If you want to access 5G cellular services, you need a 5G compatible device with a SIM plan that supports 5G. In addition, you also need a decent 5G coverage in your locations of interest, e.g., your home and office.
Your mobile operator must have 5G coverage in your area
If your mobile operator does not have a decent 5G coverage in your geographical areas of interest, e.g. your home, then it is likely that you will be mostly connected to an earlier technology like 4G LTE or even 3G. Therefore, it is vital to check the 5G coverage map of your desired mobile operator.
The first and most important thing when buying a 5G subscription is to check whether you have decent indoor 5G coverage in your area. If you want to stick with your existing mobile operator, you need to look at the 5G coverage map on their website.
For example, if you are currently with Vodafone UK, you need to go to the 5G coverage map tool on Vodafone UK’s website and enter your postcode or location. Once you know what the indoor and outdoor 5G coverage in your area looks like, you can make an informed decision.
It may be that your current mobile operator does not currently have 5G coverage in your area. In that case, one option is to contact them and find out what their 5G deployment plans are in your area. Of course, you can always also check if other mobile operators already provide 5G services in your area, in which case you can make a decision depending on how quickly you want 5G.
You need a 5G compatible mobile phone to access 5G networks
5G uses New Radio (NR), a different cellular technology than LTE (Long Term Evolution). While LTE phones can support voice calls, text messages and high-speed mobile data, 5G requires an NR-compatible cellular device to communicate with the 5G next-generation base stations, gNodeB.
If you currently have a mobile phone you purchased with a 4G mobile phone plan, it may already be 5G compatible. However, since 5G is still relatively new, 4G phones are more common than 5G phones. However, cellular technologies are backwards compatible, so if you have a 5G phone, it will also support 4G LTE.
You can find out whether your mobile phone supports 5G or not by checking the technical specifications of your phone on the manufacturer’s website. You can also check this in the ‘Settings’ menu of your phone. For example, on an iPhone, you need to go into Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Voice & Data and see if it says ‘5G On’ or ‘5G Auto’.
Depending on the phone manufacturer, you may need to follow different options to determine if your phone is 5G compatible. I have written a dedicated post on 5G compatibility to help you find out if your phone supports 5G.
You need a 5G SIM plan (tariff) to entitle you to use 5G
Your existing 4G SIM will work in a 5G compatible phone, but you need to ensure that your SIM plan (phone plan or tariff) is not limited to 4G and that you are entitled to use 5G. You can check that by looking at your phone plan contract details or by simply contacting your mobile service provider.
If you have a 5G compatible mobile phone, a fully functional UMTS/LTE SIM card and 5G coverage, you are not technically restricted from accessing 5G cellular services. However, when a new cellular technology is launched, mobile operators generally create premium tariffs that give you access to the latest technology. Once the new technology becomes a bit more common, this limitation disappears.
If you live in a country where they have recently introduced 5G, it is advisable to check with your mobile operator whether your existing tariff is entitled to 5G services. You can check your tariff details for any such restrictions online or by contacting your mobile service provider.
Ideally, you want a 5G ready plan with no speed caps so that you can access the best available 5G speeds without any restrictions. If you are contacting your mobile operator to check whether your current tariff supports 5G, you can ask them the following questions:
- Is my tariff (phone/SIM plan) restricted to 4G/LTE, or is it 5G-ready?
- Is there a speed cap on my tariff that limits the maximum speeds -OR- do I get the maximum available 5G speeds?
I have written a dedicated post that answers the frequently asked 5G SIM and phone-related questions.
You can expect average 5G indoor speeds of 150 to 200 Mbps
While the data speed of 5G will continue to improve as the network evolves, it can already deliver average indoor download speeds of 150 Mbps to 200 Mbps in the UK. In an outdoor set-up, 5G can provide even higher speeds. The peak download speed of 5G is over 10 Gbps.
For most mobile subscribers, the most obvious expectation from 5G is super-fast download and upload speed. Therefore, two terms, “peak speed” and “average speed”, become very relevant when it comes to data rates. Peak speeds are the maximum achievable speeds in ideal network conditions.
In real life, the download and upload speeds we usually get are the average speeds. For example, the peak download speed of LTE-Advanced (4G+) is around 1Gbps, but the average achievable speed is only around 66 Mbps. Please look at our dedicated posts on average 4G LTE speeds and average 5G NR speeds.
You can get 5G for your phone or as your home broadband
The enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) speeds of 5G are not limited to 5G phones only but can also be accessed from 5G mobile broadband routers. 5G can deliver average download speeds of around 150 Mbps to 200 Mbps, extending the benefits of one 5G tariff to multiple simultaneous users.
5G networks can provide average download speeds of around 150 Mbps to 200 Mbps indoors and higher speeds outdoors in many parts of the UK. The majority of initial 5G deployments are non-standalone 5G (5G NSA), a hybrid 5G network deployment that uses both 4G and 5G network components.
The full benefits of 5G networks will be realised when standalone 5G deployments (5G SA) become more common. While the full potential of 5G is yet to be seen, in the meantime, you can check out our dedicated post on average 5G speeds to learn how fast 5G is for an average user.
Whether you use a mobile phone or router, your prepaid or postpaid tariff type should not pose a restriction in order to access 5G. However, since 5G is still relatively new in many countries, it is possible that not all mobile operators currently allow prepaid tariffs to access 5G networks.
Vodafone and Three currently seem to have 5G SIMs on Pay As You Go in the UK. On the US side, Verizon appears to be offering prepaid 5G SIMs. Other operators in the UK and the US may also be offering 5G SIMs on prepaid, but Vodafone, Three and Verizon are the ones we found when we did a quick search.
When buying a 5G subscription, including a 5G phone and SIM plan, you need to make necessary checks to ensure that your phone and SIM can access the 5G networks. You can do that by choosing the right mobile service provider for your needs, a 5G-ready mobile tariff and a 5G NR-compatible cellular device. In summary, you can follow the list below:
|#||What you need to check||How to do the checks|
|1||Check the 5G network coverage||Your mobile operator must have 5G coverage in your area. So you need to go to their website and look for their 5G coverage map.|
|2||Check if your device is 5G compatible||You need a 5G compatible mobile phone or device to access 5G. You can check the 5G-compatibility either by reviewing the technical specifications for your cellular device or by going into your device’s ‘Settings’ menu.|
|3||Check if your tariff supports 5G||Your mobile tariff or phone plan must be allowed to access 5G. You can check that by looking at your tariff details or by simply contacting your mobile operator.|
|4||Decide if you need a phone or router||For an average consumer, 5G is about high-speed mobile data. So, you need to decide whether to buy a 5G phone straightaway to access 5G speeds or buy a 5G mobile broadband router so that everyone in your household can potentially enjoy the 5G speeds.|
|5||Manage your expectations||5G is still evolving, so the average indoor data speeds may not be hugely different from 4G LTE Advanced pro, at least in the early phases of 5G deployment. You can expect to get average download speeds of around 150 to 200 Mbps in an indoor set-up.|
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.