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Upgrading to a 5G phone: When’s the right time?

In case you’ve even glanced at a tech weblog this yr, you’ve certainly seen the time period 5G. Hailed as the following huge development in mobility, 5G might be an unlimited breakthrough for smartphones and different linked units, letting us obtain motion pictures in a blink of a watch, whereas eliminating irritating slowdowns as soon as and for all.

However simply because you should buy a 5G telephone proper now doesn’t imply it is best to. Like all new tech, the earliest 5G telephones are costly and underwhelming, with soon-to-be-outdated components and a obscure promise of future-proofing.

However all that’s going to alter very quickly. 

In 2020, the 5G imaginative and prescient will start to take form in an actual method, and when you’re occupied with getting on board, you’ll wish to be sure you improve to the appropriate handset on the proper time. Right here’s what to search for, so don’t pull the set off too early…

The proper modem

X55 5G modem

Most individuals don’t give a lot thought to modems once they purchase a telephone, however you’ll wish to verify the spec sheet earlier than shopping for your first 5G telephone. Since Intel dropped out of the race and U.S. corporations are forbidden from doing enterprise with Huawei, Qualcomm is the one sport on the town in terms of modems, and the first-generation X50 modem that’s within the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and different telephones is really a freshman effort.

However fret not! The primary telephones geared up with Qualcomm’s second-generation X55 5G modem will begin hitting cabinets in 2020, and it’s a large enchancment over the X50 modem that powers first-generation 5G telephones.

galaxy s10 5g compare Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Galaxy S10 5G (left) makes use of the X50 modem.

Right here’s how Qualcomm explains it: “Snapdragon X55 is a 7-nanometer single-chip built-in 5G to 2G multimode modem that helps 5G NR mmWave and sub-6 GHz spectrum bands with as much as 7 gigabits per second (Gbps) obtain speeds and three Gbps add speeds over 5G, and Class 22 LTE with as much as 2.5 Gbps LTE obtain speeds.”

So let’s break all that down. As a result of it’s an built-in chip, it’s smaller, sooner, and extra environment friendly than its predecessor. The X50 modem was strictly a 5G modem, so it wanted to be paired with a second 4G LTE modem alongside the Snapdragon 855 processor. However now that the X55 is a totally built-in resolution, will probably be far more versatile, and the following crop of 5G telephones will probably be thinner and lighter than the present crop. And for the reason that X55 is a standalone half, will probably be capable of built-in into mid-range processors too, so that you received’t have to interrupt the financial institution to get 5G.

And it’s sooner too. Whereas each chips help the mmWave and the sub-6Ghz spectrum bands that comprise the 2 frequent types of 5G, the X50 topped off at 5Gbps, whereas the X55 is able to reaching speeds of 7Gbps. Granted, no community is even near reaching these speeds and possibly received’t be for a lot of a few years, however a better ceiling ought to make issues speedier all through.

Much more importantly, the X55 has an built-in LTE modem on board, so switching between the 2 networks (5G and 4G) ought to be sooner and extra seamless. That’s necessary as a result of 5G networks are nonetheless being constructed out, and telephones might want to soar between the networks commonly. So whether or not you’re shopping for an Android telephone or an iPhone with 5G, you’ll need Qualcomm’s newest X55 modem inside.

The proper service

There are lots of methods to interrupt down the definition of “service.” Let’s begin by discussing why you’ll need your community to robustly help each mmWave and Sub-6Hz.


If you hear about 5G’s insane multi-gigabit speeds, mmWave is what individuals are speaking about. And I can attest that it’s actual and it’s spectacular. Nonetheless, it’s additionally extraordinarily restricted. mmWave service depends on communication with small towers, so it’s deployment is commonly restricted to discrete blocks in an city atmosphere reasonably than throughout a number of miles of uninterrupted service.

mmWave can also be very finicky, has bother penetrating partitions and thick glass, and wishes a straight line of sight, so when you’re strolling away from a tower you would possibly misplaced service. That mentioned, carriers are engaged on applied sciences to boost the reliability and attain of mmWave, and it’ll positively be a significant element of 5G, particularly in main cities. However it’s going to be fairly restricted for a few years to return.


Whereas mmWave is good, Sub-6Hz 5G is the 5G most individuals might be experiencing. Just like LTE, it makes use of frequent wi-fi frequencies and antennas to broadcast its sign, very like 4G LTE. Whereas there are limitations when in comparison with mmWave—primarily speeds and bandwidth—it’s way more sensible on a nationwide scale, so that you’ll wish to make certain your service is bringing Sub-6Hz to your city earlier than committing to a 5G telephone. The excellent news, although, is that the infrastructure rollout ought to be a lot faster than mmWave, which has been frustratingly gradual.


Talking of infrastructure, there’s no larger consider shopping for (or not shopping for) a 5G telephone than what your wi-fi service is doing in your individual yard. That’s as a result of 5G networks are nonetheless being constructed, and the Large four U.S. carriers are all battling one another for bragging rights. All 4 carriers have some model of 5G up and working, however relying on which service you subscribe to, the 5G expertise might be very totally different. Let’s break down who’s doing what.

Verizon: Verizon claims that 30 cities can have 5G by the tip of 2019, however up to now it’s solely delivered on roughly half of that promise, and that’s provided that you embrace cities with NFL stadium deployment (denoted with an asterisk):

  • Atlanta, GA
  • Baltimore, MD*
  • Boise, ID
  • Chicago, IL
  • Dallas, TX
  • Denver, CO
  • Detroit, MI
  • Houston, TX
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Foxboro, MA
  • Miami, FL*
  • Minneapolis, MN*
  • East Rutherford, NJ*
  • New York, NY
  • Omaha, NE
  • Panama Metropolis, FL
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Windfall, RI
  • Seattle, WA*
  • St. Paul, MN
  • Washington, DC

Even when you dwell in one of many cities above, your 5G expertise will nonetheless be spotty as a result of Verizon has opted to construct out its 5G service utilizing excessive frequency millimeter waves, which ship the quickest doable speeds but additionally depend on a really exact deployment. Each time Verizon launches 5G in a brand new metropolis, it must arrange a system of mini towers which are affixed to the tops of phone poles and buildings. For the reason that community is actually carry constructed from the bottom up, the roll-out is extraordinarily laborious, so in some instances the 5G community is proscribed to only a few blocks.

note 10 5g test Christopher Hebert/IDG

Verizon’s mmWave-based 5G service is fairly outstanding when you may get it.

Verizon allegedly has a plan to blanket the nation with slower-but-still-way-faster-than-LTE sub-6Ghz 5G, however it hasn’t introduced when, the place or the way it will start rolling it out. Expectations are that it’ll start someday in 2020, although.

AT&T: Whereas AT&T was technically the primary U.S. service to ship 5G by way of a handful of hotspots in late 2018, its cell deployment has considerably stalled since then. AT&T has centered primarily on properties and companies with mmWave cells for its first spherical of 5G protection, however expects to start rolling out its sub-6GHz 5G to cell prospects in early 2020. That ought to dramatically enhance the protection space, however AT&T hasn’t provided a lot in the way in which of specifics. For now, AT&T is especially delivering insanely quick stationary broadband by way of 5G.

Dash: Dash has put its 5G rollout on maintain because it waits for its merger with T-Cell to clear the ultimate FCC and judicial hurdles, however it does have a 5G presence in just a few cities:

  • Atlanta, GA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Dallas, TX
  • Houston, TX
  • Kansas Metropolis, KS
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • New York, NY
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Washington, D.C.

Dash is focusing extra on steady protection reasonably than multi-gig speeds, utilizing its 2.5Ghz spectrum and Huge MIMO to offer a larger 5G footprint. It mainly piggybacks onto LTE networks, so protection within the cities listed above extends lots of, even hundreds of sq. toes, reasonably just a few blocks. Nonetheless, we received’t know a lot about Dash’s 2020 plans till the date of its merger with T-Cell is formally determined (however it’s trying good).

T-Cell: T-Cell was the final service to carry 5G to its community, however that’s about to alter in an enormous method. Whereas it already provides minimal however speedy mmWave in a handful of cities (Cleveland, OH; Dallas, TX; Las Vegas, NV; Los Angeles, CA; and New York, NY), T-Cell has introduced that it’ll roll out “Nationwide 5G” on December 6 utilizing its expansive 600MHz spectrum.

It’s not practically as quick because the 2Gbps-plus speeds that mmWave networks have reached—T-Cell says it could attain speeds of 450Mbps—and there are lots of unknowns, most notably the way it scales and the way a lot of the nation might be coated. However T-Cell says it’s going to attain 200 million folks, so it’s going to positively be the widest 5G protection map up to now.

The proper value

Lest we overlook, you probably did begin studying this text since you wish to know when to purchase that 5G handset. So, finally this can be a choice hinged on spending cash, and also you’ll wish to bear in mind that 5G at the moment calls for a premium.

Android telephones

The primary crop of 5G telephones are extraordinarily costly for 2 causes: It’s new expertise, and the telephones should be very huge to deal with the battery and thermal necessities of the present X50 modem. However with the X55 modem anticipated to reach in early 2020, costs ought to come down significantly, perhaps even to the purpose the place the one possibility in Android flagships is 5G, similar to 4G.

As with the launch of the fledgling 4G community, we wouldn’t advocate paying further only for 5G chipset help. However hopefully 2020 will carry far more moderately priced handsets, together with some mid-range choices due to the X55 modem. 

note 10 5g speed Christopher Hebert/IDG

You shouldn’t have to spend $1,500 to get speeds like these, and in 2020, costs ought to begin coming down.


With round 200 million handsets bought yearly, 5G received’t be a factor till Apple says it’s. However all indicators level to 2020 being the yr. With the X55 modem and a robust sub-GHz infrastructure probably in place by then, all indicators level to the period of 5G probably commencing with the launch of the iPhone 12. Rumor has it that it is likely to be a “Professional” possibility reasonably than one thing obtainable on all three fashions. So, similar to with Android telephones, we’d advocate in opposition to paying further only for 5G. However there’ll certainly be loads of causes to go for the iPhone 12 Professional different than simply its 5G help.

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