Criticism was scorching last year when Apple debuted the iPhone 11 without 5G connectivity. Samsung then one-upped Apple by releasing the Galaxy S20 series with support for 5G on all the major US wireless carriers. This decision to wait on 5G technology seemed to backfire on Apple, but a recent report from PC Magazine suggests it may not have been so foolish after all.
PC Magazine’s Sascha Segan tested the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra on all of the major 5G networks in the US and discovered that 5G isn’t always 5G.
In fact, the Galaxy S20 on AT&T and T-Mobile would display a 5G icon even when the phone was not using the 5G network to send and receive data.
It all comes down to how the carriers handle low-band 5G, a technology that uses long-distance airwaves for data and is used by AT&T and T-Mobile. This low-band 5G covers hundreds of square miles providing a base layer of coverage for the carriers. It allows carriers to serve rural areas where towers often are separated by long distances.
Even though they cover a wide area, the low-band 5G signals are not always reliable. In fact, 5G speeds may be slower than those on the carrier’s 4G connection. In those instances, when 5G falters, a phone like the Galaxy S20 will default to the faster 4G connection.
Joining a faster 4G connection isn’t a big deal, but the issue here is the connectivity icon. Instead of reverting to 4G and changing the icon to 4G LTE, the Galaxy S20 still shows that it’s connected to 5G. It doesn’t matter which network the phone is using. The 5G icon shows up by default as long as the phone is connected to a 5G-capable tower. Consequently, this icon does not reflect the actual connection technology being used to transmit data and is misleading to consumers.
Apple may be lagging behind Samsung in the 5G department, but that soon may change. Sometime this fall, Apple is expected to launch its first 5G phone, the iPhone 12. Apple’s next-generation iPhone also may ship with a new time-of-flight camera sensor, a faster charger, and more.