- Apple's iPhone 12 lineup marks the company's first smartphones to come with 5G.
- While it's an important step for the iPhone, 5G support alone isn't enough of a reason to upgrade.
- The fastest 5G networks operate at a short range and are only found in very limited areas around the US.
- But bringing 5G to the iPhone 12 ensures that the phone will remain relevant in the future as 5G networks develop over the coming years.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
When Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage on Tuesday to unveil the iPhone 12 — which just went up for pre-order on Friday — the first upgrade he highlighted was its ability to support 5G.
"Each generation of cellular network technology on iPhone has enabled breakthrough innovations and entirely new opportunities for our developers and our users," Cook said during the virtual event. "And 5G is the most exciting step yet."
For months, analysts have anticipated that Apple's first 5G iPhone will result in a "supercycle' of upgrades that could make this Apple's biggest smartphone launch in years.
But if you're thinking about upgrading to the new iPhone, don't do it just because of 5G.
While it's true that Apple is one of the last major smartphone makers to bring 5G to its devices, there's a good reason why. Next-generation 5G networks are far from being the standard when it comes to mobile data usage in the US.
That means when you unbox the iPhone 12, there's a good chance you'll experience speeds that are similar to those offered by the 4G LTE phone you already own. And it's going to take some time before 5G networks offer phenomenally faster performance.
If you choose to upgrade to the next iPhone, do it because your current device is running slow, or maybe because you have an older model that doesn't have Face ID. Or perhaps because you're looking for a boost in camera performance or battery life.
"Every year it's [5G] going to get continually better," Gordon Smith, CEO of telecoms solutions provider Sagent, said to Business Insider. "It's just not a light switch like people are thinking. It's not going to work that way."
To understand why you shouldn't purchase any new phone just for 5G, it helps to know how the technology works. There are three different types of 5G: low-band, mid-band, and millimeter wave.
RootMetrics, a mobile analytics firm owned by IHS Markit that has conducted numerous studies on the state of 5G in the US, describes the different spectrum types this way:
- Low-band networks can travel far and easily penetrate buildings, but they offer significantly slower speeds than other network types.
- Mid-band networks are faster than low-band and easier to deploy more widely, but there's a limited supply of this type of spectrum available.
- High-band, or millimeter wave, networks offer incredibly fast speeds that are a notable improvement over 4G LTE, but they can only operate at a short range and have difficulty penetrating buildings.