Making Sense of 5G vs 5GE: Perspectives on the Present and Future of Wireless Connectivity

The arrival of the fifth generation of cellular networks, widely marketed as 5G, foretells a world more connected than ever amidst promises of revolutionary speeds, responsiveness, and capacity. Major U.S. carriers are vying to deliver on that vision, although geographically limited 5G deployment remains a work in progress.

In the interim enters 5GE – an enhanced version of 4G LTE with a next-gen sounding branding – attempting to sustain modern user demands for faster mobile broadband and greater reliability. For consumers weighing purchases of new higher-priced 5G devices and services as networks continue maturing, understanding the key distinctions between these technologies is essential.

This guide offers an independent, real-world assessment of capabilities between 5G and 5GE, tips for matching connectivity needs to the right choice, plus a look ahead at what tomorrow may bring.

Making Sense of the Generational Leap: 5G Overview

Fifth generation wireless networks, driven by unrelenting growth in mobile devices and data traffic, constitute an ambitious rebuild of legacy infrastructure to achieve up to 100x advances in peak data rates, capacity, latency and security. By expanding into previously untapped millimeter wave bands above 24 GHz combined with a greater density of small cells, 5G networks aim to not merely support the Internet of Things (IoT) but also mission-critical services and new frontiers like autonomous transportation.

Table 1 summarizes the visionary targets set forth by the 3GPP global standards body for the first phase of 5G deployments.

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Metric5G TargetUse Cases
Peak Speed20 GbpsAugmented reality, cloud access with unlimited capacity
Avg. Speed100+ Mbps8K video, virtual meetings with highly responsive group interactivity
Latency1-10 msReal-time mobile gaming, industrial automation
Devices per km21 millionMassive IoT deployments with ubiquitous connectivity for embedded sensors and controls
Reliability99.999%Self-driving vehicles, remote surgery

Table 1: Key attributes that set 5G cellular networks apart from prior generations.

Early customer trials have already demonstrated the technology‘s potential, with median download speeds exceeding 600 Mbps and peak connectivity up to 4.2 Gbps.

However, the journey to translate these promising proofs-of-concept into nationwide 5G services remains ongoing. Carriers continue building out infrastructure while smartphone makers work on enabling more affordable devices. This brings us to 5G‘s prevalent, yet mostly placeholder, counterpart today – 5GE.

Decoding 5GE: Stepping Stone to 5G or Just Rebranding?

AT&T coined the name 5GE for its evolved 4G LTE network that incorporates newer enhancements but does not utilize standalone 5G infrastructure or spectrum. Technically termed LTE Advanced Pro, measured performance targets for 5GE include:

  • Average download speeds of ~40 Mbps
  • Peak theoretical speeds up to 100 Mbps
  • Latency between 15 and 60+ milliseconds

The above represent approximately 2X improvements over baseline 4G LTE. So why designate it as a next-gen experience on par with brands conveying 5G-caliber transformation?

AT&T justifies doing so by rationalizing 5GE as a critical waypoint and foundation augmenting their 5G network rollout. The counterview however is the confusing effect on consumers given the markedly different connotations of 4G evolution versus a revolutionary 5G future.

While far from the pinnacle of performance promised by 5G, understanding 5GE‘s strengths and limitations remains important for customers navigating a transitional era towards mobile networking‘s next horizon.

Reality Check: How 5G and 5GE Compare in the Wild

Putting aside theoretical peak speeds only demonstrated in controlled tests, independent mobile analytics provide robust real-world looks at typical user experience milestones today:

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Metric5G Experience
(Oct. 2022)
5GE Experience
(Oct. 2022)
Avg. Download Speed233 Mbps20.8 Mbps10X faster
Avg. Upload Speed33 Mbps9 Mbps3X faster
Latency36 ms68 ms2X lower
Time on 5G Network20.7%N/AAvailable 1 out of 5 sessions

Table 2: Opensignal analysis of crowdsourced data detailing latest real-world 5G vs 5GE network usage.

While 5G coverage trails 5GE availability today, tested 5G latencies and speeds demonstrate clear separation from enhanced 4G LTE performance – aligning better with standalone 5G targets on channels accessible to devices. Uploads also benefit with typical 5G user rates exceeding 5GE, crucial for use cases involving user-generated content.

As carriers continue deploying mid-band spectrum and other capacity boosting upgrades, analysts expect the 5G speed and consistency gap over 5GE to further widen through 2025 even as availability expands beyond 90% of locations.

But network prowess is only part of the story – choosing services also hinges considerably on supported devices in the present, plus use case alignment.

Smartphone Forward Compatibility: All 5GE vs Select 5G Models

Leveraging the most advanced connectivity inherently requires matching handheld hardware, setting up an interesting dilemma for some consumers debating between sticking with their current device or upgrading to tap into quicker 5G.

Essentially any modern LTE smartphone – whether a flagship or budget offering – seamlessly taps into 5GE‘s performance lift including iPhones as old as the 6s. By contrast, tapping into 5G demands at minimum an iPhone 12 series device with integrated X55 modems or certain Android-based flagships containing the Snapdragon 865 chipset and above.

While consumers with recent premium phones likely already own 5G-ready hardware, cost and longevity considerations for many prompt holding onto handsets for 3+ years. Therefore 5GE‘s out-of-box backward compatibility with all but the most dated LTE devices keeps it highly relevant in these instances. The onus is on users to decide whether 4G iteration constitutes ‘good enough‘ connectivity today, while eyeing 5G options for their next smartphone refresh when both networks and value-tier devices sufficiently mature.

That brings us to pricing, plans and deployment outlooks – shedding light on timelines for the 5G takeover.

When Will 5G Take Over? Carrier Comparison of Plans, Prices and Buildouts

While Verizon launched the world‘s first commercial 5G network in 2018 and availability continues increasing through upgraded towers and small cells deployment, analysts predict the technology will only overtake 4G LTE around 2023-2025 in the U.S.

Accelerating mainstream adoption depends on enhanced coverage, affordably priced 5G devices at lower tiers, and managing early-adopter premiums attached to cutting-edge network access. On the last dimension of pricing and plans, a sampling of approaches across top national carriers includes:

  • Verizon 5G Unlimited – $90/month with no throttling and 50-100+ Mbps speeds observed where enabled. Their Extended and Start Unlimited plans have 5G but subject to data prioritization and reduced speeds in times of congestion relative to premium subs.

  • T-Mobile 5G Unlimited – $65/month Essentials plan or $85/month Magenta Max offering with 100+ Mbps and no prioritization caps respectively. Includes access to mid-band 5G delivering broad coverage for 200+ million people today alongside growing mmWave footprints delivering blazing multi-Gbps hotspots in public spaces.

  • AT&T 5G Unlimited – Similar to Verizon at $75/month for unthrottled data on 5G where active. Lower tier plans around $50/month allow 5G access but subject slower experiences due to QoS restrictions. Their 5GE service costs substantially less but delivers only ~20 Mbps real-world speeds at best per latest testing.

While early 5G adopters pay premiums above comparable 4G/LTE plans, expect pricing parity in 12-18 months as deployment investments scale. However, heavy mobile users can already realize value from unlimited 5G plans delivering HD/4K video streaming and mobile hotspot usage at levels oversubscribing 5GE capabilities today for all practical purposes.

It‘s also worth noting monthly costs are just one contributor to total 5G ownership costs. The latest iPhone 14 series supporting next-gen networks retail at $799 (base model) – a substantial upfront outlay that 5GE readily sidesteps by working with older iPhones and Android devices. Factoring in device replacement cycles alongside monthly fees provides the complete picture of 5G‘s value over sticking with 4G/5GE.

Making the Most of Faster Wireless: Recommendations for Typical User Personas

Upgrading connectivity involves balancing improvements against not just device prices but usage patterns and location priorities like work or travel that justify premium throughput and low latency. Here is perspective on sensible routes given common scenarios:

The Globetrotter

Public transportation centers and venues seeing early 5G attention offer this cohort noticeable quality-of-experience advantages to stay productive or entertained in between destinations. Frequent trips also help maximize returns onpricey 5G equipment leased or purchased upfront. Go get ahead of the curve to reap the rewards during coverage buildouts.

The Streamer

Binge watching shows, playing cloud-hosted mobile games or using devices as internet hotspots for other connections (e.g. laptops) push networking capabilities the hardest. Paying a bit more for 5G‘s high-bandwidth, low-latency upside directly aligned to those use cases makes economical sense relative to throttled 5GE plans.

The Social Butterfly

Largely consuming media personally vs. sharing outbound content favors 4G/5GE speeds for now. Unless part of an upgrade cycle anyhow or seeing location-specific 5G coverage gaps frequently, hold off until monthly price parity before switching.

The Road Warrior

With ultra-reliable, low latency connectivity crucial for autonomous driving or traffic optimization applications on the horizon, early adoption helps experience the edge 5G promises. Particularly relevant for commercial vehicles and owners prioritizing tech readiness from a safety perspective.

The above represent general guidelines only with reasonable probability of matching well to needs and budgets. Nevertheless, assessing your unique habits and happenstances is prudent medicine before chasing the 5G promise.

The Road Ahead: Closing Thoughts on 5G‘s Eventual Ubiquity

Consumers today rightfully have high hopes mixed with a dose of uncertainty around still nascent 5G networks – culminating in confusion and skepticism when contrasted with labels like 5GE that seem to promise equivalency. However, dramatic improvements in broadband connectivity as routines migrate increasingly online depend profoundly on sustaining technology innovation cycles with 5G constituting the next leap over 4G/LTE.

While broader coverage statewide remains a couple years off, strategically targeting fast-growth zones first means many users already tap into transformative speeds in the right locations. As mid-band deployments march ahead, that performance will only compound while availability expands through the rest of the decade. Rest assured, the journey to fulfilling 5G‘s potential remains vigoroulsy underway – even if marketing terminology sometimes obfuscates technology gaps along the way.

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