Ok so you’ve heard of 3G and 4G but now you’re hearing everyone talk about 5G and you’re thinking huh?! 

5G is available in SA, but what does this mean for you? Let’s take you through some information about it so you’re able to choose the best smartphone/ device when you’re ready to take the plunge and get in on this super-fast network. 

The big ‘G’ next to 3G, 4G and 5G stands for generation. So when cell phones first came out (around 1994 in South Africa) they were being powered by 2G cellular towers. Fast forward approximately 10 years and the big mobile networks started rolling out 3G towers which was a giant leap in speed and connectivity. If you’re reading this and you have a phone you’re probably very much aware of 4G which is the current generation of network that most people rely on. 4G is also referred to as LTE (Long Term Evolution) because this type of technology is what powers 4G. They are not technically the exact same thing, but they are used interchangeably or even as 4G LTE. 

The trend seems to be that every decade or so gets a new generation of cellular networks and 5G is currently available in limited parts of the country, with plans to roll it out more widely within the next few years. 


  1. 1. What is the difference between 4G and 5G?


4G vs 5G

The first significant difference is speed.
5G can reach speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second which is about 100 times faster than 4G. Not only does this mean you’ll be able to download an hour-long video in about 5 seconds (which takes about 3-4 minutes on 4G) but it opens up the possibility in future to revolutionise industries and enhance the performance of emergency services in cities by utilising this new generation of network. 

The next one is capacity.
Have you ever tried to send a loved one a message on New Year’s Day and found that the video or clip you’re trying to send is just not going through? Or pre-Covid when crowds were a thing and trying to book an uber after a concert was a nightmare because the app just wouldn’t refresh? When there is congestion on the 4G network, or simply too many devices competing on a network in close proximity you find that you can’t download, watch TikToks or open a webpage. 5G will have more capacity so that more devices are able to be on the same network without any of the frustration. 

The last one is Latency.
It can be explained as the ‘lag’ between sending and receiving something from one person to the other, if you Whatsapp a friend next to you on a 4G network the amount of time it takes for your message to appear on their phone is probably a few milliseconds later, with 5G this lag will be virtually nothing. Although it doesn’t have a major impact on us (other than maybe waiting for what feels like days for an OTP when you’re buying something online) it will be the technology that powers self-driving cars which is a very cool thought. 

Although this sounds really exciting, and it is, the 5G coverage in South Africa is still quite sparse and still in the development phase, so even if you have a 5G enabled smartphone, you aren’t necessarily going to get any or all of these benefits just yet. In fact, the full rollout of 5G could take another decade before all of these benefits are widespread. 


  1. 2. Can my 3G or 4G phone work on 5G?

You won’t be able to ‘use’ 5G without having a 5G enabled smartphone. If your 5G smartphone is within a 5G tower or range, it will connect to 5G and when it isn’t it will then be on 4G. 

If you have a 3G or 4G enabled phone it will still ‘work’ on a 5G network, but you won’t be using 5G mobile technology, you’ll be using 3G or 4G depending on your phone type and model. 

  1. 3. How do I know if my phone is 3G or 4G enabled?

Before buying a new smartphone it is a good idea to do some research on it and see whether it is 3G, 4G and now even 5G enabled.

If you want to check this on your current smartphone you can look in your General Settings and select Mobile Networks or Network Mode (Android phones) and Mobile Data Options on iPhone. 

Many smartphones give you an option to select either 3G or 4G. Remember that 4G and LTE are often used interchangeably even though they aren’t exactly the same thing. 

  1. 4. What 5G smartphones are available at hi-online?


We have a selection of Android and Apple brands available in 5G versions online and in selected stores. Visit hi-online.co.za for the latest in the 5G smartphone range, from Samsung and Xiaomi to the iPhone 12 family.

Apple iPhone 12 5G Phones

samsung phone samsung watch

  1. 5. Should I get a 5G phone in South Africa?

If 5G is the main reason you have your eye on a new smartphone, then the answer is no. 

5G is still new and isn’t widely available throughout the country, so you aren’t going to be getting value for money. In areas where the 5G network coverage is good, you will be able to experience superior speed and connectivity, but it probably shouldn’t be your ultimate deciding factor. 

As with any new technology launch, devices start off being incredibly expensive and as time goes on and the more readily available it becomes, the price will go down. Leading brands are seeing that 5G is a huge competitive advantage and as more phones launch that are 5G enabled, it’ll bring the price down. 

If there’s a new phone that you have your eye on for other reasons (incredible camera, enhanced battery life for example) and it just happens to be 5G enabled, then we say go ahead and start enjoying those 5G benefits when you’re able to as networks like Rain, Vodacom and MTN are working hard as we speak to keep rolling out those 5G towers. 

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