5G has arrived in many countries and you are probably wondering if is it worth buying a 5G phone already or should you wait? If that’s what you are thinking right now, you are not the only one. There is no doubt that 5G is one of the biggest steps in mobile communications and it does deserve all the attention it is getting. As a customer though, you need to be aware that the availability of 5G is not like switching an on/off button but it is a technology that takes time to be deployed fully. Therefore, making a decision on which 5G plan to buy and when to buy that is not as simple. Let’s have a look at the key things you may consider when buying a 5G phone subscription.
5G availability and speed
The first and most important point is whether you already have 5G coverage in your area. For that, you need to look at the coverage map of your current mobile operator and their competitors. It may be that your current mobile operator doesn’t have good (or any) 5G coverage but other operators do. In any case, network coverage is the most fundamental consideration before you make a decision to ‘invest’ in a 5G device. Many mobile operators usually have a coverage map on their websites. You can learn more about 5G coverage and coverage maps in this post.
For the majority of mobile subscribers, the most obvious expectation from 5G is the data speed. When it comes to speed, two terms “peak speed” and “average speed” become very relevant. Peak speeds are the maximum achievable speeds in ideal network conditions. In real life though, the speeds we usually get are the average speeds. Just to give you an example, the peak download speed of LTE-Advanced (4G+) is around 1Gbps but the average achievable speed is only around 66 Mbps. The peak speed for 5G is around 10 Gbps but when we did a 5G speed test in the UK back in Nov 2019, we got download speeds of between 150 and 175 Mbps. As you can see from this post on the average broadband speeds, 150 Mbps is very fast from any standards.
What are the options for my 5G phone subscription?
The options for your 5G phone subscription depend on how much you are willing to pay and when. The key variables for you as a customer could be the 5G coverage and the cost of the 5G device. At this point in time (Aug 2020), it is not uncommon to come across 5G handsets from key manufacturers that cost around £800 to £1000. 5G phones are backwards compatible which means that they will still work on the earlier technologies like 4G LTE and 3G UMTS. If the 5G network coverage in your area is not great, then it is likely that even with a 5G phone there may be occasions when you are mostly served by the 4G or 3G networks. In that case, you’ll only be able to get good value out of your phone when the 5G coverage is more mature which may take some time.
The other point to consider is that when 5G coverage becomes a bit more common over the next few years, you may see an increase in the supply of 5G phones. As a result, the average prices for 5G phones may come down a little bit. So you may need your own personal 5G strategy as to when you decide to jump on the 5G bandwagon. There may be many options on how to go about this, but below are the key options we have identified.
Buy an affordable unlocked SIM-free 5G phone separately and use that with a SIM-only plan that includes 5G. Make sure that your plan is 5G without any speed caps. As the 5G network coverage becomes more mature, you can then decide whether you want to switch to a phone plan so you can get a more high-end phone of your choice. The additional benefit of the unlocked phone is that you can also try prepaid SIMs from other operators to test if they have better 5G coverage in your area.
Buy a data-only SIM to go into a 5G capable MiFi device which you can use as a mobile hotspot. 5G mobile broadband is known as Enhanced Mobile Broadband or eMBB. Even if the 5G coverage in your area is a bit limited to start off with, you can still use the 5G MiFi device for a long time and this option may still be cheaper than a high-end mobile phone. As an additional benefit, you can connect multiple devices on it also.
Wait for the 5G coverage to be more widely available and the device prices to come down so you can get a high-end 5G phone at a reasonable price. The benefit of this approach is that you may end up getting more flexible options in terms of the data plans (e.g. cheaper unlimited data) and device choices.
Buy a 5G phone of your choice on a pay-monthly phone plan to keep your upfront costs lower. But be aware that the 5G coverage may not be available everywhere when you start your contract.