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5G vs 5GE: What Are the Actual Differences? Do They Matter?

Hey there! With carriers rolling out new mobile networks left and right, you‘re probably wondering exactly how 5G compares to 5GE. I‘ve done my homework to break it all down for you in simple terms. Let‘s dive in!

At its core, 5G is the next-generation of wireless technology that‘s replacing 4G LTE networks. 5GE, on the other hand, is more of a marketing tactic used by AT&T before they launched real 5G coverage. While the names sound almost identical, 5G and 5GE are pretty different when it comes to speed, latency, device compatibility and more.

I‘ll explain what each one is, how they compare, and where 5G rollout currently stands. Just keep reading to get the full scoop!

Defining 5G Wireless Technology

5G represents the 5th generation of mobile networks. After 1G brought us the first cell phones in the 1980s, and 2G introduced digital voice calling, 3G ushered in the era of mobile data. 4G LTE provided another huge jump, making activities like streaming HD video and videoconferencing on our smartphones possible.

Now, 5G is the next paradigm shift. Here are some standout facts about true 5G networks:

  • Lightning fast speeds – We‘re talking peak speeds up to 20 Gbps, with average speeds around 100 Mbps expected. To give you an idea of how insane that is, Verizon found that 5G could download 1,000 songs in under 10 seconds!

  • Miniscule latency – Latency refers to the time between sending and receiving data. 5G clocks at just 1-10 milliseconds of delay, versus 30-60 ms on 4G. This real-time responsiveness enables new use cases like self-driving cars sharing road data.

  • Higher capacity – 5G can support about 100x more devices per area than 4G. That means up to 1 million devices per square kilometer! With Internet of Things tech growing, we‘ll need this capacity.

  • New radio technology – 5G uses an entirely new infrastructure, including small cell sites and multi-input, multi-output (MIMO) tech for better performance.

  • New spectrum – Along with lower bands, 5G taps into extremely high-frequency millimeter waves between 24 and 47 GHz for the fast speeds.

As you can see, those key enhancements mean 5G isn‘t just faster 4G… it represents a transformative shift in how we connect on our devices. To enjoy it, you need a phone with 5G built-in. Most new Android devices and iPhones support 5G, giving you access as networks roll out.

Now let‘s look at how 5GE fits into the picture…

The Story Behind 5GE

AT&T introduced 5GE in late 2018 before their true 5G launch. Essentially, it was a rebranding of advanced 4G LTE technology to get people excited about "5G". Their 5GE service relies on upgrades like:

  • 4×4 MIMO antenna arrays to transmit more data at once

  • Advanced 256 QAM encoding to pack more bits in per signal

  • Combining multiple frequency bands for greater overall bandwidth

These and other techniques improved performance relative to earlier 4G networks. However, maximum speeds top out around 400 Mbps rather than the multi-Gbps peaks of 5G. And latency is still ~30-60 ms versus the single digit times of real 5G.

But while it‘s not the massive advance that 5G represents, 5GE did offer useful improvements over regular 4G LTE. The main catch is that any 4G smartphone could connect to 5GE, since it used existing 4G infrastructure and spectrum. No special equipment required.

This helped AT&T market the idea of a significant next-gen network advance before their 5G buildout was ready. Of course, other carriers quickly called them out for misleading branding tactics and trying to confuse consumers. And that brings us to…

5G vs 5GE: How They Compare

Now that you know the basics of each technology, let‘s pit them head to head:

Category 5G 5GE
Download Speed 20 Gbps peak
100+ Mbps average
400 Mbps peak
40 Mbps average
Latency 1-10 milliseconds 30-60 milliseconds
Spectrum Used mmWave and sub-6 GHz 600MHz to 2.5GHz only
Network Architecture New 5G NR standard Upgraded 4G LTE
Device Compatibility Requires 5G phone Any 4G LTE phone

Based on the specs above, experts consider 5GE an "in-between" step as carriers built out fully realized 5G networks. It didn‘t measure up to the massive improvements of real 5G.

However, some believe AT&T‘s 5GE network may offer slightly better speeds and coverage than other carriers‘ early low-band 5G deployments. But there‘s no question that to experience the full benefits of 5G like multi-gigabit speeds, low single digit latency, and next-gen services, you‘ll need an actual 5G device and network.

Now, let‘s explore how 5G rollout is progressing for the major U.S. carriers…

Current 5G Rollout Status

The three largest wireless providers in the U.S. – Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile – initially launched 5G in 2018 and 2019. But widespread availability is still ramping up.

Here are more details on where each carrier currently stands with 5G:

Verizon 5G Coverage

Verizon‘s 5G buildout has centered on using millimeter wave spectrum. This high-frequency band enables incredible speeds – Verizon saw 1 Gbps in early testing! However, the tradeoff is very limited range and penetration.

Verizon 5G is live in parts of over 60 cities, but only covers about 1,800 public spaces across the country [1]. Reception is mostly limited to outdoors near nodes on particular blocks. Verizon hopes to improve accessibility by supplementing mmWave with lower-band frequencies.

AT&T 5G Availability

AT&T claims to offer nationwide 5G coverage. However, most areas still only have 5GE service rather than true 5G [2]. AT&T is actively building out 5G networks leveraging both mmWave and lower-band spectrum.

In 2021, AT&T had mmWave 5G deployed in over 40 cities and venues, though geographic reach remains limited. The lower-band 5G offers speeds and latency similar to 5GE but with greater capacity. By end of 2022, AT&T hopes to cover over 200 million people with 5G [3].

T-Mobile 5G Rollout

T-Mobile‘s strategy has focused on leveraging 600 MHz spectrum to deploy 5G more widely from the outset. 600 MHz when to live in 2019 and now covers 250 million people nationwide [4].

While 600 MHz doesn‘t enable the fastest gigabit speeds, it does allow signals to travel long distances and penetrate buildings better than mmWave. T-Mobile also offers mmWave "Ultra Capacity" 5G in select locations for a speed boost.

The takeaway? All three major carriers now have some form of 5G available. But for most consumers, geographic coverage remains quite limited – especially for the fastest mmWave 5G.

Should You Upgrade to 5G?

Given the ongoing rollout, is it worth upgrading your wireless plan and phone to tap into 5G networks right now? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Future-proofing – A 5G phone will let you access the fastest speeds both today and over the next 3 years as networks expand.

  • Reduced lag – 5G‘s low latency enhances real-time mobile apps. Mobile gaming and live video benefit.

  • Less congestion – In crowded areas, 5G‘s greater capacity means your connection is less likely to slow down.

  • Next-gen apps – To use new 5G-powered apps, you‘ll need a compatible device and 5G plan.

  • Cost – 5G phones currently cost $100+ more than 4G models. Plans with 5G access also carry a premium.

My advice? If you live in an area with solid 5G coverage from your carrier and use data-heavy apps, upgrading makes sense. You‘ll future-proof yourself for several years as networks improve. But if coverage is spotty where you live, you can probably hold off for now until it‘s more built-out.

Hope this 5G versus 5GE comparison gave you the nitty gritty details on wireless technology advancements! Let me know if you have any other questions.