5G vs. Wi-Fi 6: A Head-to-Head Comparison
These two technologies might not be as different as you think.
Many customers feel frustrated with their home internet connection and dream of a better Wi-Fi world with faster speeds, no latency, and less network congestion. If you’ve heard of 5G internet, you may wonder if it’s the solution to your frustrations. Or maybe trying out the latest and greatest technology excites you, and you’re eager to learn all about it.
5G has become quite the buzzword over the last few years. But does the buzz live up to the hype? What exactly is it, and is it any better than Wi-Fi? And which connection should you have? (Spoiler: it might be both.) In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about 5G internet, how it compares to Wi-Fi 6 (the latest generation of Wi-Fi technology), and how to choose the right connection for you.
What Is 5G?
5G stands for the fifth generation. “OK, but what does that mean?” (I hear you asking already.) 5G is an umbrella term for the fifth (and newest) generation of cellular data networks. It’s the latest version of the technology that allows you to connect to the internet when you’re not using Wi-Fi. 5G uses radio waves to transmit data between cell towers (or other transmitters) and connected devices.
You’ve probably heard the term 5G tossed around frequently in reference to cell phone carriers’ mobile networks. The first 5G mobile networks began rolling out in 2019 with the promise of faster speeds and better connections than 4G. 5G uses higher, less cluttered radio frequencies (sometimes called millimeter waves) than past generations, which can carry more information at faster speeds. Unless you live in a major city, you probably won’t notice significant differences in speeds, but the technology is poised to provide some major improvements in the future.
5G Home Internet
So what does 5G have to do with home internet? Some internet service providers have started using 5G networks to provide home internet plans. These plans run on a fixed wireless connection that sends and receives radio waves on a 5G network. 5G home internet plans require a receiver, sometimes called a gateway, to convert nearby 5G signals into an internet connection for your home.
Similar to satellite internet, 5G internet is wireless. But unlike satellite internet, which connects you to the web via satellites in space, 5G internet beams the signal into your home using nearby cell towers. The closer proximity means you should experience less latency and a more reliable connection than that of satellite. The biggest downside of 5G is that it’s susceptible to signal interruptions from obstructions like large buildings or trees. Other forms of internet, such as cable and fiber, don’t experience these issues. This problem is why extensive cell towers are so crucial for 5G internet connections.
Who Offers 5G Home Internet? Check out our guide to the best 5G home internet providers to compare your options and find out which providers are available in your area.
5G home internet providers advertise speeds anywhere from 50 Mbps to 1 Gbps, comparable to speeds offered by cable and fiber internet providers. In reality, most 5G customers experience much slower speeds than advertised, though these speeds have continued to increase over the last few years. A recent study by Opensignal found that T-Mobile offered the fastest 5G download speeds compared to other 5G internet providers, reaching speeds up to 195.5 Mbps.
5G Home Internet Pros and Cons
- Affordable prices
- Offered by major providers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon
- No hidden fees or term contracts
- Widely available in major cities
- Connection can be unreliable
- Limited nationwide availability
- Actual speeds tend to be lower than advertised speeds
What Is Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi, a wireless networking technology, allows all our Wi-Fi-enabled devices, including phones, computers, and other electronics, to connect to the internet. When you think of your home’s internet network, you’re probably thinking of Wi-Fi, as it’s the most common way we connect to the internet. Wi-Fi primarily uses two forms of short-range radio frequencies (2.4GHz and 5GHz) to transmit data between the internet and Wi-Fi devices in your home.
Wi-Fi allows devices to communicate with one another and exchange information, which creates a network. Wi-Fi operates through a router, which connects your devices wirelessly to your modem — the device that connects to your internet provider. You can think of a Wi-Fi router as a freeway. The cars on the freeway are the packets of data traveling from the internet to your devices.
Wi-Fi Types Galore: Did you know there are multiple types of Wi-Fi out there? Explore Wi-Fi 5, 6, 6E, and 7 in our comprehensive Wi-Fi upgrade guide.
First launched in 2019, Wi-Fi 6 is the latest generation of Wi-Fi and offers much faster theoretical speeds than Wi-Fi 5 (9.6 Gbps vs. 3.5 Gbps). In reality, we likely won’t experience those speeds any time soon (and most of us probably don’t need them). The point is that Wi-Fi 6 has more speed to go around, which can be split across an entire network of devices, meaning improved speeds on your network when you have several devices connected.
With advances in technology and new devices on the market, the average household has continually increased the number of devices it connects to Wi-Fi over the years. From smart TVs and gaming consoles to smart speakers and home security systems, there are countless devices we connect to the internet every day. But our internet routers can only handle so many devices at one time. Wi-Fi 6 aims to ease the burden on our routers and improve efficiency, which will allow more devices to communicate with a router at one time. That means a faster, more reliable connection when you have several devices online simultaneously.
Wi-Fi 6 Pros and Cons
- Vastly improved speeds compared to Wi-Fi 5
- Applicable to a variety of connection types, including cable and fiber
- Flexible with numerous devices and technologies
- Available in most modern routers
- Lacks the advanced frequency bands of newer technologies
- Doesn’t operate as a stand-alone internet solution
5G vs. Wi-Fi 6: Understanding How They Compare
Now that we understand what 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are, how do they compare for home internet? First and foremost, 5G delivers internet directly to your home. In comparison, Wi-Fi 6 is a technology for transmitting internet from your preexisting provider to the rest of your home wirelessly through a router. Wi-Fi 6 by itself doesn’t provide internet, while 5G is a form of internet.
In fact, you can even have 5G home internet and combine that with a Wi-Fi 6 router to get the best of both worlds in terms of connection speed, connection strength, and device support. So, while these two technologies seem at odds with one another, they have a lot of similarities and overlaps. Let’s dive more into the comparison between the two below by looking at their features.
While Wi-Fi 6 simply builds on previous generations of Wi-Fi, a technology that has been around for decades, the concept of using 5G for home internet is only a few years old. Because of this, the number of companies offering 5G internet is far lower than those offering integrations with Wi-Fi 6 technology.
You may find that 5G home internet isn’t available in your area if you don’t live in or near a major city. However, 5G has rapidly expanded its reach over the past few years and will continue to grow in the coming years. So, it could be available in your area in the future.
5G home internet is fairly affordable and offers excellent value compared to other types of internet. Prices for 5G home internet can range anywhere from $15 to $70 per month, so there are options for most budgets. 5G plans tend to include all equipment and installation fees and additional fees in their monthly rates. That means no hidden fees — what you see is what you get. Plus, these providers don’t have long-term contracts, so you can cancel at any time without facing early termination fees (ETFs).
If you want to upgrade your home internet with Wi-Fi 6 technology, it could be costly, with prices ranging between $40 and $200 for a Wi-Fi 6 router. Of course, these routers are compatible with any internet type, so your speeds will depend on what connection you choose.
As previously mentioned, 5G home internet providers advertise speeds anywhere from 50 Mbps to 1 Gbps. However, you’ll likely experience speeds up to 200 Mbps (at most), depending on your chosen plan and provider.
How Much Speed Do I Need? If you’re not sure just how much speed you need, check out our guide to internet speeds or try out our bandwidth calculator.
Speeds (both advertised and experienced) for Wi-Fi 6 vary significantly between connection types, but can range anywhere from 25 Mbps to multi-gigabit speeds. Fiber internet typically offers the fastest speeds, with speeds ranging up to 8 Gbps and beyond, but actual speeds depend on various factors. DSL and satellite internet plans offer much slower speeds overall, capping out at around 150 Mbps.
5G or Wi-Fi 6: Which Type of Internet Is Right for Me?
Deciding between 5G home internet and other Wi-Fi options often comes down to what’s available in your area. If you’re not in an area where 5G is available, you’ll need to go with Wi-Fi and another internet connection type. If you’re intrigued by 5G, check periodically to see if availability changes. Here are the users we think each type may be best for:
5G home internet is best for those who:
- Live in large cities with reliable 5G coverage
- Want a more affordable internet plan
- Don’t need extremely fast speeds
Wi-Fi 6 is best for those who:
- Want the fastest speeds
- Have more wiggle room in their budget
- Want a more reliable connection
Overall, you don’t have to choose between one or the other when it comes to 5G home internet and Wi-Fi 6. If 5G home internet is available in your area, you can pair it with the latest and greatest Wi-Fi solutions to connect your home to a faster and more efficient Wi-Fi network. Ultimately, we recommend making your home internet and network decisions based on whether your home’s activities are sustainable on 5G home internet and whether you need a more expansive Wi-Fi presence to support your collection of household devices.