Broadband or 5G?

lady using mobile phone

Our changing relationship with the internet has been matched by rapid growth in line speeds, giving us unprecedented choice about how we go online. From the Millennium onwards, dial-up internet services were replaced by faster ADSL connections carried over the same phone lines. Fibre broadband is now an increasingly mainstream alternative, while mobile internet connectivity is also growing in popularity.

The UK’s big four mobile networks are steadily rolling out 5G coverage across central Scotland, with a choice of networks in some inner-city and suburban districts. And since 5G has the potential to be 20 times faster than a gigabit broadband connection (currently the fastest domestic service available in this country), is it worth considering instead of broadband?

Five alive?

The 5G network’s rollout has been patchy, delayed by legal disputes about bandwidth availability, with lockdown also holding up much-needed infrastructure works. When 5G was first launched two and a half years ago, it was anticipated that the national network would be far faster and more widespread by now. Legal action by O2 led to delays releasing bandwidth across the 700MHz and 3.6-3.8GHz frequencies, which would have hugely improved the limited coverage offered by today’s sole 3.4GHz frequency. Local objections have also prevented many 5G masts being installed, from petitions to sabotage.

However, the future is bright for wireless connectivity. An optimised 5G network will have a mixture of low and high-frequency transmitters, with the latter much faster but covering a smaller area. Once 5G is carried over multiple frequencies, connection speeds will far outstrip those achievable by 4G. Advantages of 5G over broadband include staying connected to the same network wherever you go – no signal drop-outs in the garden, or disconnection as you leave home for the office. Plus, there’s no risk of a mobile network going bust (as sometimes happens with smaller ISPs), and network outages are less common than they are with broadband services.

As broad’ as it’s long

Unlike today’s 5G network, broadband is available everywhere. Even an ADSL line (offering download speeds of 10-13Mbps) will do for watching iPlayer and making Zoom calls, though it might struggle with both at the same time. Fibre broadband services come in two main forms – fibre connections to the nearest telephone exchange with ADSL lines completing the journey into your property, or fibre extending into your home. Known as FTTC and FTTH respectively, the former delivers speeds between 30 and 70Mbps, with the latter promising 1Gbps downloads – 200,000 times faster than a dial-up connection!

Home broadband remains the default internet connection (for now at least) because it’s usually data-unlimited. Even if three family members are streaming video content in 4K at once, your ISP should be able to comfortably handle it, whereas 5G contracts may have monthly data caps in place. Range extenders boost a broadband router’s coverage throughout the home, though you can also buy third-party routers with external aerials to replace the free models supplied by your ISP.

The best of both worlds?

In an age when we tend to use our mobiles rather than the house phone, fibre providers like Virgin Media no longer need a working phone line to pipe their services into your home. Broadband contracts from companies like Sky can also be taken out without a landline, reflecting the growing convergence of broadband and wireless internet. Since 5G will one day outperform even hyperfast broadband connections, the days of signing up to an ISP are probably drawing to an end – though we’d still recommend keeping your broadband policy going for now…

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