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While the idea of 5G is still bleeding edge to many people, it’s expected to be a really big deal by next year, just in time for Apple’s 5G-capable iPhone 12 to dominate the market, although not everyone is optimistic about whether the various cellular providers will be able to deliver solid 5G service by that time.
Nonetheless, carriers around the world are continuing to roll out their 5G offerings, with T-Mobile’s 600MHz 5G network now live in 5,000 cities across the U.S., and AT&T expanding to 10 major cities earlier this month. Now it looks like it’s Verizon’s turn to step up to the plate.
In an announcement this week, Verizon announced that it’s reached its promised goal of launching 5G service in 30 U.S. cities by the end of 2019, and in fact actually exceeded it by a small margin, with Verizon’s 5G service now available in 31 cities, plus 15 NFL stadiums.
Unfortunately, like AT&T and T-Mobile’s rollouts, the mere presence of 5G in a city won’t be quite the same as the quality of 5G coverage, both in terms of range and speed.
5G: The Dream vs. The Reality
In theory, 5G technology offers insanely fast speeds, so much so that you’re going to need a massive — or ideally unlimited — data plan in order to take full advantage of it. Testing in areas where 5G coverage is both solid and strong has shown performance that exceeds most people’s home broadband connections, and in many cases is even faster than the iPhone’s maximum Wi-Fi speeds, with the ability to do things like downloading large games or full-length feature films — in 4K no less — in only a few minutes.
In fact, the dream goes even beyond that, with the mmWave 5G technology theoretically able to provide data transfer rates of up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps). By comparison, the maximum theoretical limit of 4G LTE technology is 100 Mbps, or 0.1 Gbps. While many carriers have done a better job in getting closer to LTE’s maximum throughput, the upper threshold of 5G is still well beyond the reach of anything we’re likely to see in the near future.
The reality of 5G is painting quite a different picture, as carriers are naturally prioritizing maximum coverage over maximum performance. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, but it does mean that if you’re expecting gigabit speeds from 5G, you’re going to be disappointed.
All of the U.S. carriers are deploying 600 MHz and sub-6GHz 5G networks, or “low-band” 5G service. These signals travel significantly farther than the much faster mmWave frequencies do, but they also don’t provide the same level of bandwidth, which means performance improvements will be more modest as compared to LTE.
This has led some analysts to predict that Apple’s 2020 iPhone sales could be crippled by the carriers and the way they’re rolling out 5G. If the performance offered by 5G isn’t substantially better than what 4G can offer, there’s going to be less incentive to purchase a 5G iPhone for that alone. Of course, not all analysts agree, and some are predicting that pent-up 5G demand and the hype of the new technology will drive iPhone sales, and could result in Apple selling 100 million iPhones next year.
Of course, next year’s lineup is expected to offer much more than 5G, with the new models adopting new designs and offering other exciting new features, so there will be lots of other reasons to buy an “iPhone 12.” Apple’s not planning to slouch on the 5G capabilities of the iPhone either — it’s expected to include the fastest 5G chips available from industry leader Qualcomm, which will offer support for all of the possible 5G technologies, so even if the carriers aren’t ready for the fastest speeds, the next-generation iPhone will be.