If you are someone who has heard about the 5G cellular technology, then you may be wondering whether it is worth buying a 5G compatible mobile phone or if your existing phone already supports the 5G technology.
The technical specifications of a cell phone on its manufacturer’s website can tell you if it is 5G compatible. For 5G support, the technical features will mention ‘5G’, ‘NR’ or ‘NSA/SA’ in the ‘Connectivity’ or ‘Network’ section. You can also see the phone ‘Settings’ to determine if it supports 5G.
There are many ways to find the technical specifications of a particular mobile phone to see if it supports 5G, but the most reliable source is always the manufacturer itself. You can also use other reputable websites like GSM Arena to get a comprehensive view of the technical features of your phone.
If you already have access to the mobile phone, depending on the phone manufacturer, you can look for 5G support under the “Settings” menu. Let’s look at how to check if your current or future mobile phone supports 5G and what 5G really means for you as a phone user.
5G compatibility info on phone manufacturer’s website
If you are interested in a particular 5G mobile phone model, the best way to confirm 5G compatibility is to check the website of the device manufacturer and your (desired) mobile operator. For 5G support, you want to see something like 2G/3G/4G/5G or 5G NR or 5G NSA/SA in the phone specifications.
Generally, a phone manufacturer uses its website to provide necessary technical information about its phones. If we use iPhone 13 as an example, you will see that the technical specifications for this phone can be found on the Tech Spec page for iPhone13 on Apple’s website. If you scroll down to the Mobile and Wireless section on this page, you may see information about different models and the supported 5G NR, frequency bands. This information tells you which models support 5G frequencies.
It is a good practice to also check the website of your mobile operator to find out if they sell this phone in your home country. If your mobile operator is selling this phone in your country, it can give you peace of mind that there shouldn’t be any technical limitations. For example, if there were any limitations in terms of the supported frequency bands, your mobile operator would have already considered that before making a decision to sell the phone in your country.
Let’s now have a look at a UK-based mobile operator, Vodafone UK, to see what their specifications are saying about iPhone 13 on their website. The specifications for iPhone 13 on the Vodafone UK website suggest that the phone supports 2G/3G/4G/5G, which confirms the 5G support.
5G compatibility info on independent websites
While phone manufacturers and mobile operators are the key sources of information about 5G support for a specific phone, there are some independent websites that also provide this information. One such online resource is GSM Arena which provides a very detailed view of the key network, software and hardware features for mobile phones.
If we look at the specifications for Apple iPhone 13 on GSM Arena, the list of features is a lot more detailed than even the device manufacturer. On GSM Arena, you can find the 5G support information in the Network section under Technology. You can also see the supported frequency bands for 5G, which, if you wish, you can compare with the bands supported by your mobile operator.
However, it is always best to double-check with the mobile operator whose SIM you intend to use inside the phone. If your SIM provider is an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator), they can check for you, or you can check directly with the Mobile Network Operator (MNO) whose network your MVNO is using.
An MNO is a mobile service provider that owns a full mobile network, including the radio network that provides mobile signals to your phone. An MVNO does not have its radio network and relies on an MNO to provide the radio signals. I have written a detailed post on MNO and MVNO if you are unsure about the difference.
How to find 5G support information directly on your phone?
If you already have a mobile phone and want to find out whether it supports 5G or not, you can quickly check that in your phone’s Settings menu. The exact instructions depend on which phone you have. Below are some examples that can help you figure out if your phone supports 5G.
|Phone||How to check if it supports 5G?||What to expect if 5G is supported|
|iPhone (e.g. iPhone 13)||Settings > Mobile Data > Mobile Data Options > Voice & Data -[OR]-|
Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Voice & Data
|Google Pixel phone (e.g. Pixel 5)||Settings > Network and Internet > SIMs > Preferred Network Type||5G (Recommended)|
|Samsung Galaxy phone (e.g. S21)||Settings > Connections> Mobile Networks > Network Mode||5G/LTE/Auto|
|OnePlus phone (e.g. OnePlus 9 Pro)||Settings > Wi-Fi & network> SIM & network > Preferred network type||2G/3G/4G/5G (Automatic)|
|Xiaomi phone (e.g. Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro 5G)||Settings > SIM card and mobile networks> Preferred network type||Prefer 5G|
|Sony Xperia phone (e.g. Sony Xperia 5 II)||Settings > Network & Internet > Mobile network > Preferred network type||5G/4G/3G/2G|
|Huawei phone (e.g. Huawei Mate 30 Pro 5G)||Settings > Mobile network > Mobile data> scroll to SIM 1 or 2 > Preferred network mode||5G/4G/3G/2G auto|
If you have an iPhone (e.g. iPhone 13), you can go to Settings > Mobile Data > Mobile Data Options > Voice & Data, which will take you to a screen that shows the supported cellular networks. If your phone supports 5G, you will see 5G On, 5G Auto, LTE. If you have a 4G phone, you will see 4G and 3G on that screen.
On an iPhone, these settings may look different depending on where you buy your phone from. In the US, your iPhone is likely to show these options: Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Voice & Data.
If you have an Android Google Pixel phone (e.g. Pixel 5), you can find out if you have 5G by going to Settings > Network and Internet > SIMs > Preferred Network Type to see a screen that shows all the supported networks. If 5G is supported, your screen will have a list showing 5G (Recommended), 4G, 3G, 2G.
If you have an Android Samsung Galaxy phone (e.g. S21), you can find the 5G settings by going to Settings > Connections> Mobile Networks > Network Mode, and there you should be able to see 5G/LTE/Auto if your phone has 5G. If your phone is a 4G phone that does not support 5G, you are expected to see LTE/3G/2G (auto connect).
If you have an Android OnePlus phone (e.g. OnePlus 9 Pro), you can find the 5G settings by going to Settings > Wi-Fi & network> SIM & network > Preferred network type, and there you should be able to see 2G/3G/4G/5G (Automatic) if your phone supports 5G. If your phone is a 4G phone that does not support 5G, you are expected to see 2G/3G/4G (Automatic).
If you have an Android Xiaomi phone (e.g. Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro 5G), you can find the 5G settings by going to Settings > SIM card and mobile networks> Preferred network type and there you should be able to see Prefer 5G, Prefer LTE, Prefer 3G, 2G only in a list format if your phone supports 5G. If your phone is a 4G phone that does not support 5G, you will not see 5G in the list.
If you have an Android Sony Xperia phone (e.g. Sony Xperia 5 II), you can find the 5G settings by going to Settings > Network & Internet > Mobile network > Preferred network type and there you should be able to see 5G/4G/3G/2G at the top of the list of network types if your phone supports 5G. If your phone is a 4G phone, then the top of the list will say 4G/3G/2G.
If you have an Android Huawei phone (e.g. Huawei Mate 30 Pro 5G), you can find the 5G settings by going to Settings > Mobile network > Mobile data> scroll to SIM 1 or 2 > Preferred network mode, and there you should be able to see 5G/4G/3G/2G auto at the top of the list of network types if your phone supports 5G. 4G phones show 4G/3G/2G auto at the top of the list.
What can you do on your phone if it supports 5G?
If your mobile phone and network support the 5G cellular technology, you can expect average download speeds of 150 to 200 Mbps. 5G phones require compatibility with the New Radio (NR) technology to connect to 5G, but they also support 4G, 3G and 2G to access mobile data, voice calls and texts (SMS).
5G mobile networks are packet-switched, which means they offer all services, including voice, texts and data over IP (Internet Protocol). This essentially means that all cellular services offered by 5G are delivered through the data network. 5G services are enabled by a new cellular technology New Radio (NR) just like 4G services are enabled by the LTE technology.
4G LTE is expected to co-exist and evolve alongside 5G NR for a long time to keep us all connected via high-speed mobile data networks. 4G LTE networks have already introduced us to Voice over LTE (VoLTE), which is a technology that facilitates voice calls and texts (SMS) over the data networks. 5G NR networks have an equivalent technology Voice over NR (VoNR).
At the moment, the majority of 5G network deployments are non-stand-alone 5G or 5G NSA. NSA is a type of 5G network deployment where 5G cell towers (base stations) work with an existing 4G mobile core network. The full 5G network deployment is called stand-alone 5G or 5G SA, which uses 5G base stations as well as a 5G core network.
The standalone version of 5G (SA) will unleash the full potential of 5G through the cloud-native 5G core network. 5G NR networks are backwards compatible, and therefore a 5G phone will also support earlier cellular technologies, including 4G LTE, 3G UMTS and 2G GSM. I have written a detailed post on 5G New Radio technology if you want to learn more.
If you want to compare 5G with other technology, then look at this post that compares 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. If you are looking to buy a 5G phone, then don’t forget to check out this post that answers some of the key questions about 5G phones and SIMs.
How do 5G cell towers transmit 5G signals to your phone?
5G cellular networks transmit the mobile signals in the same way as 4G and 3G networks do. A 5G mobile network, like earlier networks, enables the transmission of data-carrying radio signals between the cell towers (base station) and mobile phones at specific radio frequencies.
Like other cellular technologies, the network architecture for 5G comprises a radio network and a core network that connects to the external networks. The cellular towers represent the radio network and connect with SIM-enabled customer devices like smartphones, tablets and routers through radio waves.
5G networks employ various frequency bands, as shown in the table below, to establish communication between cell towers and customer devices through radio waves. 5G networks can also utilise the existing 4G LTE frequency bands through a concept called Dynamic Spectrum Sharing.
|Frequency Band||Frequency in MHz/GHz|
|Low band||e.g. 600 MHz and 700 MHz|
|Mid band||1 to 6 GHz. In the UK, all key mobile operators use the 3.4-3.6 GHz band for 5G.|
|High or Millimetre band||Over 6GHz, especially 24-30 GHz band|
The 5G core network is connected to the radio network through wired or wireless links (transport network). The radio communication between the mobile phone and the cellular tower (gNB – base station) makes use of the OFDMA (Orthogonal FDMA) technology, which is also used in 4G LTE and WiFi6. Below is a simplified depiction of what a full 5G network, standalone 5G, looks like.
Do you really need a 5G phone or can you live with 4G?
The key value 5G brings is the average data speed of 150-200 Mbps on your phone. Since LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro (LTE+) offer average speeds of 60-100 Mbps, you may not notice a massive difference between 5G and 4G on the phone in the short term until 5G reaches maturity.
You might wonder why we need 5G and what is so special about it that other technologies can’t offer? It is a valid question because evolving two different technologies, 5G NR and 4G LTE, does seem like a lot of work, so why don’t they just pick 5G and focus on evolving it rather than mixing it up with 4G? There are multiple aspects to this question, the first one being the coverage.
Unlike other technologies, cellular technologies are only beneficial when they are available everywhere, and even the slightest coverage gap can be a real showstopper. Therefore, whenever a new cellular technology is introduced, the previous one co-exists for a long time until the new one has fully taken over as the primary technology. It was the same when 3G and 4G technologies were introduced, and it is the case with 5G also.
But the key aspect of 5G NR is that it is like a one-stop-shop type technology that can cater to an extensive range of use cases. Because of the three pillars eMBB, mMTC and uRLLC, 5G is capable of providing extremely high data rates in the range of Gbps (Gigabits per second), but it is equally capable of offering very low data rates in the range of a few Kbps (kilobits per second).
It can offer very targeted coverage through a small cell architecture using higher frequencies (e.g. 6 GHz), but at the same time, it can also use lower frequencies, e.g. 600 and 700 MHz, to offer wide-area coverage. These capabilities give 5G a lot of flexibility to offer high-speed broadband services, low-latency connectivity for mission-critical applications, and the ability to connect billions of low-powered devices, e.g. sensors for IoT devices through cellular IoT.
Here are some helpful downloads
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need extra support, especially when preparing for a new job, studying a new topic, or buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:
Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy, which explains the network nodes, e.g., BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.
Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and the challenges considering how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience, which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if you work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on the product overview and product roadmap.