The latest of endless Apple launches is the much-lauded iPhone 12. Its biggest upgrade: using 5G wireless network technology for far faster connections and service. But, that vaunted performance boost might be lacking leaving many people wondering what 5G is all about and if they should even buy the iPhone 12 at all.
What Exactly Is 5G?
Wireless tech has evolved through many generations, and 5G is the latest incarnation. Each generation of wireless networks have indeed boosted speed, reliability, and general performance, but it’s important to keep in mind that, while your device might be 5G ready, it might not be available to you.
A recent piece in the New York Times describes two different types of 5G. One it terms the “much-hyped, ultrafast variant of 5G is known as ‘millimeter wave,’ is super fast, but its signals can only travel short distances. Plus, it has trouble penetrating walls and buildings, making it only truly efficient outdoors. This limitation means that carriers are only deploying this version in large outdoor spaces, like stadiums—not spaces currently popular during this pandemic.
Because of the aforementioned limitations, cellular networks are shifting over to a different version. Monikered as “vanilla 5G” by the NYT, this version will be about 20% faster than 4G. That’s not that miraculous.
iPhone 12 Is Ahead of the Tech
Like many upgrades, Apple preps its devices for the future, not the present. Presently, reliable, fast 5G is scarce. Any time there’s a significant change in a technology there’s a slow ramp-up to universal adoption. According to CNN, sometimes it moves like molasses.
“Significant adoption of 5G is going to take years — industry trade group GSMA estimates that by 2025, around half of mobile connections will be 5G (the rest will be older tech, like 4G and 3G). There are also concerns among regulators and others about the security of 5G, especially since crucial technologies such as self-driving cars and healthcare systems will be built on top of the network,” CNN reported.
So, while the potential for lightning fast speed is there, don’t expect your new iPhone 12 to deliver it immediately.
PC Mag Test Drove 5G
PC Mag ran its Fastest Mobile Networks 2020 test, and the results were spotty.
“We went to 26 cities to test 5G on all three major US carriers. We found that AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s 5G feels a lot like 4G, and while Verizon’s 5G feels radically different, it has very little coverage,” PC Mag said.
As it turns out, a 5G phone’s performance isn’t about the hardware you purchased, but the network you’re using.
The test results indicate that, if you have AT&T, the cost of a 5G phone is probably a waste since you’ll be stuck at 4G with occasional 5G boosts most of the time. Verizon, however, and sometimes T-Mobile, might make a 5G iPhone worth it, but only if you have decent coverage.
A CNET review of the iPhone 12 agrees, saying “If you’re interested in getting any of the iPhones 12 solely because of 5G, I’d recommend checking out which carriers offer 5G in your area, what the speeds are like and what the carrier’s plans are for building 5G out further.”
There might be other compelling reasons to spring for the iPhone 12 besides the spotty 5G capability. The new camera is supposed to be excellent, with a 27% improvement in low light conditions, so your selfies will be even more sublime. But it might take you just as long to post them as before.