Apple’s new iPhone 12 lineup packs a faster processor, better cameras, and MagSafe charging into a flashy new design. But the phone’s defining feature is its 5G wireless chip, which opens the door to zippy mobile networks that outpace cable internet. So, should you upgrade to the iPhone 12 just for 5G?
Is 5G Really That Special?
Businesses like Apple are excited about 5G because it will revolutionize the internet. In perfect conditions, 5G is a hundred times faster than current 4G technology. It has a theoretical maximum speed of 10 Gbps , which is faster than cable internet and comparable to some service providers’ fiber plans.
In other words, 5G is the real deal! Large movie or game downloads take just seconds with a 5G connection. A 5G phone can participate in mobile Zoom calls without all the lag and quality issues of 4G phones. And as mobile gaming grows exponentially, 5G stands as the only solution for data-heavy multiplayer and game streaming experiences.
All iPhone 12 models support 5G connections, so even an upgrade to the less-expensive iPhone 12 mini could change your mobile experience for the better. At least, that’s how it is on paper. In reality, 5G is still kind of rare, and not all 5G connections are equal. The average iPhone 12 buyer may not experience a significant increase in mobile speed, assuming that they even have 5G service in their area.
5G Is Still Rare, and Not All 5G Is Equal
You can’t have a good story without a tragic irony. The secret sauce behind 5G’s speed is its use of high-frequency signals, which carry a ton of data and a lightning-fast pace. But this speed is a trade-off for stability. While slow 4G signals can reliably travel large distances, 5G signals can hardly overcome an empty city street.
We’re finally at the point where fragile 5G signals are tenable, thanks to dynamic signal switching and a system of three separate 5G spectrums. Still, carriers have to install 5G hardware every couple of blocks to provide noticeable reliable 5G service for a town or city. That’s why 5G is taking so long to deploy, especially in small towns, suburbs, and rural areas.
Even if your corner of the world has 5G access today, you might not notice a significant difference between it and 4G. That’s because the fastest 5G spectrum, called millimeter wave (mmWave), has a short range and requires hundreds (or thousands) of base stations to provide full coverage for a city. Carriers aren’t willing to install expensive mmWave hardware in rural areas, so they opt for slow wide-range sub-6 5G stations instead. Sub-6 5G speeds are comparable to 4G LTE and may be slower than 4G depending on your service provider.
Want to check if millimeter wave 5G is available in your area? Verizon’s coverage map distinguishes between slow “Nationwide” 5G and faster mmWave “5G Ultra Wideband” signals. Other carriers, like AT&T and T-Mobile, aren’t as transparent about their coverage. I suggest Googling “millimeter wave 5G” along with your city’s name to check for 5G coverage in your area.
If you’re fortunate enough to have mmWave 5G access, then hey, that’s a good reason to buy an iPhone 12! But even without 5G, the iPhone 12 is a fantastic device. You should still consider upgrading, even if you live in the countryside without a lick of 5G.
There Are Other Reasons to Upgrade
As always, the new iPhone lineup features an improved processor, a better display, and fancy new camera sensors. That’s enough of a reason to upgrade to the iPhone 12, especially if you’re rocking a device that came out before the iPhone X.
But what if you’re coming from a newer iPhone? And why would you buy the iPhone 12 over the discounted iPhone 11? To be perfectly honest, the iPhone 12 doesn’t have a ton of radical new features. The big new feature (aside from 5G) is the MagSafe connector—a magnet inside the iPhone 12 that allows you to connect accessories, cases, and awesome-looking wireless chargers.
The iPhone 12 also sports some small quality-of-life improvements like a tougher Ceramic Shield display with four-times better drop performance than previous iPhones. The expensive iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max also offer 4K 60 FPS recording with Dolby Vision HDR, which is a massive improvement over previous iPhones.
And hey, mmWave 5G coverage will eventually find its way to your city. You could buy an iPhone 12 today and reap the benefits of 5G a year or two from now, or pass it down to a friend or family member if you like to replace your phone every few years. The iPhone 12 could also hold its value better than previous iPhones, as the average buyer won’t want to own a slower 4G handset once 5G is ubiquitous and reliable.