Now that the 5G mobile networks have been launched in many parts of the world, many people have questions about 5G phones and whether we all need to buy a new phone now. When a new cellular technology is introduced, it takes some time for its coverage to be mature enough to become the primary network technology. For example, when 4G LTE was launched, we still relied heavily on UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA in the initial years before 4G coverage reached enough penetration. Now that 4G LTE is the primary network technology, it will take some time for 5G to be available everywhere. Until then, we may find ourselves using 4G LTE networks a bit more, at least initially.
Can 4G phones support 5G?
Mobile phones are backwards compatible but never forward compatible. It means that a 3G phone can support 3G and 2G, a 4G phone can support 4G, 3G and 2G, and a 5G phone can support 5G, 4G, 3G and 2G. 1G is not included here because those networks are now obsolete and also because they were not digital. If you have a 4G phone, it will support the LTE technology with 3G technologies (e.g. UMTS, CDMA2000) and 2G technologies (e.g. GSM, IS-95 etc.). In order to access the 5G network, you need a new 5G phone so that you can benefit from whatever 5G networks have to offer. If you want to learn what 5G can provide you with, check out our dedicated post on 5G vs 4G.
Do I need a new phone for 5G?
If you want to access the 5G network, then you need a 5G phone. However, you can continue to use your 4G phone to stay connected to the 4G, 3G and 2G networks as long as your mobile operator supports them. This is because 4G LTE networks are expected to co-exist and evolve alongside the 5G networks in the foreseeable future. Therefore, if you are not bothered about the additional benefits that 5G brings, there is no urgency for you to upgrade to a 5G phone. Also, since 5G networks are still being deployed, there are some coverage considerations that you need to be aware of. Check out our dedicated post if you want to find out what you should consider when buying a 5G phone and SIM.
can I make my 4G phone 5G?
It is not possible to convert your 4G phone into a 5G phone no matter what anyone tells you. This is because the 5G phones require 5G hardware (chipset), which only mobile phone manufacturers can legally do. So, if you want to access the 5G network, buy a 5G phone from a renowned phone manufacturer. The best way to do that is to check your mobile operator’s website to see which phone models are supported in your country.
How long will 4G phones work on 5G?
4G phones will work on 4G LTE networks and the earlier cellular technologies, including 3G and 2G. LTE is not going anywhere in the foreseeable future, and therefore, there is no rush to upgrade your 4G phone. 5G networks are relatively new at the moment, and most 5G deployments across the world are non-stand-alone (NSA), which means they use a combination of 4G and 5G networks to offer 5G. The only tangible benefit of 5G you can notice on your mobile phone at the time of writing (Oct 2021) is the higher data speed and improved latency. Unless you plan to use your mobile phone primarily as a hotspot for tethering, you may benefit very little from 5G. On the other hand, if you want to use 5G for high-speed internet, you are better off getting a 5G broadband router to benefit from the higher data rates.
Can I upgrade my SIM to 5G?
If you have a 4G SIM, technically, it should work on 5G as long as you have a 5G compatible phone. However, a safer option may be to get a new SIM to improve network security and avoid any possible restrictions specific to your operator. In the UK market, the 5G SIM issue was not handled in a crystal clear manner by the mobile operators as some suggested continuing with the same SIM, whereas some other operators advised differently. Since mobile operators are responsible for programming your SIM card, it is always best to take their advice.
4G phones will continue to work on 4G LTE networks but not on 5G networks. So if you want to access the 5G network, you need a new 5G compatible mobile phone. The 5G phones are backwards compatible and will allow you to access 5G, 4G, 3G and 2G networks. 4G LTE and 5G will co-exist for a long time, so there is no rush to buy a 5G phone if you are happy with the 4G network.
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, or 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 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 product overview and product roadmap.