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LTE vs. 5G (Teil 4): Ranges

As owners of a modern smartphone, we all regularly come across abbreviations such as LTE, 4G and 5G. In the context of these series, we are clarifying the meanings, characteristics and differences of common mobile communications standards. In addition to the transmission speed, users will also notice differences between 5G and the preceding LTE standard, in terms of range. In this article, we explain how these differences have come into being and what is the connection between range and speed.

The coverage with the new 5G mobile communications technology is steadily increasing in Germany. More and more base stations and radio cells are equipped with fast 5G. LTE networks (4G) are operated in parallel as well. 5G allows for the use of frequency ranges that haven’t been employed for mobile communications in the past. In the following article, we are clarifying the effects this has on the range and what are the differences between LTE and 5G in that regard.

The radio frequency as essential influencing factor for the range

Before we take a specific look at the ranges of the 5G and LTE networks, first we will briefly discuss the dependence of the range on the used radio frequency. The following principle applies: the higher the radio frequency and smaller the wavelength, the lower the achievable range is going to be. Low radio frequencies with long wavelengths propagate over long distances and penetrate objects such as walls better. However, at the same time, the achievable data transmission rates decrease with the increasing wavelength. There is a conflict when it comes to the use of frequency bands for mobile networks: either low frequencies with long range and low data rates (fewer base stations are necessary) or high frequencies with short range and high data rates (many base stations are necessary).

LTE ranges

LTE networks operate on various frequencies. For example, in Germany these are 800 MHz, 1.800 MHz, 2.100 MHz or 2.600 MHz. As it was clarified in the previous chapter, LTE achieves the greatest range with 800 MHz. This is about 10 to 15 kilometers. Therefore, this frequency band is preferred for coverage of rural regions. LTE radio stations with frequencies of 2.100 MHz or 2.600 MHz generally reach the maximum range within two or three kilometers at most. Network operators prefer to use these frequencies in cities. A high density of radio cells is necessary there, since many people need access to mobile communications.

5G ranges

The 5G technology is pushing forward into completely new frequency ranges. The mobile communications standard allows for the use of an immense frequency spectrum ,starting from below one GHz and reaching 30 GHz and more. 5G with radio frequencies under six gigahertz is referred to as sub 6 5G. At high frequencies of 20 GHz and more, we speak of millimeter waves.

Sub 6 5G partly uses the same frequencies as LTE. In addition, the 3,6 GHz frequency range was recently auctioned. When it comes to range, sub 6 5G is only slightly different from LTE. Areas of similar size can be covered with the same number of radio masts and base stations. Even though the 3,6 GHz frequency range is considerably higher than the range previously used for LTE, thanks to the newer 5G technologies such as the beamforming, which bundles radio waves and send them to the receiving device in a targeted manner, the range is rather close to the frequencies in the 2 GHz range. For the coverage of rural areas with 5G, the 700 MHz band can be used. It allows for ranges between 15 and 20 kilometers. However, the data rate remains limited to 100-200 megabits per second.

When it comes to 5G with millimeter waves, the situation is completely different. These frequency ranges allow for data rates in the multi-digit gigabit range. However, the range is limited to a few hundred meters. The penetration of building walls is poor, which is why a line of sight, between the radio mast and the mobile end device, is necessary in many cases. When it comes to the use of millimeter waves, mobile operators have no choice but to install a large number of small radio cells (microcells or small cells), sometimes even inside buildings.

 

We are working hard on a 5G version for our popular network tester. The LTE network testers of ENQT GmbH can already perform tests for all the current version of 2G, 3G and 4G, offering great support during assessments. Are you interested in mobile communications measurements? Feel free to visit our shop, write us an e-mail or call us at +49 40 35 73 20 65! We are at your disposal.