New research shows that more than 70% of US mobile phone users have not heard of 5G. Almost none said 5G would influence the purchase of a new smartphone. Here is our 5G Guide.

We will get to the 5G research later – suffice to say that Telco’s and smartphone makers will spend huge marketing dollars to get you to buy one. In writing our 5G Guide we arrived at a strongest conclusion – do not purchase unless you have a genuine early-adopter, use case.

5G is coming, and all the marketing hype (at least overseas) suggests that unless you go 5G (yes, at a huge cost) you will suffer a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out – being left behind), will not have the super high data speeds, or the security you need. If you hark back a decade, 4G had the very same hype at its introduction. All Marketing BS.

GadgetGuy, a born sceptic, has run the 5G hype up the flagpole and frankly, none of it flies – let alone flaps gently in the breeze. Our brief 5G guide shows why you should not care about 5G – at least for a few more years.

GadgetGuy’s 5G Guide

5G is equal parts of marketing hype and true technology. The promise is years away.

5G is the next logical step after 4G, just as 4K was logical after 1K TV. There is nothing magic about it. 5G will do what 4G currently does – only faster.  At this stage 5G for consumers is all about getting you to buy more expensive 5G handsets and commit to higher value data plans for NO EXTRA benefit.

In fact, 5G in a consumer sense is about reviving flagging smartphone sales. For 99.9% of the world 3G or 4G are just fine thanks and 4G is not going anywhere for at least the next decade. Maybe in 3-5 years, 5G may have some verifiable consumer use cases when its coverage is better, and its prices are lower.

What is 5G – let’s get techy?

5G Guide
5G just does it faster!

In Australia, 5G will transmit and receive on three bands. Initially, it is the slower low-band (sub 1GHz) and mid-band (1-6GHz) both known as sub-6GHz. The faster Australian high-band (6GHz+) or mmWave (24.25–27.5GHz) – never used for Internet and communications technology here – will not be active until later in 2021. As yet there is no legislation to define the use of this spectrum, so no Telco has purchased bandwidth. And it may be reserved for commercial and special use cases – not consumers.

5G Guide

All bands perform at different speeds and latencies. Sub-6GHz is only marginally faster than 4GX Cat 9. mmWave is much faster but much easier to disrupt, and there are health questions as well.

That means your phone will need a 5G modem to support all three bands/waves to be futureproof. But it will also need to support any unique Australian frequencies used within those bands – these will not be the same worldwide, so a global 5G phone is still some way off.

We won’t go into the intricacies of NSA (non-standalone) SA (standalone) modes, but current modems only support NSA. Yet another reason to wait for dual support.

Also, a phone needs to support 3G, 4G and any other standards (GSM/CDMA/UTMS) used in your country.

This is currently via a separate 3/4G modem chip now usually built into the Qualcomm, Exynos or Kirin SoC. We recommend you wait until everything is built into the SoC – at least two to three years away.

Fact: The current two main 5G modems are the Qualcomm X50 and Huawei Balong 5000 only support sub-6GHz in NSA mode – not the mmWave high-band or SA mode that is the future of 5G.

Being higher frequency than 3G or 4G, these high-band waves do not travel easily through buildings (or anything really)

5G requires ‘small cells’ everywhere – in fact you will need to be within 300 metres of one to get mmWave . We are talking tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands when you take the three Telcos into account) of ‘small cell’ transmitters placed on almost every telephone/power pole/building/train station/airport/tunnel/roadside around the country.

5G Guide

There is growing concern and some research that 5G mmWave radiation from so many small cells so close to us may make some people sick, especially unborn children, young children, pregnant women, and individuals with chronic illness. The predicted adverse health effects include cancer, infertility, cataracts, headaches, neurological malfunction, cardiac irregularities, and insomnia, in much higher numbers and potency than those experienced by 4G ‘electro-hyper-sensitive’ people today.

5G Guide
Unless you are in close proximity to a small cell you will revert to 4G anyway.

Is the speed claim correct?

No, nada, zip, zilch!

5G Guide
It is BS like this we need to call out!

Telcos are espousing blazingly fast network 5G speeds. Fact: until at least late 2021 – if not many years later – 5G will not be much faster than existing 4GX speeds.

The hype quotes theoretical 5G download speeds of up to 20Gbps (with 8 Carrier Aggregation). You will never reach even 25% of that!

Telstra glossed over the fact that in its latest trails it achieved speeds of up to 3Gbps, but the dirty little secret was that it was using mmWave, not the slower sub-6GHz 5G that Australian customers will actually get.

It’s also worth remembering that these maximum speeds will be a lot lower once the signal is divided up among all of the customers in any given area.

5G Guide

Don’t believe the 5G hype.

5G Guide
This table shows mmWave theoretical potential – not what we will get

What locations can you get it?

First, 4G uses lower sub 3GHz frequencies that do penetrate buildings, and the three major networks offer up to 98.5% coverage of the population (that is not the geographic area which is way less).

5G uses higher frequencies that transmit over much shorter line-of-sight distances. They cannot go through buildings and things like roadside signs, glass, etc. can block them. Telcos need to put their own small cell on nearly every power pole around the country. Coverage is very limited.

Extremely limited services will start from mid-year.

Telstra has 200 x 5G sub-6GHz ‘sites’ in [very few] parts of Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, Launceston, Toowoomba, and the Gold Coast. It is going where the money is – CBD and is it very coy about future rollouts.

Optus says it will have 1200 x 5G ‘suburban’ sites by mid-2020. A list is here. We understand Optus will focus on 5G Home broadband with a $70/50Mbps/unlimited data per month plan that may be good for renters and those that cannot get NBN.

What do you need to get it?

A 5G phone or 5G modem. At this stage (soon)

  • LG V50 ThinQ 5G optional dual screen (exclusive to Telstra from $1999)
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 5G (Telstra no extra cost upgrade within 21 days if you leased an S10+ or buy outright – price under $2000)
  • Motorola 5G mod for its Z series handsets
  • OPPO 5G Rush with a 10X optical zoom (details TBA)
  • Huawei (Australian model details not finalised)
  • Alcatel 7 (a model/price for the masses)
  • Apple – ‘no’ and it is not likely until late 2020 when the tech is sorted out!
  • HTC, Huawei, Netgear modems

Sure, 5G will move mobile data faster but at what cost? Australian telcos have said that 5G data will not cost more than 4G does.

5G Guide
LG’s V50 ThinQ with optional clip-on dual screen

But the bottom line is that 4G prices are hugely artificially inflated here – about twice what they should be, let alone paying $10 per GB if you go over the plan limit. Fact: Aussie Telcos have kept 4G prices up specifically for the introduction of 5G and the ACCC should do something!

Estimates are that 5G users will need at least 100GB a month as it uses more data compared to 5-10GB for 4G. Ultimately 5G is about cloud, not on-device, computing.

That consumer research

A recent US study says more than 70% of users had never heard of 5G, and almost none said that 5G was a key factor in a new smartphone purchase (presumably this year).

GadgetGuy looked at the research questions – carefully framed questions and responses can tell any story. We are not saying the questions were biased towards 5G (but the research was paid for by a Telco), but it certainly did not explore if users were happy with 4G either.

5G Guide

One question – “Would the availability of 5G influence your choice of Telco?” drew a 42% positive response. The question should have been far broader and include, “Is 4G adequate for your needs?”

Another biased question – “Given 5G can do XYZ faster/better than 4G (see themes below) are these features important?

  • 66% said the increased speed might be important (not whether they need or would use it)
  • 42% said increased reliability might be important (4G is already reliable so compared to what?)
  • 40% said high-quality video streaming might be important (any flagship 4G phone can stream 4K already)
  • 30% said wider network coverage might be important (absolute rubbish – 5G will be a slow rollout compared to 4G’s 98%+ country coverage)
  • 36% said enhanced data security might be of interest (any 4G phone using a VPN has this anyway)

This survey was like your significant other asking, “Does my bum looks big in this” – there is no right answer!

So, what are the 5G hype issues?

A group of IT journalists – all tech-savvy discussed the hype issues. What do we need to emphasise, include or avoid in 5G  consumer messages? We identified:

  • Avoid raising expectations of the massive amount of data/speed 5G is theoretically capable of. The marketing catch cry will be 200x faster than 4G (forgetting to mention you need to be sitting on a 5G tower to get it – lets tone that back to 2x times faster).
  • Always remind consumers that speed comes at a cost. At this time streaming of 60-minute 4K content (@25MBps or a total of 90GB) on a smartphone could cost $90 at current prices (there are no unlimited phone data plans as yet).
  • 5G will use more data than 4G –  empirically we are told up to 10 times the data of 4G. Just because you can stream a 4K movie on a smartphone does not mean that you should.

5G will change expectations about speed and instant gratification – again at a cost

  • Telcos will brush over the fact that less than 5% of the Australian continent will have 5G. A 5G phone is really an expensive 4G one
  • Retail sales will push 5G over 4G and based on speed and gloss over costs and availability. Call them out!
  • Salesman education so far (by vendors) is overwhelmingly overhyped to 5G ‘positives’ instead of focusing on realities and what the consumer needs in a smartphone.
  • The advent of 5G should be like that of 4K TV, and that took five years to become the dominant standard at no extra cost over 1K. See GadgetGuy’s take on Do we need an 8K TV
  • The real beneficiaries are the Telcos and smartphone makers – not the consumers who will pay through the nose for early adoption.
  • 5G is mostly to support future technologies like autonomous vehicles – not required for the consumer’s current smartphone voice and data needs.
  • 5G uses the higher mmWave frequencies that do not travel easily through buildings (or anything), so 5G will require millions of new ‘small cell’ towers. Most of the time a 5G phone will just be an expensive 4G one. And mmWave is years away – we have the substandard sub-6GHz in the meantime.
  • 5G phones currently use lots more battery
  • The potential health impacts of mmWave need further investigation.

GadgetGuys’s take: In writing our 5G Guide we found 5G is not ready, and it is not for all anyway

5G is a step forward. If all goes well, we will see it making a difference for consumers in three-to-five years when most phones will be 5G enabled. Until then only those with specific use cases (high-speed data and lower latency) need to be concerned.

Joe and Jane Average are going to see a massive spike in 5G marketing despite very little coverage or use cases for them. We will see a lot of blue-sky statements and marketing bullshit, mainly from Telcos – don’t believe a word and be assured GadgetGuy will call them out without fear or favour.

On a business/enterprise use case, 5G may offer advantages to the mobile workforce.

If you are buying a phone any time in the next year or three, buy a 4G one and in a few years, consider if 5G is necessary. By then even cheap phones may have it and coverage may be better.

We should not care less about 5G because we should be deeply sceptical of the latest technology and maybe even a little angry with our Telcos rapidly pushing us towards it. We should wait to see what it can do for us – not believe the marketing hype.