5G is here, in a few places at least. It's the next generation of mobile networks, following on from 4G/LTE, and it promises much higher speeds, lower latency and more reliable connections, so you can browse, play, stream and download faster, or in higher quality.
Download speeds could average around 1Gbps or even more, ensuring you can download full 4K movies in a matter of minutes and are never again left waiting for content to buffer.
But 5G is more than just a step up. In the long run it will be even more transformative than 4G, as it’s expected to help power the rapidly growing Internet of Things and open up whole new use cases that just weren’t possible on the slower networks we’re currently using.
So it’s worth getting excited about, especially if you're an early adopter looking to join the speed train - here's what you’ll need in order to do that.
- What is 5G? Everything you need to know
A 5G network
The first and most obvious thing you’ll need is access to a 5G network, and this could initially be a major stumbling block for would-be 5G pioneers, as there just aren’t many of them yet.
In the US you can get 5G on Verizon…but currently only in Chicago and Minneapolis, and even within those cities, coverage is far from comprehensive. More cities will be getting 5G throughout 2019 and beyond and we’d expect other US carriers to switch on 5G networks of their own before too long – but right now, your options are limited.
That’s even more true in much of the rest of the world. In the UK, EE's 5G went live on 30 May in six cities (although you won't find blanket coverage in these locations), Vodafone will join in on July 3, with O2 and Three launching 5G later in the year.
Things are happening behind the scenes though, as networks are building 5G infrastructure before they start offering 5G phones or services. AT&T for example has 5G coverage in numerous cities, just no handsets to use it with yet.
Still, depending on where you are, you'll almost have to wait a while for 5G to be offered, not just in your country, but in your specific area.
If you’re in a major city that wait might be over before the end of 2019, but if you’re not then it could be a lot longer – and the more remote your region the longer you’ll be waiting. For perspective, some rural areas still don’t have 4G.
Given that not all networks will launch a 5G service at the same time or in the same places, you may also have to change network if you want to minimize the wait.
That said, these are temporary problems. Most mobile networks will ultimately offer 5G and coverage will eventually be comprehensive – it’s just going to take time.
A 5G phone
As well as 5G infrastructure you’re also going to need a 5G phone, as the vast majority of current phones don’t support 5G.
Lots of 5G phones have been announced, such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, LG V50 ThinQ, OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, Oppo Reno 5G and ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G, with many more rumored. But depending on what country you’re in there are either very few or – more likely – none currently available.
In the US you can use the Moto Z3 coupled with a 5G Moto Mod, while in South Korea the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G have launched.
In the UK only the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G is available from EE (three more handsets will be added on June 7), which means it's your only option if you want 5G right now.
However in Australia and most other countries, there are currently no 5G phones at all.
Not only do you have to wait for them to launch (with the first such handsets likely to land alongside the 5G networks), you’ll have to spend money on one – and in most cases they won’t come cheap, with the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G starting at 1.39 million South Korean won (roughly $1,220 / £930 / AU$1,720).
A 5G plan
Okay, so once you've got 5G coverage in your area and your hands on a 5G phone, you’re also going to need a 5G plan.
By that we mean a contract with a network that includes 5G. As most networks haven’t yet launched a 5G service we can’t say for sure what approach they’ll take, but most will probably charge more for 5G, rather than offering it as standard.
That certainly seems to be the case so far. Verizon, for example, requires you to have an Unlimited plan and pay $10 per month extra on top of that for their 5G coverage.
So you’re going to need to be willing to pay more and also be in a position to change plan – if you’re locked into a contract already then you might have to wait.
In the UK, current 5G contracts start at £54 per month, require an upfront payment and get you 10GB of data in return (if you're willing to pay more, you can get up to 120GB).
Network is also a consideration when it comes to 5G phones, as not all handsets will be available on all networks. So, to get a specific 5G phone you might need to be prepared to change network.
However, many phones will probably be offered unlocked if you buy them SIM-free, in which case you should be able to get around network exclusivity – you’ll just need to be prepared to spend a lot up front.
Even so, you might need to change network anyway, as not all networks will offer 5G from the same date or have coverage in your area initially.
This may also mean you’ll need to compromise in terms of handset, if for example the only network with coverage in your area doesn’t offer the phone you really want. Either that or you’ll have to wait.
With all that – a 5G phone, 5G coverage and a 5G plan – you should finally be ready to take advantage of 5G's benefits.
You’ll probably have had to wait a while to achieve all this and might be feeling a bit poorer for it (as well as limited to where you can use it), but such is the price of early adoption – and when you’re enjoying blazing fast speeds that your friends can only dream of, perhaps you'll forget the hoops you had to jump through.
5G Uncovered, in association with Samsung (opens in new tab), brings you everything you need to know about the next wave of connectivity - not just how fast it's going to be, but in just how many ways it's going to change your life. Our 5G Uncovered hub is carefully curated to show everything there is to know about the next generation of connection.
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