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What’s the Difference Between 5G vs. 5G UW vs. 5G UC?
June 1, 2022
Reading time: 7 minutes
When you look at the top left or right of your phone’s screen, you may notice some new icons in the area where your signal strength appears. Instead of LTE, there may be 5G or other unidentifiable letters.
To paraphrase a famous Jerry Seinfeld bit, what’s the deal with all the changes in cell signals? How does it affect your speeds? And what are 5G, 5G UW, and 5G UC?
Learn what these terms mean and why they matter in our simple 5G guide below.
What is 5G?
5G has dominated tech news headlines since it was widely deployed in 2019. It’s reportedly “faster” and offers access in areas with weak or limited coverage.
However, 5G is just the latest version of cell technology. We previously had 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G, but you may have never heard them referred to by those terms. To refresh your memory:
1G was the first data network from the 1980s and brought us analog voice services.
2G was the 1990s tech that gave us digital voice services, known as CDMA.
3G, from the early 2000s, gave us the advancement of mobile data.
4G (or LTE) was the latest generation of technology prior to 5G. Many phones still use it, and it includes all the things we think of when we use smartphones, i.e., “mobile broadband.”
5G offers more of everything you need
5G was designed to deliver multi-Gbps data speeds, more reliable connections, and a more uniform experience. It’s not just for cell phones, but for any compatible device. So, yes, that means your PC and other devices can use 5G wireless technology, too.
5G supports more traffic than 4G, too, with the capability to handle 100 times the user data requests at peak efficiency.
5G claims to offer almost no latency, so it should feel instantaneous to use. Granted, how quickly you can download or pull up a webpage with 5G depends on more than your data. Your device’s capabilities, including memory and available resources, play a role, too.
The future of 5G
What can we expect with 5G? Innovators have made all kinds of promises. Some of the more forward-thinking initiatives include the launch of a “smart” transportation hub and using interconnected smart cars or even trains to communicate via the 5G network. On a more modest scale, we can see 5G to connect things in the home. The Internet of Things is technically employed through 5G capabilities as you read this article.
Are there any downsides to 5G?
What are the negatives of this type of technology? 5G has technological limitations, just like anything else. Concerns with 5G are largely related to security.Kaspersky claims that the following dangers are possible with any large-scale 5G use.
1. More points of entry for hackers
More data connection points mean more places of entry for cyberhackers. The decentralized security will require rigorous monitoring to protect every data point and keep dangers from spreading through the entire network.
2. Increased pressure on monitoring
High user traffic can put pressure on security monitoring. While there are benefits to more people accessing a 5G network, each additional user introduces risk. And it’s not easy to mitigate that risk after a set number of users. More speed and volume also mean more data sharing in the digital pipeline, which brings potential danger.
3. No comprehensive security standards
Since smart devices don’t have an all-encompassing security standard, many can be exploited. When almost anyone can create a connectible smart gadget, these devices introduce new weaknesses to the system. As your speaker, headphones, and even fridge connect to the network, they become points of weakness.
Additional concerns include the lack of encryption at some points in the network and that 5G tech is so new that not everyone will know how to stay safe online. Large-scale education and implementation will be a challenge.
Why 5G isn’t just “5G”
5G is the general term for the entire umbrella of this new version of data technology. But as it encompasses different bands and capabilities, network carriers will use other options within 5G. They have already started to roll out their networks with names that differentiate what they offer.
What is 5G UW?
5G UW is Verizon’s version of high-band “mmWave” (millimeter wave) and mid-band 5G. It stands for Ultra Wideband and is sometimes referred to as 5G UWB. If you are on that network while on a Verizon phone, you may see the UW icon on your phone screen.
When you use Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband, you may not get the same band each time. Speeds vary, but it’s still known as “5G.” mmWave bands aren’t available in many places yet, so look for this to improve.
5G Nationwide vs 5G Ultra Wideband
Verizon uses the term “5G Nationwide” to refer to its low-band 5G, which is not as fast as the mid or high-bands. If your phone doesn’t show the UW logo, you are likely on this lower-tier network. It’s not significantly faster or better than 4G LTE, and it may be the only 5G you access on lower-priced phone plans. This is why it’s important to pay attention to what you pay for when you upgrade to 5G.
What is 5G UC?
5G UC is T-Mobile's version of 5G, which it also calls "Ultra Capacity." It includes high-band 5G but relies on mid-band spectrums offering 2.5 GHz. You'll see the 5G UC icon on your phone if you're in the range of one of the towers.
What if you see 5G without the UC? You’re using the lower-speed, low-band 5G network. T-Mobile calls this “Extended Range,” and it’s comparable to 4G LTE. It will likely become available in more areas as the company expands its high-band network.
What about 5G Plus?
AT&T’s 5G Plus offering appears as a 5G+ icon and lets you know you're in mid-band or high-band territory. It's most common in stadiums and large public gathering points, and you may see 5G Plus offered the next time you attend a sporting event or concert.
Outside of that area, you’re more likely to access the low-band network of 5G. On a related note, if you see 5G E on your phone, you’re accessing AT&Ts 5G Evolution network, a service that faced controversy over the years.
Which type of 5G is best?
The best 5G is the 5G you can access. Yes, high-band 5G is the fastest and most reliable, but it is still early in the game, and many of the 5G networks covering most places aren't there yet. You can experience the fast speeds with mid-band networks, as well.
In most cases, you can check your phone's screen to see whether you are in mid or high by the icon. You won't necessarily see which of the two you have, but you can notice it in the download speeds.
5G specifications by carrier
Here is the list of 5G offerings by carrier for easy reference:
5G UC (Ultra Capacity): Mid-band and high-band
5G Extended Range: Low-band
5G Plus: Mid-band and high-band
5G Evolution: Low-band
5G UW (Ultra Wideband): Mid-band and high-band
5G Nationwide: Low-band
These terms may and likely will change, especially as more users hit the 5G networks and the capabilities expand. Each provider also works with smaller providers, such as pay-as-you-go plans to resell their network capacity.
Customers of Mint Mobile, Tracfone, or Republic Wireless, for example, may not know that these providers resell the 5G network space from the bigger players. A quick look at your phone screen can tell you if you’re accessing a provider’s mid and high bands vs. its low band.
5G is here to stay, and it's causing quite the buzz. For most users, it brings a more robust network with higher speeds and less latency to avoid driving mobile users to incredible levels of frustration.
With rural areas and other places still a long way away from offering the speedier 5G bands, most people will experience 4G speeds. Buying a 5G compatible phone provides access to fast speeds when you travel, which is good. It also means you don't have to upgrade your phone again when the network catches up.
If you live and work in a place with only low-band 5G, and it costs considerably more to upgrade, it may make sense to wait out the transition. If your wireless experience is sufficient, upgrading to a new 5G phone just to upgrade may not be the best move for your budget.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.
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