Leaks and rumors point to a number of new features for the next Apple phone, including a high refresh rate display, more sizes, and lidar. The most important innovation, however, is not the cameras or the expected A14 processor. It will be his support for 5G.
This means that the iPhone 12’s biggest function is largely beyond Apple’s control and firmly in the hands of AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Depending on your carrier and where you live, your 5G experience on an iPhone 12 can be very different. It’s an unusual position for Apple, which is known for making virtually every aspect of its products, from hardware to software.
In contrast, the current state of 5G in the US is a mix of hype, hope, and the opposite of harmony. Depending on the carrier, 5G comes in different frequencies, some of which offer really mind-blowing speeds, but don’t have the range to keep you connected to your phone. Other frequencies have long range and stable connectivity, but offer speeds that are not much faster than 4G LTE. Some parts of the US have 5G networks from all three major US carriers, while others have absolutely no coverage.
Does this mean 5G will determine whether or not the iPhone 12 is a flop? In terms of sales, of course, not. Apple will likely sell millions of new iPhones. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone who buys an iPhone 12 will have a great experience connecting it to a 5G network and working on it. And the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of new users connecting will cause massive traffic spikes on 5G networks that are still in their infancy. Lots of people have great potential to have a bad 5G experience on their new iPhone. Possibly even worse than if they just stayed at 4G.
I remember 2013 when the iPhone 5 came out with 4G LTE support. I bought the phone in September when it came out and I’ve experienced lightning speeds. But by the time Thanksgiving was walking around a lot of other people had an iPhone 5, and my 4G LTE speeds were offset by the new traffic on the same network. Fortunately, over the years 4G LTE has become more robust and networks have been able to offer more capacity.
When it comes to 5G things get more complicated because. That super-fast 5G that I mentioned earlier requires antennas other than mid- and low-band 5G. These different antennas mean multiple models of the same iPhone. 5G suffers from fragmentation and even for someone like me, who is pretty knowledgeable about such things, the subject can be overwhelming.
Why is Apple playing with 5G? The company must. Even if the trail isn’t fully paved right now, most of us will be getting cellular data with 5G in a few years. The other reason is that 4G LTE is a great safety net. Someone on an iPhone 12 without a 5G radio in their neighborhood can still connect using 4G LTE. But it would be a shame if the same person paid a premium to get a 5G iPhone only to have little or no 5G coverage.
But when my friends and family are signs of it, many of them crave a 5G iPhone. It’s not that the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro aren’t great or that my friends are particularly excited about 5G. For them, a 5G iPhone is all about future security, even if the 5G connectivity is not immediately ready for use.
If you’ve waited to buy an iPhone until it offers 5G support, you will likely be rewarded this fall. However, find out about 5G connectivity in your region and what your network operator has to offer. If you aren’t into 5G and have a year of upgrading your iPhone, you’re in a great position. You can continue to use the reliable and comfortable 4G LTE that you have become accustomed to and you may notice faster service in the years to come as 5G and its wide variety of connectivity options increase in the US.
That should offer a minimum of convenience this terrible year.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.