5G is coming! It is the future! It speeds up your phone, makes your house connected, and finally brings you the fulfillment that no other wireless standard can bring you. Or not.
Phone manufacturers and operators would make you believe that 5G really, really, will happen absolutely this year. But just like its predecessors, 5G mobile tech will be in growing pain, and early adopters will essentially be a large group of product testers who pay companies the privilege of ironing out the tricks. If you're hoping for a phone that's sleek, has a long battery life, works well everywhere, and (perhaps most of all) is affordable, you might want to give it up for at least a year. [1
Why should you do that? think twice about buying a first-generation 5G phone? Let us break it down.
5G phones are getting bigger
We are addicted to cell phones that are getting thinner and thinner as manufacturers have pushed for larger screens, allowing batteries and other components to spread without adding bulk. However, the 5G wireless device requires a few major radios in your phone, and more.
This is a lot of space that a 5G phone has to produce in its glass and metal case. Therefore, 5G phones are likely to be limited to the larger "phablet" models (think of the "plus" size for iPhone and larger), just so they have enough room to keep all this courage. If you prefer something smaller or thinner for that reason, you're out of luck.
For a more practical example, check out the early hardware for 5G hotspots. These small devices do not need much more than a radio, a battery, and perhaps a small LCD display, but they are still twice as large as their LTE predecessors.
Oh And if you still mourn the loss of the headphone jack, the additional radios required for 5G will not return faster. In fact, manufacturers may need to cut out 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, stick with traditional LTE networks.
And more expensive
And of these larger phones, it's no coincidence that they represent the most expensive offers from the manufacturer's offerings. All of this additional hardware will increase the price of the phones around them, so the first harvest of 5G phones will most likely be limited to the highest levels.
These are phones like Samsung's Galaxy S and Galaxy Note, Google's Pixel, whatever LG calls its flagship this year, and the like – nothing you can find for less than the price of a car payment. You know, all the phones that push against the $ 1,000 mark and sometimes go beyond that. These phones will also add more useful features to attract more buyers. The current arms race for several cameras is a good example. Folding screens and exotic cutouts seem to be the big tickets next year.
All these factors will send telephone prices to the stratosphere. As with 3G and LTE, it will take at least a year for 5G hardware to get into the middle product lines of the manufacturers. A few cheaper examples, such as an alleged OnePlus 5G phone, will be few.
And worse battery life
According to Qualcomm, the first 5G phones will not be rechargeable pigs. Verizon believes that they will eventually be charged for a month. Maybe it's true, but it will not be in 2019. Since today's telephone technology is still mature and still tries to deal with conventional lithium batteries from everyday life, 5G hardware of the first generation is not able to do better.
And no matter what the CEOs tell you, it will probably get worse. The first generation of LTE phones had an absolutely terrible battery life, especially on CDMA networks like Sprint and Verizon.
These older standards required multiple radios – just like 5G – and the handover put additional strain on the hardware until the phone manufacturers managed to compensate for their hardware and software. I should know: A dreadful LTE radio that drank like lemonade ruined the otherwise excellent Galaxy Nexus when I reviewed it seven years ago, before the start of the LTE era.
It is possible that Qualcomm and its competitors will get a 5G battery life nailed directly from the gate. It is also possible that the Jacksonville Jaguars will simultaneously win the Super Bowl and American Idol. Both are extremely unlikely.
Not Cross-carrier Compatible
Raise your hand if you like phones that only work on a single carrier and can not be activated when switching. Someone? Bueller?
Yes, after a decade of consolidation of unlocked phones that can move freely between network operators, 5G will clean up the slate. Different network operators use different high-frequency bands of the wireless spectrum, which means that phones from one another can not work together. While these phones may still work on a different carrier, their 5G radios will not, which means that this extra size, cost, and battery drain are in vain. Network operators have more standardized wireless support and are better off working with them locked phones. As this new technology becomes apparent, similar issues may emerge, especially in highly competitive markets such as Western Europe and India.
Oh, and it does not help that even 5G is introduced more slowly. Although 5G is faster due to the high frequency standard, each tower covers a smaller area than comparable cell towers of older standards. This means that even for large networks like AT & T and Verizon, 5G will be first in the big cities and slowly gaining ground everywhere. If you're in a smaller market or in a rural area, you probably will not benefit from this 5G hardware anyway.
And probably no iPhones (yet)
Do you remember when the iPhone hit the market a decade ago? It was remarkable for all the things it did, but also what it did not do: the original model was introduced, among other things, without 3G wireless speed. The same is probably true for the annual upgrades of the iPhone in 2019.
Apple tends to adopt a very conservative stance on new devices that allows competitors to compete in new hardware markets and software mature. Sometimes that is bad. The slow, expensive original iPhone of the company and the lack of support for touchscreens in macOS are good examples. In the case of 5G this is probably the smartest step. Apple was waiting for the 4G market, for example, to choose LTE over Wi-Max, and did not suffer from his patience. The same applies to functions such as fingerprint readers, OLED screens and multiple cameras.
In fact, it can take several years for Apple to head for this particular train. It would not be uncontroversial for iPhones to wait two or even three product cycles before adding 5G features. But we can say with great probability that there is no 5G radio on the next iPhone. So if you're not into Android, you can afford to wait for faster Wi-Fi speeds.
Photo credits: AnandTech, Android community, Cristo95 / Shutterstock