You probably heard already that every iPhone 12 offers 5G. These are the first 5G-capable iPhones and Apple is making a big deal about it in all of the marketing.
But just because the iPhone 12 offers 5G doesn’t mean you actually need it.
In this article, we’ll explain what 5G is — covering the advantages and disadvantages of this new technology — to help you decide if you really need a 5G iPhone after all.
- How to Disable 5G on the iPhone 12
- iPhone Buying Guide: Comparing the iPhone 12, mini, Pro, and Pro Max
- What’s Missing From the iPhone 12 Lineup?
- Apple Revolutionizes the Smartphone Market With the New iPhone 12 Lineup
- 5G Is Coming, But Will Your iPhone Be Ready?
What Is 5G?
5G is the fifth generation of technology standards for broadband cellular networks, following on from 3G and 4G. It broadcasts signals over different radio frequencies to previous generations, enabling it to offer greater bandwidth and far superior download speeds.
That means 5G is fast. Much faster than 4G.
For comparison, a good 4G connection offers download speeds of around 200mb/s. In contrast, a good 5G connection can reach up to 2,000mb/s (otherwise known as 2gb/s).
Alongside improved speeds, greater bandwidth means that more devices can connect to 5G from a single antenna than was possible with 4G. This should improve connectivity for users. However, the limited range of 5G means we may still need more 5G antennas than we needed for 4G.
What Are the Downsides to 5G?
Unfortunately, 5G isn’t all good news. With faster speeds comes increased battery drain. So using 5G all the time is likely to take a serious toll on your smartphone’s battery life.
5G Uses More Battery
Even if you aren’t using 5G speeds to their full potential, connecting to the high-speed network can still have an adverse effect on your device. It will shorten your battery life and cause your iPhone to heat up more often.
Apple aims to battle this issue with a Smart Data feature introduced to the iPhone 12.
Smart Data automatically switches an iPhone between 5G and 4G networks to conserve battery power when you don’t need the ultra-high speeds of 5G. This all takes place behind the scenes, so you don’t ever need to think about it.
In fact, an iPhone 12 shows the 5G signal in the status bar even when it’s only connecting to a 4G network.
But the second you start to download a large file or try streaming high-definition video, the iPhone 12 automatically switches up the speed to meet your needs.
5G Doesn’t Offer as Much Coverage
The second major downside to 5G is that it offers much worse coverage than other network options. This is the case for two reasons.
First, cell companies like AT&T or Verizon are still rolling out their 5G networks. So there’s a good chance 5G hasn’t even reached your area yet.
Check 5G cell coverage on your cell carrier’s website.
Second, 5G is worse at reaching over long distances or penetrating walls than 4G or 3G. This is an inherent problem with using higher frequencies to transfer more data, as high frequencies are naturally worse at penetrating surfaces.
As a result, cell companies need to install far more 5G antennas than they ever needed for 4G or 3G. If you live in a rural area, it could be years until you get 5G coverage, if it ever happens at all.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a 5G-connected city, you may still struggle to get good 5G reception if you aren’t within line-of-sight of an antenna.
You Need an iPhone 12 and a 5G Contract to Use 5G
To access 5G speeds, you need three things: a 5G-capable device, a 5G cell contract, and 5G coverage in your area.
It’s not possible to access 5G networks on any iPhone older than the iPhone 12, even if you upgrade your cell contract to include 5G.
This is even the case for AT&T, despite the fact that they rebranded their high-speed 4G network as 5GE. This is still not 5G; it’s 4G.
So if you want to use 5G, you need to upgrade to the iPhone 12 — which may be more expensive than it seems — and start paying more for your cell contract to include 5G. You may even need to move home to get to an area with 5G coverage.
That’s a lot of money to spend and a lot of effort to go to if you don’t really need it.
4G Is Fast Enough for Most Tasks
Sure, 5G is about ten times faster than 4G. But for almost everything you’re likely to do on an iPhone, 4G is plenty fast enough already.
Looking to download some music? Streaming HD video on YouTube? Uploading some photos to Instagram? A good 4G connection is all you need to be able to perform each of these tasks without waiting around.
Most of the extra speed 5G gives you would go to waste unless you’re downloading exceptionally large files on a regular basis.
Considering all the efforts you need to go to get 5G on your iPhone, we can’t help but think most people don’t need to worry about it right now… And probably won’t need to worry about it for years.
An iPhone 12 Is Still a Worthy Upgrade
Even if you agree you don’t need a 5G-capable iPhone, the iPhone 12 could still be a worthy upgrade.
Despite the fact that Apple put most of its emphasis on the addition of 5G, the iPhone 12 has a lot more exciting features to offer than 5G alone.
Behind the stunning new design, the iPhone 12 holds Apple’s fastest chip ever. An improved sensor offers better photos than ever before, which get even better with the iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max. And MagSafe offers a whole new way to charge or accessorize your iPhone.
There’s a lot to love about the iPhone 12. And if you’re due an upgrade then buying an iPhone 12 is probably a good choice. But for most people, 5G doesn’t really need to factor into your decision at all.
Dan is a freelance writer based in South West England.
He spent two years supervising repairs as a Genius Admin for Apple Retail and uses that knowledge to keep our troubleshooting guides up to date.
Long before that, Dan turned to Apple products from a musical background. Having owned iPods for years, he bought a MacBook to learn sound recording and production. It was using those skills that he gained a first-class Bachelor of Science in Sound Technology.