Do I need a new phone and a new SIM for 5G?

Generally, new technologies make our lives easier, but sometimes they can also lead to some confusions, especially through the introduction of new terminologies. 5G is the latest addition to the mobile communications industry, and it already exists in many countries. It stands for the fifth generation of mobile networks and uses a technology called New Radio (NR). An easy way to understand this is to know that NR is to 5G what LTE is to 4G. Under ideal network conditions, 5G can offer peak speeds of over 10 Gbps with a latency of as low as one millisecond. In real life, we get average speeds which are a lot lower than the peak speeds as explained in this post. When we did some testing in Slough UK (Nov 2019), on a leading UK-based mobile network, we were able to get 5G download speeds of between 156.7 Mbps and 174.8 Mbps. In the same tests, we were able to get the latency figures of around 1 and 2 milliseconds. Considering the average UK broadband speed is around 64 Mbps, anything around 100 Mbps, is pretty damn good. While it all sounds great, it is important to clarify things like e.g. do you need a new 5G phone, do you need a new SIM, do you have 5G in your area and so on.

For 5G technology to work for you, there are a few basic things to be aware of. First of all, your mobile operator needs to install 5G radio base stations in your area. That doesn’t mean that you’ll see big masts being installed or anything. It just means that your mobile operator may use your existing 4G cell site to add 5G radio units also. At your end, you need devices that are 5G compatible because 5G uses NR technology which is different from LTE.

So, as a customer, you need a 5G compatible mobile device, e.g. smartphone, and possibly a new SIM card for the 5G technology to work for you. Your existing 4G, 3G or 2G phones won’t be able to get 5G signals. As mobile phones are backwards compatible, you’ll still be able to access 4G, 3G and 2G networks through your 5G phone.

5G phone and SIM considerations

With new network technologies, it takes time for mobile operators to roll out the networks fully in all areas. Therefore, it is important for you to do your checks to avoid any potential disappointments. Below is a list of things to consider before starting your 5G journey. This list is based on best effort and is for information purposes only. You should speak to your mobile operator to get specific advice.

5G Network Coverage

The first thing you need to do is to find out whether your mobile operator has launched 5G services or not. The best way to do this is to check directly with your mobile operator either via their website or by contacting them. If your operator has a coverage map on their website, it is a good idea to investigate whether your house, office and other locations of interest have 5G coverage or not. If you find out that your areas of interest don’t have any or enough 5G coverage, then at least you will be in a good position to make an informed decision. If you live in the UK, you can use the following links to check the mobile network coverage in your area.

Vodafone UK network coverage

EE network coverage

O2 network coverage

Three network coverage

If your mobile service provider is not listed above then you are likely to be using an MVNO’s services. MVNOs are Mobile Virtual Network Operators (e.g. Tesco Mobile) that use mobile networks of Mobile Network Operators (e.g. O2). Use this link to find out which network your mobile service provider is using.

5G Device

As 5G uses a new technology called New Radio (NR), you will need a phone that is capable of communicating with the 5G base stations. Unless you have a 5G capable phone, you won’t be able to access 5G services. The way mobile phones evolve is that once a new technology, for example, 5G is available, the phone manufacturers make sure that the devices are backwards compatible so that they still work with the earlier technologies. It means that when you get a new 5G phone, it will work on 5G as well as earlier technologies like 4G (LTE), 3G (UMTS, HSPA & HSPA+) and 2G (GSM, GPRS, & EDGE). In terms of the prices, 5G smartphones are generally more expensive than the 4G phones and prices around £1000 are not unusual. Interestingly though, we were able to find an affordable 5G smartphone that can work really well with a good 5G SIM-only deal.

Tariff

In addition to the phone, at least in the beginning when 5G is still new, you may also need a special ‘5G’ tariff from your mobile service provider. This 5G enabled tariff will make sure that you are able to access the 5G network. When 5G becomes more common, you will get 5G on your tariff as a standard. This depends on each operator as to how long it takes and how they want to sell 5G services in your country. For our UK audience, here is our list of best 5G mobile phones and deals for UK customers. At the time of writing (Aug 9th 2020), 5G is still not available everywhere so make sure to check the coverage in your area before making any decisions.

SIM

You may or may not need a new SIM card. To give you an example, in the UK, there are some operators that require customers to get a new 5G capable SIM but there are also operators who are suggesting that some of their existing SIMs are already “5G-ready”. Either way, when you upgrade to a 5G tariff, your operator will let you know if you need a new SIM for your phone or if you can use your existing SIM. Depending on your circumstances, it may be easier to buy a new SIM as a SIM-Only deal to keep your monthly costs low and just get a 5G phone separately. You can get unlimited 5G data for as little as £18 per month. Here is a list of best SIM-Only deals that we could find for you. Make sure to check the network coverage though otherwise you may be disappointed.

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