/ Technology

Will you be a 5G early adopter?

Mobile providers are rolling out 5G networks in cities across the UK – but is it worth it yet? I borrowed a 5G phone to find out.

The next generation of mobile tech, 5G, landed with a fanfare earlier in the summer, bringing with it promises of much faster connectivity, better bandwidth and – eventually – a big uptick in the number of connected devices and ‘smart things’.

At the same time, several mobile phone companies launched their 5G models; Samsung, OnePlus, Huawei, Oppo and LG all have 5G versions of their flagship devices, and mobile providers EE, Vodafone and Three are offering 5G plans.

For now, 5G services are patchy – limited to a few cities – and expensive. But within a couple of years most of us will probably be using 5G in the way we use 4G now: routinely and (I hope) affordably.

But should you shell out for 5G now – is it worth it?

My experience with a 5G phone

I’ve had a 5G phone on loan from EE for a few weeks and I’ve been using it as my main device.

EE loaned me a OnePlus 7 Pro, a big and very likeable phone. I’d reviewed its 4G sibling in the August issue of Which? Computing.

Sitting outside EE’s offices by St Paul’s Cathedral, we fired up a speed test and I thought it was entirely reasonable for the PR to crow as it topped out at 530Mbps. My own phone, running on Three’s 4G, only managed 12Mbps. 

Both Which?’s offices and my home in west London have 5G coverage, according to EE’s coverage checker, and while it only promised ‘weak coverage outdoors’ at the office, it promised ‘good coverage outdoors’ at home.

This was perhaps because I live within a few hundred yards of a 5G mast. And sure enough, I get 250Mpbs in the office, and about 300Mbps outside my front door, though it drops off to around 70Mbps inside my flat. 

Is it worth shelling out for?

If you’re out and about with good signal and you want to stream video in 4K, you’re in luck – it’s brilliant. There’s no buffering and if you get bored you can skip ahead without a moment’s pause.

It goes without saying that even huge files download in the blink of an eye. 

Unless you happen to want to download something from the BBC iPlayer, that is. Even though my 5G connection is much, much faster than the wi-fi, the iPlayer will only download over wi-fi. Ouch.

But in everyday use around the city, I was hard-put to notice the difference between the 5G connection and 4G on my own phone.

There’s not much benefit in uploading a tweet a bit faster, and in any case, there’s no signal on transport that operates in deep cuttings or through tunnels. In those cases, the 5G signal is no better at hanging on than 4G.

In short, 5G is great if you need raw speed and you don’t mind the extra cost, but for now, I don’t think it’s entirely worth it. I’ll be holding fire on my own phone.

And then there’s coverage. It may be all well and good in the city, but we know from more than 1,500 comments here on Which? Conversation that many of you are struggling to get a good 3G/4G signal around the country.

Will you be an early adopter of 5G if it’s available? Or are you in one of the many parts of the country where even a reliable mobile signal, never mind the latest technology, would be a blessing? 


My main reason for wanting a 4G service was because it made using mobile broadband to tether a laptop to a smartphone or a portable router faster and more practical than 3G. At present, having a 4G signal in the places I visit, particularly on holiday, is a higher priority than access to 5G.

It would be good if 5G could help those with poor internet access but in rural areas this is not likely to happen

5G may be most useful to those who don’t want to use a conventional broadband service. That rather depends on what service providers charge for data now and in the future.

I bought a Samsung S9 in April for a very good price as the s10 was about to be released… I don’t see the point in buying a 5th generation smartphone when the coverage on 4G isn’t perfect as yet

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Hi Duncan and welcome back.

I had wondered about the range of 5G signals. Does the frequency used on 5G phones bear any relation to that used by 5G dual-band routers?

Hello, Duncan. Nice to see you back 🙂

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Let’s chat about these subjects in relevant Convos, Duncan. I have a new router that I don’t understand. I don’t want to hijack Kate’s Convo and it’s easier to find information in future if it’s somewhere relevant.

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Sunjay Bhogal says:
27 August 2019

I have a Note 10 plus, already using 5g with Vodafone in the city of London where I work, average speed 150 download, not bad for a crowded congestion city. I am also seeing some patchy 5g in my home town Croydon as well. For me it was worth it.

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I would certainly be happy with good 4G.

Having spoken to EE about the abysmal service in the area where I live I was eventually put through to some knowledgable tech support. He stated simply that the area was overcrowded but would not be upgraded to deal with the problem because the focus was on 5G. Only when 5G rolls out in my area will the situation (possibly) be addressed.

So dont count on shunning 5G to encourage the network operators to deal with the shortcomings of the current 4G services. And 5G wont be available to me until late this year, or possibly 2021

All that being said, I’m all for advances that improve the standard of living and enable communication. I don’t know enough about 5G to say whether it is a good thing or not, I simply don’t particularly need it now. The catch there being that I need 4G rather than 5G but to get a decent 4G service I have to first have 5G in my area.

I’ll adopt 5G when you can get a good, sub £200 phone with it. I also noted a anti-5G protest in Brighton today. ‘Not until we know it’s safe,’ they were saying and asking for signatures. I didn’t sign it.