5G is the next generation of mobile network infrastructure, designed to offer unprecedented data speeds and greater interconnectivity between devices. In markets including the UK, it's technically already up and running, so is now the time to fork out for a 5G-friendly phone or is it best to bide your time?
You might want to move up to a 5G phone to be among the first to enjoy those new, faster data speeds or perhaps you just want to get the most out of the latest and greatest handsets on the market. Whatever the reason, here we take a quick look at the state of 5G, what your money gets you and whether now is the time to make the leap.
5G networks and coverage
First, let's look at the mobile carriers offering 5G in the UK. As mentioned in our guide to 5G EE, O2, Three, BT, Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile, and Vodafone (plus its offshoot Voxi) all have their hats in the 5G ring.
EE and Vodafone currently lead the charge on offering 5G, centred around major cities; including Birmingham, Cardiff and Manchester. At the time of writing, London, the nation's capital, is the only city which currently supports 5G connectivity across all four major mobile networks (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone).
The big issue right now is coverage. 5G isn't available nationwide, from any of the big networks, and it'll likely take time for the infrastructure to build to a point where you can consistently pick up a 5G signal when you're out and about. Even in central London, 5G is only available within specific areas, right now.
There's also the fact that 5G is actually a collection of different technologies and only once all of these technologies are implemented are working in concert can we consider a carrier's network as boasting true 5G.
If you're still interested in tasting 5G and you're happy with the carrier options and coverage in your area, next you have to choose a phone which supports 5G. We have a more in-depth Best 5G Phones feature worth checking out but below is a shortlist of all the 5G phones currently available in the UK and their respective 5G carrier availability:
- Huawei Mate 20 X 5G (available on BT, Sky and Vodafone)
- LG V50 ThinQ (EE exclusive)
- OnePlus 7 Pro 5G (available on BT and EE)
- Oppo Reno 5G (available on EE and O2)
- Samsung Galaxy S10 5G (available on BT, EE, Sky and Vodafone)
- Samsung Galaxy A90 5G (available on EE, Sky and Vodafone)
- Samsung Galaxy Note+ 10 5G (available on BT, Sky and Vodafone)
- Samsung Galaxy Fold 5G (EE exclusive)
- Samsung Galaxy S20 5G (pre-order on BT, EE, O2, Sky, Three and Vodafone)
- Samsung Galaxy S20+ (pre-order on BT, EE, O2, Sky, Three and Vodafone)
- Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (pre-order on EE, O2, Sky, Three and Vodafone)
- Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G (available on Vodafone and O2)
As the list highlights, the number of 5G phones may be growing but at the top end of 2020, it's still small. Samsung is leading the charge by granting users a choice of devices at varying price points, with varying skill sets, while Xiaomi offers one of the most affordable 5G phones currently available in the UK.
The forthcoming Samsung Galaxy S20 family will no doubt help supercharge 5G adoption and more manufacturers are set to make 2020 the year they join the 5G contingent too.
On the carrier side, 5G plans come at a premium. You'll be hard-pressed to find a 5G tariff south of £50 a month, for at least 24 months. If you want to pick up your phone SIM-free and pair it to a 5G plan later, the hardware also works out more expensive too.
Take the standard Samsung Galaxy S20, for example. In the UK, the 4G-only model costs £799, while you'll pay a £100 more to acquire the 5G variant.
So, should I buy a 5G phone?
Hopefully, this feature has highlighted the fundamental issues with the state of 5G right now. It's only available in limited areas, works with only a handful of smartphones and it's comparatively expensive.
If you can look past such caveats, all the pieces are there to start enjoying 5G today. Otherwise, it's best to wait a little longer. 2019 was the year that 5G launched, 2020 should be the year it really builds momentum.