How to buy a 5G phone subscription?

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 a technology that takes time to be deployed fully. Therefore, deciding 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.

The most practical way to buy a 5G mobile phone subscription is to make sure you check if you have a good indoor 5G coverage in your home or office, you have a 5G capable phone (SA and NSA), you have a 5G mobile plan from your operator and that your SIM is 5G-ready.

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 its 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 decide to ‘invest’ in a 5G device. Many mobile operators usually have a coverage map on their websites.

For the majority of mobile subscribers, the most obvious expectation from 5G is the data speed. Two terms, “peak speed” and “average speed”, become very relevant when it comes to speed. 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. 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 the average download speeds are around 150-200 Mbps indoors in the UK. Have a look at our dedicated posts on average 4G LTE speeds and average 5G NR speeds.

Where can I buy a 5G SIM card?

If you have a preferred mobile operator in mind, make sure to go through the following checklist before you buy a 5G SIM. Even better if you read our dedicated post on frequently asked 5G phone and SIM questions to avoid any potential disappointment. Basically, you can buy a 5G SIM card the same way you buy any other SIM card. The best option is to go directly to your mobile operator’s website or retail shop and make sure to ask them questions around the following checklist.

  1. 5G coverage
  2. 5G mobile phone
  3. 5G tariff
  4. 5G ready SIM

You need to ensure that key your locations of interest (e.g. home, office etc.) have the 5G coverage. Then you must have a 5G capable mobile phone because the 4G phone will NOT allow you to access 5G. A 5G phone will allow you to access 5G, 4G and earlier cellular technologies. The third step is to make sure that you get a tariff that allows you to access the 5G network and that your mobile operator does not restrict you to certain speeds (e.g. 20 Mbps max) or certain network technologies (e.g. 3G and 4G). Finally, you need a SIM card that is technically capable of accessing the 5G network securely whilst ensuring your privacy.

Do you need a 5G contract to use the 5G network?

If you have a 5G capable phone and a 5G-ready SIM, the technology does not restrict you from using the 5G network. However, your mobile operators’ pricing and proposition teams may have a range of different tariffs, some of which may have restrictions as to which network technology or speed you are entitled to. It is always best to check your plan details for any such restrictions, and even better if you contact your service provider to do a proper check. Ideally, you want a 5G ready plan and maximum available speeds so that you don’t get stuck on 4G. You may ask your operator something along the lines of these two questions:

  1. Is my contract restricted to 4G/LTE or is it 5G ready?
  2. Is there any throttling on my tariff that limits the maximum speeds -OR- do I get the maximum avaialble speeds?

Can I get 5G on pay as you go?

The mobile network does not restrict your prepaid or Pay As You Go SIM from accessing the 5G network. However, since 5G is still new and not fully rolled out at the time of this update (Aug 2021), not all mobile operators currently have prepaid or pay as you go 5G tariffs. Generally, mobile operators prefer to sell monthly subscriptions, so 5G is easier to find on pay-monthly subscriptions. However, Vodafone and Three currently seem to have 5G SIMs on Pay As You Go in the UK. On the US side, Verizon seems 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 on their respective websites.

Can I get 5G WiFi?

There is one confusion in the broadband industry between the 5 GHz frequency band on the WiFi router and the 5G cellular technology. There is no link between the two terminologies; however, the confusion is understandable because they both have something to do with high-speed broadband. But don’t worry, we will clarify it here. 5G stands for the fifth generation of mobile networks, whereas 5 GHz is one of the frequency bands that WiFi routers use. 5G is a successor of 4G LTE and uses a cellular technology New Radio to enable 5G services where high-speed internet is one of the major features. 5 GHz frequency band is a range of frequencies within which a WiFi router can create channels of pre-determined bandwidths (e.g. 40 MHz) that can be allocated to your WiFi connected devices. The WiFi router gets the internet through your telephone socket or fibre line, connected to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). So 5 GHz is just the means to creating a wireless connection between your device (e.g. your laptop) and your WiFi router. 5G, on the other hand, is offered over a mobile network and is not linked to your phone socket or fibre line. If you buy a data-only SIM subscription, you can place the SIM card inside a 5G capable mobile broadband router. That way, the router will connect to the mobile network, which is already connected to the internet world. Once the mobile broadband router is connected to the internet, you can now wirelessly connect your devices to the router. The router will create WiFi coverage through the 2.4 GHz frequency band or the 5GHz frequency band for this wireless connectivity between your devices and the mobile broadband router. So, 5G or fifth-generation is powered by cellular technology to connect your router to the mobile internet whereas 5 GHz is a frequency band that creates WiFi coverage between your router and the devices.

Can 5G replace home broadband?

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. Remember that most initial 5G deployments are not end-to-end 5G but instead a combination of 4G and 5G. That means the full potential of 5G networks is yet to be seen, and already the speeds are good enough for many households. You can check out our dedicated post on 5G as a home broadband service.

Conclusion

When you buy a 5G subscription, you need to make sure that you select a mobile operator with decent 5G network coverage in your geographical area of interest. In addition, you must have a 5G capable device, either a mobile phone or tablet or mobile broadband router. You also need a 5G plan or tariff, which allows you to access the 5G services. Finally, you need a SIM that is 5G ready. Below is the list in a summarised format:

  1. Network coverage – 5G coverage in your area
  2. Capable device – 5G phone or 5G router
  3. 5G tariff – 5G plan from your mobile operator.
  4. 5G ready SIM. Normal SIM if you are using a phone. Data-only SIM if you are using a router or tablet.

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 some extra support, especially when preparing for a new job, studying a new topic, or maybe just 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.

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