Should all next generation cellular devices have 5G?

4G’s successor, 5G, has entered onto the scene and is supporting a host of new technologies to thrive. But is 5G always the solution? No, not always. So let’s cut through the 5G hype.

Designers should know that when developing next generation mobile devices, it is important to choose the network that is most appropriate for the application and design the device accordingly, with capabilities for 4G, 5G, or both.

Is 5G replacing 4G?

The global roll-out of 5G is ongoing, with South Korea and the US leading the way. According to the GSA, in June 2021, 5G services were available via 169 mobile operators across 69 countries. This compares with the 811 operators offering 4G in 240 countries and territories. Despite the GSA’s forecast that 5G will reach 551 million subscriptions by the end of 2021 and 1.4 billion by the end of 2025, in reality, only 30% of all mobile connections will be 5G by 2025. For 4G, it is 60%.

Yes, 5G offers an improvement to some of the features of 4G LTE, but it’s not meant to replace it. Existing 4G infrastructure won’t be retired to make way for 5G infrastructure. 5G is a different technology; it builds on 4G. So even though the 5G roll-out continues, 4G connectivity will still be available. In fact, 4G and 5G will work alongside each other.

But as 5G adoption grows and more users switch to that network, 5G connectivity speeds will improve. This is the result of dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) and carrier aggregation. DSS enables carriers to use the same spectrum for 4G and 5G. This frees up specific 4G lanes when users transition, which increases capacity and speed. Carrier aggregation improves performance by increasing user data rates.

Which network is more technically advanced, 5G or 4G?

5G offers better bandwidth than 4G – 1000 times larger bandwidth per unit area, to be precise. Due to ultra-reliable low latency communication (URLLC), one of 5G’s main elements, it supports 10 to 100 times higher speeds than 4G, and significantly lower latency (1ms).

These superfast speeds of up to 10Gbps and the low latency enable applications such as remote surgery and autonomous vehicles. But 5G does have its limitations. To work to its full capacity, 5G needs a larger contiguous block of spectrum in the mid-range, as well as mmWave bands, which allow the low latency and high download and upload speeds.

4G LTE also has certain unique advantages. It has a longer range, and uses less energy than 5G. As 5G is more complex, it takes more power to operate. This is why a 4G connection doesn’t use as much battery. In this, 4G is useful and potentially more effective for remote and battery-operated devices. It is also equipped to operate on lower data rate applications.

Which network is best for next generation cellular devices?

Despite the possibilities 5G offers, there are many applications, such as the industrial Internet Of Things (IIoT) or consumer vending machines, that don’t need these advanced features and a service provided by the existing 4G network or Narrowband IoT via LPWAN is better suited.

5G is a requirement mainly in applications where ultra-high speed and low latency is mission critical, such as remote surgery, and in the development of applications and machines where a sensation must be shared in real-time, such as the tactile internet. Remote automated solutions with devices designed for 5G can save industry billions, as ABB Group shows at its Boliden Aitik mine in Sweden. Here, a machine that depends on 5G technology is used for drilling and blasting, saving the business around €2.5 million annually.

In non-industrial settings, 5G supports enhanced gaming experiences. The lower latency ensures that data transfer happens as fast as possible and URLCC technology allows much of the processing power to be cloud-based. This makes cordless VR headsets, high-definition graphics and ultra-high resolution a reality if they are designed with 5G capabilities.

But faster data transmission isn’t everything. For many IIoT applications, coverage, power consumption and cost are crucial, meaning that 4G the most suitable solution. IIoT devices don’t always demand the specifications that enable high volumes of data processing, so do not require 5G capability in the device specification.

Designing next generation mobile devices for the best network

The combination of the 5G and 4G networks give designers more options. There’s no requirement to use 5G technology because 4G will remain operational and is the optimal network technology solution for many applications. Designers can even choose antennas that have both 5G and 4G functionality if their application is likely to benefit from 5G in the future. 

At Antenova, we’re helping the industry innovate by developing small, high-performance antennas that are easy to integrate and pass all the necessary network certification processes. To see our full range of antennas for cellular devices – including 5G, 4G and 3G – browse our range of antennas or download our antenna comparison guide.

Wireless Antennas Compared  Here's everything you need to consider when choosing the right antenna for  your design.  GET THE GUIDE

Related resources

View all resources


ask.antenova is a global forum for designers and engineers working with wireless technology. Get answers from those who know best.