’t utilize the same chipsets, and are not able to interoperable at any level. Moreover, 5G deals with data, while 5 GHz deals with access to data. As we mentioned earlier, you need a router as the connection to a more extensive network. In the same way, a cell phone acts as the access point to the 5G network. 

Are There Any Similarities?

With such different technologies, you may be wondering what they do have in common. They do share a rather annoying issue. You see, when you start using higher frequencies spectrums to transfer data, you will need to use higher frequency waves. While these higher frequency waves may travel faster, they have a hard time moving through solid materials. This has led to both technologies sharing the “faster-but-closer” rule. Essentially, Both 5G and 5 GHz have an exceedingly short range. They have trouble penetrating walls and other materials.

This means that 5 GHz routers often have a shorter range than 2.4 GHz routers. Some routers are “dual-band” or “multi-band” and can support both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz connections. Similarly, for a 5G network to work correctly, it needs a higher amount of cellular towers. But 5G has one advantage when it comes to the “faster-but-closer” rule. 5G can utilize lower frequency 600 MHz bands to provide what is called “coverage everywhere.” This hidden gem will help alleviate some of the closeness issues in the future.

What Kind of Products Use 5G and 5 GHz?

When it comes to applications of each technology, there are all sorts of devices. To start, let’s look at 5 GHz. As we have already touched on, 5 GHz as we know it relates to WiFi routers. Devices like the TP-Link AC12750 Smart Router (on Amazon) offer access to both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. Often, they can even run both networks at once. This helps areas with high 2.4 GHz congestion—like apartment complexes with lots of individual routers.

When it comes to 5G devices, they aren’t too many out there at the moment. For the most part, you will see cellphones, like the Google Pixel 4a (on Amazon), having access to the network. In the future, we hope to see all sorts of technologies using the 5G network. The higher transfer speed and low latency open up the doors for some data-intensive technologies to prosper.

Wrapping Up

5G and 5 GHz just aren’t the same. While they both allow for data to be transferred wirelessly, 5 GHz only provides an access point. In contrast, 5G is the network itself similar to cable or fiber-optic networks (more on that in our guide). Additionally, 5 GHz often refers to the frequency bands used by a wireless router/access point. It still needs to be linked to a more extensive network to access the internet. If it all sounds confusing, don’t worry, because it is for most people. However, hopefully, with this information at your disposal, you’ll have a better understanding of what makes these two techs so different. 

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