/ 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? 

Comments

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.

Derek Chaloner says:
27 August 2019

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

I do agree with Derek Chaloner but the introduction of 5G is a fait acompli due to massive conglomerates pushing it so they can add many more apps/advertising etc .
Most governments of the world are for it .

The problem is the high frequencies used -700Mhz or higher (various frequency ranges) , this means a much shorter range of signal and a higher rate of blocking due to attenuation of the signal when the mobile phone cannot get an open/direct signal.
This means many more masts to achieve a good signal.

The latest proposals are to heighten/widen the masts (yes they know about the opposition to this) ,so it might end up as part of the standard directive.

To give some informed help on this please click on this UK Government official website which I have personally checked out as having little tracking ( just Amazon )
https://www.gov.uk/search/all?organisations%5B%5D=department-for-digital-culture-media-sport&order=updated-newest&parent=department-for-digital-culture-media-sport

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 🙂

Thank you both, its nice to be back with friends.
Wavechange —the actual frequency ,yes that’s why ,although faster etc 5G on a router doesn’t radiate the same distance as 2.4G, the laws of physics are applied here .
Sorry taking so long to reply I forgot to click on the correct email box to receive replies.

I have good news on your pet subject Wavechange evidence is being gathered in the USA on the wrong chemical composition of glass in laundry appliances just like you mentioned.

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.

What is it you don’t understand about the router Wavechange ?
I realise you have FTTP/H which entails a different type of router ,new ones have 3 channels now .
Its only recently with detective work I found I am connected to Amazon Cloud (BT) which is a server-less connection which I am not too happy about as the standard public Cloud isn’t 100 % secure, it does give me a fast response though.

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.

Thats a very important point Kate , the actual behind the scenes lobbying for it is backed by the big US media conglomerates to push movies/high speed gaming and many extra channels for paid for apps to sell to the public .
Many in this country would be happy with good 4G.
London was picked as the initial starting point of 5G presentation ,moving to other big cities eventually .

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.