5G Comes! It's the future! It will speed up your phone, make your house connected, and finally get you the fulfillment no other wireless standard could give you. Or not.
Phone makers and carriers would make you believe 5G is really, really, definitely going to happen this year. But just like their predecessors, 5G mobile technology will get its growing pains, and early adopters will essentially be a large group of product testers who pay the companies for the privilege of deleting kinks. If you are hoping for a phone that is elegant, has a long battery life, works wherever you go and maybe it is affordable, you might want to buy for at least a year or so. [1
Why should you think twice about buying a first gene 5G phone? Let's break it down.
5G phones are getting bigger
We've become addicted to phones that are thinner and nicer, because manufacturers have pushed for larger screens, allowing batteries and other components to spread out without adding bulk. But fast 5G wireless needs some major radios inside the phone, and more of them.
There is a lot of extra space a 5G phone has to make in its glass and metal case. That is so, it is likely that 5G phones will be limited to the larger "phablet" models (think of the "Plus" iPhone size and larger), allowing them to hold all these guts. If you prefer slightly smaller, or for that matter, thinner, you will be good luck.
If you want a practical example, check out some of the early 5G hotspot hardware. These little gadgets don't need much more than a radio cluster, a battery and perhaps a small LCD screen, but they are still twice as large as their LTE predecessors.
Oh, and if you still provide the loss of the headphone jack, the extra radio needed for 5G will not bring it back any faster. In fact, manufacturers may need to cut even more parts, such as secondary stereo speakers, fingerprint readers, multiple rear cameras, etc. to make room. In short, if you want smaller phones with more features, paste on conventional LTE networks.
And more expensive
And when it comes to the larger phones, it's not a coincidence that they tend to be the most expensive inputs of the manufacturer's offerings. All the extra hardware will drive up the price of the phones around them, so the first branch of 5G phones will almost certainly be limited to the highest levels.
We're talking about phones like Samsung's Galaxy S and Galaxy Note, Google's Pixel, regardless of LG calling its flagship this year, and like nothing you can find for less than the price of a car payment. You know, all the phones that drive, and sometimes by, the $ 1000 mark. These phones will also continue to add extra features, both useful and gimmicky, to try to attract more buyers. The current weapon competition for several cameras is a good example, and folding screens and exotic cutouts appear to be the major ticket features next year.
All these factors will be assembled to send phone prices to the stratosphere. As was the case with 3G and LTE, it will take a year – at least – before the 5G hardware penetrates the middle of the manufacturer's product lines. Some cheaper examples, such as a rumored OnePlus 5G phone, will be few and far from it.
And get worse battery life
Qualcomm says the first 5G phones will not be battery boar. Verizon believes they will last for a month for a fee. Perhaps it is true, but it will not be in 2019. With the current telephone technology quite mature and still struggling to get a day to cherish life out of conventional lithium batteries, the first gene 5G is not going – the hardware to go better.
And no matter what the CEOs tell you, it will be worse. The first generation of LTE phones had horrible battery life, especially those using CDMA networks such as Sprint and Verizon.
The older standards required several radio transmitters, just as the 5G does and the handoff puts extra on the hardware until answering machines managed to make their hardware and software compensate. I should know: a terrible LTE radio that drank battery as a lemonade destroyed the otherwise excellent Galaxy Nexus when I reviewed it, at the beginning of the LTE era seven years ago.
It is possible that Qualcomm and its competitors will get 5G battery life nailed right out of the port. It's also possible that the Jacksonville Jaguars will win the Super Bowl and American Idol at the same time. They are both excessively unlikely.
And will not be transverse portable.
Raise your hand if you like phones that only work on a single carrier and cannot be activated if you switch. Someone? Bueller?
Yes, after the better part of a decade of consolidation on unlocked phones that can move freely between carriers, 5G will dry the slate clean again. Different carriers use different high frequency bands in the wireless spectrum, which means that phones from one will not work with another. The aforementioned phones can still work on another carrier, but their 5G radio will not mean all the extra size, expense, and battery drain for nothing.
This will probably be a bigger problem for the US market, as international carriers have more standardized wireless support and work better with unlocked phones. But since this new technology is recognized, we can see that similar problems arise, especially in highly competitive markets such as Western Europe and India.
Oh, and it doesn't help 5G be slower to roll out. Due to its high frequency standard, 5G is faster, but each tower will cover a smaller area than similar cell towers on older standards. This means that even for large networks like AT & T and Verizon, 5G will be in the big cities first and slowly come everywhere. If you are in a smaller market or somewhere in the countryside, you will probably not benefit from the 5G hardware.
And probably won't be the iPhone (yet)
Remember when the iPhone was launched ten years ago? It was remarkable for all the things it did, but also what it didn't do: the original model was launched without 3G wireless speed among other things. The same is likely likely for the iPhone's annual upgrades in 2019.
Apple tends to be very conservative when it comes to new hardware, so competitors can lift it in new markets while hardware and software mature. Sometimes it's bad – the company's slow, expensive original iPhone and its continued lack of support for MacOS touch screens are good examples. But in the case of 5G, it's probably the smart move. Apple was waiting for the 4G market to, for example, choose LTE over Wi-Max and not suffer for its patience. Ditto for features like fingerprint readers, OLED screens and multiple cameras.
It may actually be several years before Apple jumps on this train. It would not be in the nature of iPhones to wait through two or even three product cycles before being added to 5G functions. But we can most likely say that the next iPhone will not have a 5G radio, so if you are not interested in Android, you can afford to wait for faster wireless speeds.
Image Credit: AnandTech, Android Community, Cristo95 / Shutterstock