KEY POINTS

  • Apple is promising 5G performance with its latest iPhone, the iPhone 12
  • One analyst compared owning a 5G phone under current conditions to owning a Ferrari but being stuck on city streets
  • 5G was found to operate only slightly faster than 4G LTE on the current U.S. network overlay 

Apple on Tuesday unveiled the iPhone 12, the company's first consumer phone to offer 5G capability. The question is whether the benefits of 5G will even be noticeable for the first wave of adopters?

The short answer is no.

On paper, 5G represents a massive jump in mobile operating speeds compared to the current 4G network overlay in the U.S. Most estimates say phones running on 5G could run 10 and 20 times faster than 4G, and allow phones to smoothly run more complex programs like augmented reality and cloud gaming. It would also be more reliable than 4G and maintain connections over longer distances.

However, the infrastructure needed to see the full benefit of 5G is simply not yet available.

Strategy Analytics associate director of research Boris Metodiev told Reuters early adopters of 5G can be compared to someone who owns a Ferrari but uses it to go to the grocery store.

"You can’t drive up to 200 mph, simply because the roads cannot maintain those speeds,” Metodiev said.

Mobile analytics company Opensignal proved this by testing how 5G operates on the current U.S. network overlay. It found while 5G is faster, it was only 1.8 times faster than the 4G LTE. Carriers like Verizon and AT&T said they plan to build out their respective 5G networks over the next three years and offer three grades of 5G.

“In the U.S., when you see millimeter wave, and you see low-band. That isn’t 5G. That’s just two parts of 5G,” Opensignal vice president of analytics Ian Fogg told CNBC. “5G will have mid-band, too. What we’re seeing in the U.S. right now is version 0.9 or version 1.0. It’s going to improve a lot.”

The lacking infrastructure means apps and operations meant to be a selling point for 5G won’t be available for some time.

“The applications we will be dazzled by, that will really take advantage of the network, will only be developed once the network and devices are available,” CommScope chief technology officer Morgan Kurk told Reuters.

However, analysts said strong sales of 5G iPhones and other 5G smartphones could be enough to spur carriers to speed up building their infrastructure.

One analyst said Apple's latest results suggest momentum heading into the season when it will likely release its iPhone 12
One analyst said Apple's latest results suggest momentum heading into the season when it will likely release its iPhone 12 AFP / Josh Edelson
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