What’s the Difference Between 5G and 5GHz Wi-Fi?

5G and 5 GHz Wi-Fi are both used for wireless connectivity, but they have nothing else in common. Anyone who refers to “5G Wi-Fi” actually means 5 GHz Wi-Fi, which is different from the 5G cellular standard.

5G is the new cellular standard

You will hear a lot more about 5G soon. It’s a cellular standard that succeeds 4G LTE and 3G. 5G stands for "fifth generation" because it is the fifth generation of this cellular standard.

5G is designed to be much faster and have lower latency than 4G LTE. You'll start to see the first 5G smartphones in 2019, and cellular operators like AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon will deploy their 5G mobile networks. 5G could transform your home internet connection by also providing fast wireless broadband Internet service.

Although 5G is an exciting new standard, it has nothing to do with Wi-Fi. 5G is used for cellular connections. Future smartphones can support 5G and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, but current smartphones support 4G LTE and 5 GHz Wi-Fi.

RELATED: What is 5G and how fast will it be?

5 GHz is one of two bands for Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi has two frequency bands you can use: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. 5 GHz is the most recent. It has become widely used with the Wi-Fi 802.11n standard, originally published in 2009. It is still part of modern Wi-Fi standards such as 802.11ac and Wi-Fi 6.

The 5 GHz Wi-Fi is great. It offers more channels that do not overlap, which makes it much less crowded. It’s excellent in places with lots of Wi-Fi congestion, like apartment buildings where each apartment has its own router and Wi-Fi network. 5 GHz Wi-Fi is also faster than 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi.

But, despite these slower speeds and increased congestion, 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi still has its advantages. 2.4 GHz covers an area wider than 5 GHz and passes better through walls thanks to its longer radio waves. These shorter 5 GHz radio waves allow a faster connection, but they cannot cover as much ground.

If you even have a reasonably modern router, it's probably a dual band router which supports 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi at the same time.

We have seen people use the term "5G Wi-Fi" to refer to 5 GHz Wi-Fi, but that is incorrect. They mean "Wi-Fi 5 GHz".

RELATED: What is the difference between 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi (and which one should I use)?

Why do some Wi-Fi networks say they are "5G"?

To make things a little more confusing, people sometimes name their networks things like "My network" and "My network – 5G". It is quite misleading, but it was not too confusing before the arrival of 5G. Here, "5G" is just the abbreviation for "5 GHz".

Indeed, Wi-Fi routers that support 5 GHz Wi-Fi can be configured in different ways. These routers can host both a 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz network at the same time, which is useful for older devices that only support 2.4 GHz, or in larger areas where devices may fall outside the 5 GHz range but remain within the 2.4 GHz range.

If the two Wi-Fi networks have the same name – for example, if your 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks are named "My Network" – each smartphone, laptop or other connected device automatically switches between networks, choosing the 5 GHz network and switch to the 2.4 GHz network if necessary. That’s the goal anyway. In reality, many devices do not do this properly and may simply connect to the 2.4 GHz network, or they may try to connect to the 5 GHz network and fail.

That’s why people configure their routers to have two separate Wi-Fi network names. One could be named something like "My network – 2.4 GHz" and another something like "My network – 5 GHz". Both are hosted by the same router, but one is 2.4 GHz and the other is 5 GHz. You can then choose the network you want to connect to on your devices. Of course, you don't need to use informative names like this – you can name a "lime" and a "lemon" if you wish.

Why do people say "5G Wi-Fi"?

5G is a whole new standard. Some people started calling 5 GHz Wi-Fi "5G Wi-Fi" back in the days when 3G and 4G LTE were the dominant cellular standards.

It was never officially called that, but it was a shorter name that some people used. It is as if so many people call the iPod Touch "iTouch". It wasn't the official name, but everyone knew what they were talking about.

But now that 5G is about to hit consumer devices, “5G Wi-Fi” is simply confusing and unclear. Whenever you see the term "5G" associated with Wi-Fi, it probably refers to 5 GHz Wi-Fi.

However, in most cases, "5G" will refer to the new cellular standard. And, as 5G spreads, people should hopefully start being a little more specific to avoid confusion.

Image credit: areebarbar/Shutterstock.com, Tadej Pibernik/Shutterstock.com, Mayuree Moonihurun/Shutterstock.com.

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