Slow your roll with 5G

Don’t get excited about the new phone feature just yet

With the release of the new iPhone 12 series 5G will finally hit the mainstream. In my opinion, 5G is a poor marketing term used to get people excited for something that’s not ready for prime time. 

There are three different types of 5G: low-band (sometimes labeled as “nationwide 5G”), mid-band (usually labeled as sub-6 5G) and high-band (better known as mmWave or ultra-wide band). While they are all forms of 5G, they are not all the same. 

The above image shows a 5G speedtest taken on the iPhone 12. Photo by Noah Kurkjian

Low band 5G is designed to be the widest reaching. It is very good at penetrating walls and will be usable at the furthest distance from the cellular tower, but it is the slowest speed wise. It can go up to 250 mbps (megabits per second) for download speeds. 

For reference, a movie on Netflix is about 3.75 GBs, so if you were to get the max speed on this form of 5G it would take about two minutes to download the full movie. This you’ll see from Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. If you’re seeing a 5G emblem on your phone right now, you’re most likely using low-band. I have tested this version of 5G and while it wasn’t a whole lot faster than LTE, it was a more stable connection. 

Mid-band 5G is like if you were to set the sliders for range and speed to the same position. It loses a bit of range, but gains a decent bit of speed. This in terms of speed delivers between 300 and 1,000 mbps but typically trends towards the lower end. This one is most used by Sprint (now a T-Mobile company, but it’s unclear if original T-Mobile customers have access to this network yet or not). 

High-band or ultra-wide band 5G is the glitzy one that all of the carriers are most proud of. This version of 5G can deliver up to 3 gbps (gigabits per second). For reference, the Netflix movie I previously mentioned would take all of 10 seconds to download. While this is fast and obviously what everyone wants, there are several drawbacks. 

Ultra-wide band 5G is currently a battery killer. Since the technology that allows for this signal to be used by our phones is so new, the chips that handle it are power hungry and produce quite a bit of heat. The second issue is that the frequencies that are used for this network have a very short range and they cannot penetrate buildings. This application of 5G is currently only being installed in dense urban areas and event spaces like stadiums. 

I had a chance to test out Ultra-wide band on a trip to Chicago on Verizons network and while it was blazing fast, I was switched back to LTE if I accidentally stepped out of sight of the 5G node. It also took down the battery of the S20 Ultra I was testing it on by about 30% in the half hour I was able to try it out. 

While this tech is awesome, and I cannot wait for it to be widely available, it’s not really something to get excited about or be a selling feature of your next phone just yet.