What is 5G mmWave? Facts, Myths & FAQs…

By Richard Goodwin •  Updated: 04/20/22 •  10 min read

What the heck is 5G mmWave? It is safe? It is faster? How does it work? You have questions, we have answers – here’s everything you need to know about 5G mmWave…


For the last few years, networks and carriers around the world have been switching over their respective networks to 5G. If you live in a city in the US, UK, or many parts of Europe or Asia, or even a major town, chances are you’ve had 5G running on your phone at some point. By the end of 2024, 5G will be even more widespread and a core component of 5G technology, at least in the US and China, is 5G mmWave.

Not all 5G networks will use 5G mmWave, however, so just because you have a 5G connection does not mean it is a 5G mmWave one. But if you’re in the US, China, or Japan, chances are you’ll be using 5G mmWave at some point inside the next few years, regardless of your location – huge rollouts are currently happening and by the end of 2023, there’s be millions of more 5G mmWave connections available.

What is 5G mmWave?

Because 5G technology is pretty new, many people assume that 5G and 5G mmWave are the same things, that they’re interchangeable. But this is not the case. All mobile data, including 5G and 5G mmWave, work via radio frequencies. With 5G networks, you have low band frequencies and sub-6GHz which are used to send more data at higher speeds with more bandwidth. These bands are one of the reasons why 5G is so much faster than 4G and 3G.

What is 5G mmWave
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What’s 5G’s theoretical limit right now? 10Gbps. That is properly fast. How fast? Well, it is around 100 TIMES faster than our current 4G speeds (100Mbps). With this kind of speed, you could download an entire movie in around three seconds.

With 5G mmWave, you’re dealing with a specific part of the radio frequency spectrum – 24GHz and 100GHz. At this end of the spectrum, the wavelengths are extremely short compared to low band frequencies and the spectrum itself is essentially vacant – nothing runs on this end of the spectrum. Conversely, at the lower end, you have lots of congestion from things like 4G, TV and radio, and other communication protocols. The upshot of this, therefore, is more bandwidth which, in turn, makes for faster connections and rapid download speeds. Network congestion is the worst thing for speed and overall bandwidth.

The upshot of using these higher frequencies is that 5G mmWave is significantly faster than standard low-band 5G. The downside, thanks to its short wavelength, is that 5G mmWave cannot travel very far. Over short distances – 500m to 1KM – 5G mmWave can deliver more data at faster speeds than traditional forms of 5G. But for more open areas and wider, less populated areas, standard 5G will be the de facto connection for most.

In this respect, you can think of 5G mmWave as the perfect option for densely populated areas. If you have lots of people packed into small areas, you can deliver 5G mmWave to them pretty easily. This will ensure greater bandwidth for all users and faster speeds. Once you get out into less populated areas, things will switch over to standard low-band 5G with less bandwidth and slower speeds. As you can imagine, the applications for this tech are enormous.

For instance, if you’re in a stadium, at the mall, or located in a city center, you’ll be using 5G mmWave. This will enable carriers and networks to deliver the fastest possible 5G connection to the most people with the most bandwidth which effectively solves quite a few current issues with have with 4G. Out in rural towns, things will run on low-band 5G as these frequencies can cover much larger areas than high-band 5G mmWave.

5G mmWave Myths & Conspiracies

Whenever a new technology appears, you get plenty of excited individuals sharing rather dubious research on Facebook and Instagram. My personal favorite from the last few years was that 5G networks were being used to spread COVID. That’s right: organic, live viruses delivered by radio waves. This is why some 5G towers in the UK were burnt down. Or, why your Facebook feed – at one point – might have been full of 5G conspiracy theories.

5G Is Harmful To Humans

Other people claimed 5G would give us cancer, a similar claim was made about mobile phones in the 1980s, 1990s, and the 2000s but, once again, neither of these assertions held much water. In a bid to quell worries amongst the easily misled, The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) issued a statement confirming that 5G bands – including 5G mmWave – were safe for consumers.

When we revised the guidelines, we looked at the adequacy of the ones we published in 1998. We found that the previous ones were conservative in most cases, and they’d still provide adequate protection for current technologies. However, the new guidelines provide better and more detailed exposure guidance in particular for the higher frequency range, above 6GHz, which is of importance to 5G and future technologies using these higher frequencies.

ICNIRP Chairman Dr. Eric van Rongen

Was this enough to satisfy people? Of course not. But then again, some people believe the earth is flat. At this stage, the best you can do is either create your own magical reality where the earth is flat and 5G is used to distribute diseases like COVID, or trust that institutions like the ICNIRP aren’t working in league with the Illuminati and do actually care about your well being, and that the science they have been doing for more than three decades ensures that no telecommunications company can do anything that is found to be harmful to human life. As always, the choice is yours alone.

Gigabit LTE is Faster Than 5G

Another thing people that think they’re in the know like to talk about is gigabit LTE. The claim goes that since gigabit LTE can, theoretically, match 5G’s speeds, 5G technology like mmWave is largely pointless. In theory, some of these statements are true: gigabit LTE can hit gigabit and higher speeds, which is impressive, but it needs very exacting situations to do this – meaning a lab.

In the real world, gigabit LTE is contained by the same problems facing standard LTE – bandwidth and congestion on its allotted frequencies. For this reason, many areas that have deployed gigabit LTE aren’t – or will never – get its true, potential speed. The network it runs on is just too congested and this has a massive effect on its bandwidth which, in turn, reduces its speed and efficiency.

Meanwhile, 5G – both standard 5G and the mmWave kind – run on much higher or much lower frequencies, and are thus not subject to the same congestion and bandwidth issues that affect LTE and gigabit LTE. In a like for like situation, a 5G connection is ALWAYS going to be better than a gigabit LTE and/or standard 4G LTE connection simply because it has more bandwidth and improved latency, and, if you want truly blazingly fast speeds, you need lots and lots of bandwidth and low latency.

And with respect to latency, here’s why lower latency connections are better via the ThalesGroup:

From 200 milliseconds for 4G, we go down to 1 millisecond(1ms) with 5G. Just think about it. A millisecond is 1/1000 of a second. The average reaction time for humans to a visual stimulus is 250 ms or 1/4 of a second. People are capped at around 190-200 ms with proper training. Imagine now that your car could react 250 times faster than you.

The Maximum, Theoretical Speed of 5G

But what makes 5G so intriguing and such a hot topic with tech companies and carriers is that its latent potential, or its upper speeds, are truly astonishing and, once realized, have the potential to, once again, reinvent what we think of as “quick internet”. What’s 5G’s theoretical limit right now? 10Gbps. That is properly fast. How fast? Well, it is around 100 TIMES faster than our current 4G speeds (100Mbps). With this kind of speed, you could download an entire movie in around three seconds.

The implications for this kind of speed are huge, having implications – largely positive – for businesses and consumers alike. The end goal of 5G, therefore, can be thought of as completely unlimited, ultra-fast internet being available everywhere at all times. It will power smart roads, driverless cars, and the metaverse. That’s the goal, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And while it will take some time to get there, progress is now well underway.

Indeed, lab speeds of 1TB per second have now been achieved and if that sounds insane, well… that’s because it is. If you had a 1TB per second internet connection on your phone, it’d be 65,000 TIMES faster than current 4G speeds. With a connection like this, you could download over 100 movies in less than three seconds. Again, this was done in a lab setting, it wasn’t a real-world test, so don’t go getting your hopes up for 1TB per second of wireless data anytime soon. Having said that, Ofcom believes we could one day see wireless data speeds on phones in and around 50Gbps.

How Long Before 10Gbps 5G is Available?

Like anything related to technology, 5G is reliant on specifications – both inside your phone and your network/carrier’s towers and infrastructure. In order to deliver speeds upwards of 10Gbps, all the pieces need to be in place: phones need the right modems, networks need the right gear, and the infrastructure has to be in place. All of these things, as you’d expect, take time. But they are happening.

Case in point, Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X70 5G modem can handle speeds of up to 10Gbps. The X70 is the first modem of its kind to support all 5G bands ranging from 500MHz to 41GHz, so your phone – if you have one that runs the X70 modem – is now fully capable of running 5G and/or mmWave 5G at 10Gbps. The only snag now appears to reside with carriers and networks – they need to get their acts together to deliver the promised speeds of 10Gbps.

How long until this happens? It could be a good few years before 10Gbps speeds on 5G networks are unlocked. But given the speed of deployment and development by carriers and firms like Qualcomm, I’d expect we’ll be well on our way to 10Gbps 5G by 2024/25. I could be completely wrong, of course, but given the speed of 5G’s global rollout and the investment that is going into it, I think that is a fairly good, if not a little conservative estimation of how long it will take to unlock the first upper limit of 5G’s nascent potential.

What is 5G mmWave
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Richard Goodwin

Richard Goodwin has been working as a tech journalist for over 10 years. He is the editor and owner of KnowYourMobile.

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