Speed and Data of the Network Generations

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Physical innovations on devices are easy to see and understand. It’s relatively simple to note the tangible differences from a dial phone to a flip phone to a smartphone. However, often the most significant developments with our devices occur inside the devices themselves: their inner-workings. This is particularly the case when we look at the speed of data processing. Data processing represents how fast a device can execute tasks, such as sending a photo.

The following table outlines the development of the time it takes to send individual pieces of information (data) or what is called a “download rate.”

3G Network 42.2 Mbps
4G/LTE (Now) 100 Mbps
4G LTE Cat. 4 150 Mbps
4G/LTE Advanced 1,000 Mbps
5G (Near Future) 10,000 Mbps Projected

Notice that the table uses the term “megabits.” One megabit equals 1,000,000 pieces of data per second—that’s fast! Currently, networks are operating at a rate of 100 megabits per second (that’s 100 million pieces of data per second), and we anticipate that in the near future, networks will operate 100 times faster than now.

To give a sense of what we are talking about, here’s an example:

We know that driving on an interstate at 75 mph is fast. If we drove nonstop to the sun (93,000,000 miles away) at 75 mph, it would take us almost 142 years to get there.

However, if we use the current speed of network data transfer (100 megabits) as our speed for traveling to the sun, we’d get to the sun in 56 minutes.

If we use the near future network speed for data transfer (10,000 megabits) to travel to the sun, we’d arrive in 56 seconds!

Method Speed Time to the Sun
Car 75 mph ~142 years
4G Network 100 Mbps 56 minutes
5G Network 10,000 Mbps 56 seconds


Helpful hint:

Your carrier (e.g., AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon) provides you with data through their network—that’s what you’re paying them for each month. Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to be on a secure Wi-Fi network to limit your use of data, which can be costly over time.

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