5G has come a long way since Tim Cook and Hans Vestberg said it far too many times during the iPhone 12 launch. But it still has a way to go. If you haven’t been paying much attention to the shifts in 5G over the years, you might be wondering whether you should upgrade now that every iPhone released since 2020 supports it. Carrier by carrier, we have your answer.
In short: If your location and carrier have mid-band 5G, it’s worth the change. If not, it’s probably not.
Why 5G at All?
On T-Mobile and Verizon right now, 5G iPhones bring immediate benefits. But it’s up to you to decide whether they’re benefits you need.
For T-Mobile, 5G improves coverage. Some more rural areas of T-Mobile’s network are primarily on low-band 5G, and you need it to connect there.
If you use Verizon, 5G cures congestion. Verizon’s mid-band 5G fixes stalls or slowdowns in the network, where you see bars but things just feel like they’re dragging along. It doesn’t extend coverage or improve call quality.
AT&T doesn’t have a noticeable amount of mid-band 5G yet, but when it does, it’ll be more like Verizon’s, functioning as Sudafed for a stuffed-up network.
All of the mid-band 5G systems fade somewhat when indoors. I’m not about to assign bragging rights between T-Mobile and Verizon here; in the limited testing I did, the locations of the towers mattered much more than the frequencies. Both systems carried more than 20 feet into a coffee shop when the signal was strong enough, and didn’t when it wasn’t.
These are the status bar icons you’re looking for: 5G UW on Verizon and 5G UC on T-Mobile (AT&T’s icon would be 5G+)
(Photo: Sascha Segan)
Good iPhone 5G vs. Bad iPhone 5G
The carriers have, unfortunately, made 5G unnecessarily confusing. If your AT&T or Verizon iPhone status bar just says 5G, you effectively have 4G with a cherry on top. It isn’t very meaningful.
What you’re looking for is a 5G+ indicator on AT&T or a 5G UW indicator on Verizon. Those signify mid-band or high-band 5G, which gives better performance.
On T-Mobile, a regular 5G indicator can mean extended range. 5G UC, which is mid-band, means better performance.
How much better is real 5G? I took two iPhones out in New York City in mid-March to compare their 4G and 5G performance on the same networks.
On Verizon, where I saw 5G UW (C-band), there was a major performance advantage over 4G. Where I just saw 5G (not UW), performance was about the same as 4G.
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On T-Mobile, 5G UC often provided much better performance than 4G. Very occasionally, it didn’t. But one great thing about the iPhone platform is that you can turn off 5G any time you want, and return to it later. For more, see how to disable 5G on your iPhone.
How to Get the Good iPhone 5G
Whether or not you’re getting good 5G depends on your carrier.
AT&T is off to a slower start than T-Mobile and Verizon. It’s also using, in part, a frequency that won’t be supported until the iPhone 14. So it’s smartest for AT&T subscribers to pick up an iPhone 14 series later this year, and watch AT&T’s mid-band 5G coverage fill in to cover 200 million people by the end of 2023.
T-Mobile users should all switch to 5G now. It improves both coverage and speed. The carrier intends to triple its square mileage covered by its high-speed UC 5G by the end of the year, execs have said.
On Verizon, what matters is whether you live in one of the 46 regions of the country shown in our story on C-band 5G. If so, Verizon mid-band UW 5G is likely to come to you this year. If not, you’re mostly fine with 4G through the end of 2023.
Ultimately, whether you’re convinced that you need 5G or you’re still shopping for a 4G iPhone, check our our story on the best iPhone for you.
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