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.
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?