What Is 5G?
Are Cell Phone Boosters 5G‑ready?

Powerful Signal answers your questions about the next generation of cellular technologies

5G cell phone tower

Updated August 12, 2020

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of cellular communications technologies. It includes upgrades to cellular network software, the installation of new antennas and other hardware, and the introduction of new cellular frequencies. 5G will significantly improve the speed of cellular data and increase the number of cellular devices that can connect to a single cell.

5G networks will continue to use current low-band 4G LTE cellular frequencies (600–2300 MHz). Low-band frequencies travel long distances and will continue to be used for widespread coverage across North America, especially in rural and outlying suburban areas. 5G improvements will increase the data speeds on these low-band networks by as much as six or seven times what 4G could provide.

Relative range of low-band cellular frequencies Current low-band cellular frequencies can travel long distances, with the lowest frequencies having the longest ranges. The maximum  distances of newer 5G frequencies will be shorter than all of these. (Click to enlarge.)

Cellular carriers are also expanding coverage and increasing data speeds by adding mid-band frequencies (2500–6000 MHz) and high-band or “millimeter wave” (mmWave) frequencies (24–48 GHz). These higher frequencies provide much faster data rates—as much as 80 times the speed of 4G networks—but higher frequencies don’t travel as far, nor can they penetrate building walls and windows as easily. These limitations mean that high-frequency 5G is going to be concentrated in urban and dense suburban locations, where people live, work, and travel very close to high-frequency antennas.

5G phones have antennas and software that can receive and transmit on low-band, mid-band, and high-band 5G networks. If you don’t plan on getting a 5G-capable phone anytime soon, you’ll still be able to use existing 4G networks.

4G frequencies will continue to be used, they’ll just get faster with 5G technologies. Gaps in 4G and 5G coverage will continue to exist, so some homes and businesses will still need the improved coverage cell signal boosters provide.

Do cell signal boosters work on 5G networks?

Yes, today’s 4G boosters work on low-band 5G networks. The 4G booster you have now—or the one you’re considering buying—will continue to work indefinitely on existing LTE frequencies.

Specifically, today’s boosters work on cellular bands 12, 17, and 13 (700 MHz), band 5 (800 MHz), band 4 (1700 & 2100 MHz), and bands 2 and 25 (1900 MHz). The FCC has not yet approved cellular boosters to operate on a few 4G/5G frequencies, like band 71 (600 MHz), band 26 (800 MHz), band 30 (2300 MHz), and band 41 (2500 MHz). (See here for a complete list of cellular bands.)

Mid-band and high-band 5G frequencies haven’t been approved by the FCC for boosting yet, but these networks are new and currently limited to a handful of urban areas in the United States. As these networks mature, booster manufacturers will certainly develop solutions for them.

Is 5G harmful to people?

Man talking on cell phone

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and other public agencies have been studying the effects of cellular phone use since the mid-1990s. While research is still ongoing, the WHO has stated:

A large number of studies have been performed [since the 1990s] to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use. source

Cellular phones are radio-frequency transmitters. The low-energy electromagnetic frequencies they use—600 MHz to 49 GHz—are non-ionizing. Unlike x-rays and gamma rays, non-ionizing radiation doesn’t have enough energy to strip electrons from atoms and cause cellular damage that leads to cancers and other health problems.

Electromagnetic spectrum Mobile phones emit non-ionizing radiation at frequencies and wattages lower than visible light. source (Click to enlarge.)

Cell phones also operate in the range of only 0.1 to 2 watts. That’s extremely low compared to a typical household light bulb (40–75 watts), an LCD television (150 watts), or a vacuum cleaner (1,000 watts).

Non-ionizing radiation cannot damage human tissue at the molecular level like ionizing radiation can, but it can heat substances. The wattage on cell phones and cell boosters is so low, however, that the amount of electromagnetic heat they generate is barely perceptible. A microwave oven cooks food at 2400 MHz with 1,100 watts of power; cell phones and WiFi routers operate at or near that same frequency but with 1/1000th the power of a microwave oven.

Conspiracy theories spread on social media that 5G networks were the cause of 2020’s COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic are false and completely lacking in any scientific basis.