• A new survey finds that many mobile users are disappointed in their 5G service. 
  • Experts say that 5G still isn’t widely available in many areas. 
  • In its initial rollout, 5G networks weren’t as fast as many users as expected.

Someone using a table outside with a city across the river from them and 5G overlaid in the sky and light trails on the buildings.

Phone companies have been advertising the benefits of 5G for years, but the technology might not be living up to its potential in everyday use. 

A new survey found that one in six mobile users felt 5G benefits had been overpromised, and less than half said they had seen noticeable speed or reliability improvements since upgrading. Some experts say that 5G still has a long way to go. 

“Like with any new network deployment, 5G isn’t as widely used or available. Most people are still on the current 4G network,” tech advisor Vaclav Vincalek told Lifewire in an email interview. “And most devices don’t have the ability to connect to 5G anyway. There are also concerns that 5G will be easier for hackers to penetrate as more and more IoT devices connect to it. Many IoT devices generally aren’t as secure.”

The Promise of Speed

Speed is the promised advantage of 5G over older mobile networks. And a new study bolsters that idea, showing an improvement of 40 percent and more in cellular performance on iPhone 14 and 14 Pro in the US. 

5G is going to take years to roll out and transform companies and industries and affect our entire civilization.

But Swarun Kumar, the director of the Emerging Wireless Technologies Lab and an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said in an email that “so far 5G has over-promised and under-delivered.” 

He added, "there is no question that companies around the world are investing in 5G. However, deployments have not reached full scale yet. As a result, the first set of customers of networks in their initial stages of development are not seeing the speed-ups they were promised. Much of the disappointment felt around 5G can simply be attributed to the lack of full-scale deployment of both the infrastructure and the maturity of the applications that take full advantage of 5G."

Under the hood, 5G offers other advantages aside from browsing speed. The technology offers lower latency and special treatment for different traffic types in a method called network slicing, Ritesh Mukherjee, the vice president of enterprise networks at Inseego, a 5G networking company, told Lifewire via email. 

"This means regular users can access files, programs, and remote applications in the cloud as though they were local," he added. "These laptops and phones require less memory and processing power without sacrificing user experience leading to lower costs."

The advantages of 5G for users include lower latency and special treatment for different traffic types (network slicing), Mukherjee said. This new network handling technique means regular users can access files, programs, and remote applications in the cloud as though they were local. "These laptops and phones require less memory and processing power without sacrificing user experience leading to lower costs," he added. 

Getting the most out of 5G means wireless operators had to overcome significant infrastructure challenges, Babak D. Beheshti, the dean of the College of Engineering and Computing Sciences at the New York Institute of Technology, told Lifewire via email. Companies had to invest in new cell sites and equipment and deal with complex network architecture and government regulations. 

Beheshti explained that a 5G network is composed of the cell sites and its core network, called "standalone 5G". In the initial deployments of 5G, service providers used the existing 4G core network with the 5G cell sites. 

"As a result, the data speeds achieved through these initial 5G networks were nowhere near what was promised of 5G," he added. "Also, the radio frequencies that provide the highest data speeds (millimeter waves) were not used in many of the initial deployments."

Making the Most of 5G

Even if 5G doesn't always match the speeds initially promised by wireless carriers, there are still ways that users can take advantage of the service, Mukherjee said. Many wireless services offer flat-rate pricing and no-overage data plans. 

5G network connection illustration concept shows a cell tower that distributed 5G signals for internet connection with a man using a mobile phone that connecting 5G technology.

"If a user has a 5G phone with an unlimited data plan, they can download and upload content faster," he added. "Users can watch content offline or stream movies without pause."

5G phones can be used as a hotspot to connect laptops and other devices while on the go, Mukherjee pointed out. Devices paired with the phone, like smartwatches and connected healthcare, can enable patient and location monitoring. He said that studies have found that 5G users consume up to 2.7x more mobile data than 4G users. "It shows that users who switch over to 5G find more ways to utilize the extra bandwidth," he added.

Wireless technology analyst Jeff Kagan said in an email that the best days of 5G are yet to come. 

"We tend to talk about 5G as if all the benefits are with us today," he added. "However, 5G is going to take years to roll out and transform companies and industries and affect our entire civilization."

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