5G uptake surpassed 1 billion users in 2022, prompting the Starlink vs. 5G debate.
As more tech relies on a stable internet connection, we see increased demand for reliable speeds, lower latency, and global availability.
At its peak, 5G technology provides speeds almost matching Starlink. Starlink Residential has peak speeds of 250 Mbps.
However, the US’s top 5G providers, T-Mobile and Verizon, advertise between 180 and 300 Mbps peak download speed.
However, the main difference between Starlink and 5G is the minimal one-time fee for 5G compared to Starlink’s $599 equipment cost.
We’ll explain how both technologies work and which one is best suited for you.
How Does 5G Work?
5G towers that radiate signal
5G is simply a mobile network. It’s the 5th generation, an upgrade from 4G and slower technologies like 3G, 2G, and G.
It is a higher-speed network that improves connectivity across devices, objects, and services.
Unlike fiber or satellite, 5G technology uses base stations as transmitters. The base stations emit radio waves of different bands to transmit data to devices.
Each unique band determines the application.
Low bands below 1GHz have low vibration. Therefore, they can travel the longest distances between transmission towers.
They have incredible penetrative abilities and are most reliable in heavily populated areas.
Midbands between 1 and 6 GHz don’t cover distances as vast as low bands. However, they are vital in carrying mobile broadband and IoT data.
High bands have a 24 GHz frequency. While these bands are super fast, they can only travel short distances.
Furthermore, they have mild penetrative capacity. They’re not the most ideal for urban areas yet.
However, they are highly effective in high-traffic closed spaces such as airports.
How Does Starlink Work?
Starlink and gen dish on a wall
Starlink is the most preferable satellite internet provider, especially in rural areas.
It uses satellites orbiting in low-earth and ground stations all over the globe to provide internet.
The satellites transmit radio signals (10.7-12.7GHz and 37.5-42.5GHz frequency) to residential Starlink satellite dishes.
However, it disperses different signals (19.3GHz and 37.5-42.5GHz) to ground stations.
As you can see, there is a similarity in high-speed, ultra-low latency 5G and Starlink. However, there are some major differences.
Starlink and 5G are undeniably fast. Both have advertised speeds past 100 Mbps and are steering close to the 200 Mbps mark for residential plans.
However, user experiences place Starlink download speeds at just below 100 Mbps on average. You can access premium download speeds on Starlink’s Business package.
With an advertised speed of 500Mbps, you’d get almost five times the 5G download speed.
Conversely, Verizon averaged 52 Mbps compared to T-Mobile’s 33 Mbps and AT&T’s 41 Mbps.
Still, factors such as station-to-device distance and location affect 5G speeds. For example, did you know that the UAE has the fastest 5G speed in the world at just above 550Mbps?
Unsurprisingly, 5G average upload speeds match Starlink’s. While most big 5G ISPs average between 15-50 Mbps, Starlink averages between 5 and 30 Mbps upload speeds.
Ookla speed tests give you a close estimate of real-time speeds.
Traffic management system relying on low latency 5G
Latency, the time data takes to travel to and from your device, is an often overlooked measure of accuracy when selecting ISPs.
Yet, it is a crucial factor in your internet experience.
Starlink’s average latency is about 20-40ms. The biggest 5G providers in the US average between 30 and 40ms.
Again, factors such as distance between receiver devices and base towers affect 5G latency. Furthermore, population density, interference, and weather also play a part in the 5G latency rate.
5G uses technology such as edge computing — processing data closer to its generation or consumption point — to reduce latency.
On the other hand, Starlink latency might be affected by adverse weather.
Conditions such as heavy rain might increase the time data takes to get to your satellite dish. Starlink depends on having satellites closer to Earth to keep latency down.
Global Uptake and Coverage
5G tower in a busy city
It took 5G less time than 4G to reach one billion users. The US alone had over 166 million 5G users in 2022.
Providers such as Verizon cover 2000 cities compared to 14000 for AT&T and 8000 for T-Mobile.
And while each provider uses different frequency bands (mmWave for Verizon and low-band and mid-band for AT&T and T-Mobile), 5G has massive appeal all over the globe.
Each provider has a coverage map you can check to see 5G covered areas.
On the other hand, Starlink is fast gathering good reviews worldwide for its convenience. The service has launched in most of the US, Canada, and Mexico.
We are seeing credible uptake in Africa, Asia, and South America.
Starlink is yet to breach that billion mark. However, it is still launching satellites into low earth.
Their inclusion of non-reflective and laser satellites could improve speeds and spur even bigger uptake and coverage.
5G carriers charge a monthly charge for data.
For example, Verizon charges about $65 for one line monthly. However, you can place about four lines on the plan and cut the cost to $30.
You can upgrade it to the Unlimited Plus plan that gives you 30GB extra data for hotspot and 5G wideband(mmWave) access for $80 or $45 for four lines.
Similarly, AT&T charges $60 monthly for one line($35 for four lines), while T-Mobile charges $60 and $30 for four lines.
As a higher standard, 5G is and will continue to be costlier than 4G. However, it is a worthwhile upgrade for faster speed.
Starlink Residential plans start from $120 monthly. Business and Portability users pay $250.
However, there is a $599 equipment cost for Residential and Starlink ROAM users. Business and Portability users pay $2500 for equipment.
Speaking of coverage and portability, 5G portability is more practical than Starlink. You can access 5G technology from your phone if the area is covered.
Starlink portability is possible. However, you must have a paid plan for it. Otherwise, you can access Starlink on your mobile phone wirelessly if you are close to your router.
Data Caps and Throttling
Typically, 5G doesn’t have data caps. Providers throttle data at certain times of the day when there’s congestion.
The reduced bandwidth is sometimes a safeguard against crippling the entire system. However, it reduces data speeds for users and leads to janky service.
In its initial stages, Starlink placed data caps on users who exceeded 1TB in a month between 7 AM and 11 PM. However, increased bandwidth led to the removal of the data cap.
Now, Starlink offers priority speeds to Residential users. But, it throttles speeds for Starlink RV and Best Effort Service subscribers.
Reliability And Outages
Starlink and 5G perform well against outages. However, 5G performs better.
5G isn’t adversely affected by weather. Extremes like typhoons and earthquakes could take down the 5G infrastructure, though.
Starlink might have outages from changes in satellite positions. The satellite dishes automatically move to realign with the satellites above.
Starlink, on the other hand, performs well against snow and rain. However, heavy rain will slow down reception due to the water’s effects on radio signals.
Starlink dishes have a snow melt feature that prevents snow buildup that could affect service.
5G service providers already have established systems to address customer concerns. Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T have representatives you can call on company numbers. They also have thriving social media pages to interact with users.
Starlink has a complicated customer service process. The ticketing system takes up to 72 hours to address customer queries. Understandably, it is still a somewhat new entrant and might upgrade to more open channels.
Starlink and 5G are reshaping internet communication. Both are reliable, fast, and stable enough to serve underserved rural areas for business and residential use.
However, 5G has the heavy cost of 5G-enabled devices, while Starlink’s equipment cost might be offputting for some hopeful subscribers. 5G has more reliable customer service and better portability.