When is the right time to upgrade to a 5G phone?

We’ve seen a dozen of 5G smartphones in 2019 from Samsung, ZTE, OnePlus, Xiaomi, Oppo and few other manufacturers with network rollouts in a bunch of developed countries. But if you can buy a 5G phone right now, does it mean that you should?

While 5G technology is still amateur, the 5G vision is going to take the real shape in 2020. But still, if you are really desperate to get on board with 5G, you need to upgrade to a right smartphone. In that case, here are a few things that you need to consider:

  1. The SoC
  2. The service
  3. The modes
  4. The network
  5. The price
  6. The choice

1. The SoC (with 5G Modem Integrated)

Since US companies are forbidden from Huawei, Qualcomm is the only option when it comes to chipset integrated with 5G modem. The first-generation Qualcomm X50 modem was first used by Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and OnePlus 7 Pro 5G. However, the first phones equipped with second-generation Qualcomm X55 modem are already being launched. X55 offers massive improvements over X50.

As explained by Qualcomm, Snapdragon X55 is the first chip done with 7 nanometer fabrication process. It has multimode modem that supports networks from 2G to 5G. Its 5G NR mode supports both sub-6 as well as mmWave bands with peak speeds upto 7 Gbps in download and 3 Gbps in upload.

2. The Service

When it comes to the service, the 5G network operator as well as the user equipment should support both 5G flavors to utilize full-potential of the network – the mmWave and sub-6 GHz.

mmWave

mmWave is what they are talking about, when you hear about multi-Gigabit class speeds of 5G. However, these greater speeds come with a few major shortcomings. As explained in previous posts, these waves are bound to atmospheric attenuation and hence the shorter coverage. That being said, carriers have to work on enhancing the the reliability and reachability of mmWave.

Sub-6 GHz

While mmWave sounds fantastic, 6 GHz 5G is what you’ll be experiencing most of the times. Much like LTE, it relies on common radio frequencies under 6 GHz (mostly, 700 MHz or 3500 MHz). The operators need to deploy sub-6 GHz 5G network to ensure reliable and uninterruptible service. Although, sub-6 GHz does not offer lightening speeds as much as mmWave, it overcomes shortcomings of mmWave such as shorter coverage.

3. The Modes

All the initial rollouts of 5G were pretty much dependent on the operator’s existing 4G LTE network core (Evolved Packet Core – EPC). This means, these services will not use a standalone 5G core, until it gets standardized by 3GPP and becomes reliable. This again classifies 5G service into two different categories – non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA).

Many of the initially launched 5G phones in 2019 supported NSA variant of 5G. Meaning, these devices will not be able to support it, when the carrier eventually launches the SA variant of 5G.

4. The Network

There is no roadblock other than your network carrier for your 5G device purchase. All 4 major carriers in USA have their 5G networks up and running, at least in major cities with T-Mobile on the verge of its nationwide rollout in December.

China has already launched its nationwide 5G network this month with consumer plans starting from $20. Apart from these, following parts of the world are gearing up for 5G or have their networks are live in major urban areas of the country:

  1. Australia (Sydney, Melbourne)
  2. Argentina (planned)
  3. Finland (3.5 GHz in Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and other major cities)
  4. European Union (planned)
  5. India (planned)
  6. Ireland (Dublin, Waterfod, Galway)
  7. Malaysia (planned)
  8. Pakistan (planned by Chinese operator – Zong)
  9. Russia (planned)
  10. UK (Launched by EE and Vodafone in major cities, planned by O2 and Three)
  11. Vietnam (Aiming for the network availability in ASEAN, right after Singapore and Malaysia)
  12. Qatar (Launched by Ooredoo on 3.5 GHz band)
  13. Singapore (planned)
  14. UAE (planned rollout by Etisalat)

5. The Price

Your decision of buying a 5G phone in late-2019 is majorly based on how much money you are willing to spend. And you must be aware that these 5G phones currently demand premium price tags and specs.

First lot of 5G phones is expensive for two main reasons – Earlier Snapdragon X50 has big battery and thermal dissipation requirements and the technology is still new at its experimental phase. You need to spend at least $1500 in 2019 to experience blazing fast 5G speeds albeit its shortcomings.

However, things will be much better in 2020 with more devices launching with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 modem and few more alternatives in cheaper price segment.

6. The Choice – Android/iPhone(!)

Because your choice of the platform matters, you can experience the luxury of 5G only on Android phones for now. This is only until Apple launches 5G iPhone in 2020 (hopefully). Only Apple can kick off the 5G-era with iPhone 12 (?). Rumor says, all 3 models of iPhone will be equipped with 5G. Since Apple does not prefer to launch products with half-baked technology, you need to hold on for your upgrade for another year if you are an iPhone user.

In a nutshell, I’d recommend most of you to “hold on” at least for another few months if you want to experience the best and efficient 5G performance even if your carrier presently has the next-gen network up and running.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to drop them in comments.

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