The iPhone 12 series is finally here, and while the new devices offer a range of awesome new hardware features and a redesign, perhaps one of the most intriguing features is that they’re the first iPhones to support 5G.
Carriers have been building out their 5G networks for a couple of years now, and both T-Mobile and now Verizon are starting to talk about having a nationwide 5G network. Pretty much every Android phone over $400 released in the last year has had
Is 5G really worth getting excited for?
While 5G has been the carrier buzzword for years now, the vast majority of people probably still haven’t used it. Sure, AT&T may be trying to convince people they’re using it with “5GE” status bar icons, and you can’t watch TV for more than a few minutes without seeing a Verizon
But we’re not there yet. And we’re not particularly close.
There are two forms of 5G that you should be aware of: Millimeter-wave (or mmWave), and Sub-6 (sub-6GHz). The general rule of radio waves is this: The higher the frequency, the more information that can be transmitted. But higher frequency radio waves also can’t travel as far, and have a lot of trouble getting through obstacles like walls, trees, and buildings. Lower frequencies can get through those obstacles pretty easily — but they also can’t transmit as much data (and there’s a lot more competition in that area).
Those mmWave connections run on those ultra-high frequencies, typically in the 25GHz to 40GHz range, and carry tons of data very quickly. While Sub-6 connections can traverse much further distances, often similar to many 4G networks, they can’t quite transmit as much data. Ultimately, a good 5G network makes use of both, with mmWave inside buildings and in highly populated areas, and Sub-6 blanketing the rest of the country in conjunction with low-band 4G to fill in the very sparse areas.
5G coverage and performance varies dramatically by carrier and location.
None of the major networks in the U.S. truly offer that just yet. T-Mobile was the first to offer a “nationwide 5G network,” but that network was mostly with Sub-6 in order to tout widespread coverage. Only since its Sprint acquisition has it started to pull together enough spectrum and resources to build a multilayer
Verizon chose to adopt mmWave only at first, and just now turned on some of its Sub-6 network for “nationwide” coverage to coincide with the launch of the iPhone 12. But Verizon’s 5G is still very much focused on mmWave, which has huge gaps in coverage and consistency. And because it launched its Sub-6 later, with minimal spectrum, its Sub-6 speeds may often be slower than 4G.
While 5G may be on the way, and will be the network of the future, actually using
“We discovered that AT&T’s 5G network is actually slower than its 4G network in almost all of the 26 cities we tested, and that T-Mobile’s low-band
While 5G networks will eventually get there, that will take a very long time. The carriers need to build physical cell towers, install millions of “small cells” in dense cities for mmWave, and acquire or shift spectrum from existing 4G networks to make it all work. Ultimately,
That’s kind of the point of Apple adopting 5G right now. Let’s set aside the business reasons of Apple adding
That’s almost unheard of in the Android world, considering that Android phones slow down or lose software support in two years or so. In three or four years, when plenty of people still have their iPhone 12, they will want to connect to what are hoped will be widespread 5G networks — and if they can’t, they won’t be able to make use of the latest apps and services that require low latency and high download speeds.
5G’s only as good as the apps you can use on it
Of course, that’s assuming that iPhone users will actually have apps and services at their disposal. While it’s very likely that Apple will eventually cave and allow game-streaming services onto iOS devices, for now, it’s not a great time to be a gamer with an iPhone.
Game-streaming services are a perfect use case for 5G. These services are still in their infancy, but they essentially allow people to play AAA games straight from a server, rather than having to install the games on the device itself. This requires high download speeds and low latency — exactly the promise of
Microsoft has been testing its xCloud game streaming tech for some time now, and the service is finally on the brink of launching on mobile. But not on iOS. At the time of this writing, Apple had clarified some rules to create loopholes for cloud gaming services like Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud, but they require companies like Google and Microsoft to jump through some serious hoops, and it’s currently unclear if they will actually do so.
Still, that could all change — if it wasn’t for 4G, services like Netflix may not be as popular as they are now. The same will happen with 5G. With faster connectivity and lower latency, all kinds of new, previously unthought of services could pop up. And when they do, you’re going to want your iPhone to support them — even if they take a few years to get there.
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