The first 5G phone I used in early 2019 was the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G. That phone will have been available for around 18 months by the time Apple finally releases its first 5G iPhone, as it is rumoured to do with the iPhone 12 series before the end of the year.
Other Android manufacturers like Samsung, Oppo, Xiaomi, and Huawei have all released 5G handsets in the last twelve months, with some at more affordable mid-range prices. In reviewing some I’ve found that yes, 5G is faster than 4G but no, you don’t need it yet.
5G will only become anything close to the revelation that tech companies are promising when it gets into more people’s hands. It’s about having countrywide coverage but also the interplay of its bandwidth between a huge number of connected devices. In the West, this will only start to gel when the iPhone gets 5G.
At the moment, 5G is an up-selling feature like a better screen or fancy cameras. Samsung even sells its regular Galaxy S20 in a 4G-only version if you’d rather not pay the extra for 5G. Some 5G phones even have ‘5G’ stamped on the back in an ugly branding exercise designed to make the new networking seem genuinely useful when it isn’t yet.
Apple won’t do it that way. The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro will very likely have 5G as default. Like the most modern of trojan horses, 5G will make its way into people’s pockets when they upgrade to the latest slab of Apple phone just as they do every twelve or twenty-four months. In one fell swoop, Apple will dominate 5G phone sales by virtue of the fact that all its new handsets will be 5G-ready, and millions of people will go and buy them.
5G networks are still in their infancy with many country’s deployments still confined to a few major cities. But in the next two years, Australia and New Zealand will mirror the UK and US with faster scaling of 5G, and major mobile operators will see an uptick in 5G traffic thanks to the influx of new 5G devices on their networks thanks to the iPhone 12.
If you live in a city that 5G has come to then you’ll only really notice a difference when you download a large file much faster than usual, but how often do you actually download large files? In my testing of 5G phones so far, buffering has been faster for streaming sites but not to the extent that I’d pay for 5G over 4G. But when the iPhone 12 rolls into town, more people will be upsold to 5G contracts and operators can finally start crunching the numbers on what people naturally benefit from by having a faster network connection.
Apple itself will also be interested in how 5G improves the iPhone. It’s going to be in the iPhone 12 because It Is Time, but the company might find it the perfect time to finally launch those Apple Tags we’ve been waiting for if they can triangulate better with 5G connections. Apple may also be treating the iPhone as a test bed for its big Mac reinvention – what if the ARM Macs have 5G, relegating Wi-Fi to a backup option?
Like much of the commentary around 5G, we can but speculate. But the industry has been waiting for 5G to actually become a thing for years, despite it technically existing. It looks like this is finally the end of the beginning for 5G as the automatic sales the iPhone 12 will bring is set to take the technology into its second phase.