Given that the cellular market is pretty well saturated in the developed world and cell companies are not likely to sell a lot of $1,200 cell phones in the developing world, Verizon, AT&T and the others are working overtime to create something to separate you from more of your money.
To even the game, you need to be knowledgeable.
For example, are you aware that most current cell phones being sold today WILL NOT support 5G? Its true. They will support pretend 5G (called 5G Evolution by AT&T, but I think they stopped calling it that after they were sued). My partner Ray has a phone on AT&T and the phone says 5G, but I know for a fact that his phone does not have a 5G radio in it.
Rumors say that Apple plans to release one or more 5G capable phones some time next year, likely in the fall, but possibly earlier. Maybe!
Samsung has a couple of 5G capable phones today – for example the Note 10 5G, which is different than the Note 10 and costs several hundred dollars more.
So what else do you need to know?
AT&T just launched it’s 5G service in 10 cities including LA, San Francisco and San Jose. If you are an AT&T customer, have one of those new 5G phones, pay extra for a 5G service plan and happen to be near one of their 5G towers, you are good to go. If you miss out on any of those requirements, you won’t get 5G.
As I have often said, when it comes to telecommunications services, we are like a developing country. Other countries, like China, South Korea and Switzerland are far ahead of us in rolling out real 5G.
Part of the problem is radio spectrum. 5G will operate on three different frequency bands, called, for simplicity, low, medium and high. Low is the most available spectrum to the carriers but also the most congested so while it can be deployed more quickly, it will also give you the smallest speed bump. High is the least crowded but also the least available, at least until the FCC frees up more spectrum. It will, eventually, give the best speed. But it has a downside which is that the high frequency radio waves don’t travel very far or through building walls, so that will require tens of thousands of new towers. Historically, city planners in the nice parts of town are anti cell tower (although these will be much smaller), so you have competing needs.
T-Mobile uses low band and claims that their network of slow-G (excuse me, 5G) covers 200 million people. When Wired tested their network with one of the two phones that they sell that support 5G ($900 and $1,300), they found speeds as high as 158 megabits, but as low as 5 megabits. Neither one are as fast as your current cable Internet.
T-Mobile admits that their 5-G service will only be about 20 percent faster than their existing service.
Verizon, on the other hand, uses the high band and tests show speeds of between 600 megabits and 1.5 gigabits – that is extremely fast. But it is only available in small parts of 17 cities. And the connection will only work if you are outside and near one of the few towers.
AT&T’s so called 5G service uses the slow band (low), but it also has high band service that it is offering to a select few business customers in a few locations.
Sprint is using the mid band and tests show speeds of between 110 megabits up to 400 megabits, which is, at the high end, probably 10 times faster than the speediest current 4G cell service. They claim that their service covers about 3 percent of the residents of the U.S.
On the other hand, South Korea will cover 90 percent of their population with real 5G within the next two weeks. They say that average speeds with be between 300 and 500 megabits and peak speeds will be between 800 and 900 megabits.
Statistics say that in 2020, 3G cell service will be more prevalent than 5G worldwide.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go for 5G cell programs. It does mean that you should understand what you are getting. And not getting.
The carriers, collectively, are spending billions of dollars to build out 5G network infrastructure ahead of when people get 5G capable phones, so they assume that people will, eventually, fork over their money for expensive phones and more expensive cell service.
My suggestion is to wait until there are more phone choices, wider service availability (are are two small sections inside the city limits of Denver that have broad 5G coverage today, according to Verizon and we have more data to understand what kind of speed boost you are really going to get.
Also, all of the providers are selling boxes that you can plug into your Internet connection to give you 5G when you are at home. Other than to impress people, I see no reason to do this because it will not run any faster than the WiFi in your house already runs.