• Apple's iPhone 12, unveiled on Tuesday, is expected to have the capacity for 5G networks that operate at speeds 10 to 20 times faster than current tech
  • The U.S., however, does not have the infrastructure for a 5G network except in a few small enclaves
  • China and South Korea have extensive 5G networks, but both countries have entrenched local tech giants making foreign expansion difficult for Apple

Apple’s newest iPhone model will have the capacity for 5G networks, but the United States' lagging infrastructure means that increased smartphone speeds won't be enjoyed by most Americans for years to come.

Reuter’s reports that 5G networks can be up to 20 times faster than conventional signals, but only a small number of select locales currently have them in place. Verizon has the largest 5G network currently running in the U.S., covering 36 cities. Even within those cities, there are areas the network does not reach.

While consumers in those locations will be able to make full use of the iPhone 12, the vast majority of Americans would see only a slight increase in speed until a 5G network with larger coverage can be constructed.

Apple will be announcing the iPhone 12 in a virtual event at 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

Opponents say 5G poses health problems
Opponents say 5G poses health problems AFP / NICOLAS ASFOURI

Boris Metodiev, associate director of research firm Strategy Analytics, told Reuters a phone with 5G in the U.S. is “like having a Ferrari ... but using it in your local village and you can’t drive to up to 200 miles per hour, simply because the roads cannot maintain those speeds.”

Other countries such as China and South Korea have more extensive 5G networks, but both of them have entrenched local tech companies already selling phones with the feature. Samsung in South Korea and Huawei in China make expanding into foreign markets a difficult prospect for Apple, especially with Huawei’s sales surging locally after they were banned from the U.S.

The promises of 5G technology include seamless streaming, live cloud gaming, and augmented reality apps. Those advances, however, likely won’t be made until the technology is widely available. Tech companies will have to entice consumers with speed alone and trust that software truly utilizing 5G’s potential will come later.

Geoff Blaber, vice president of research at CCS Insight, told Reuters that for now, 5G capacity remains a feature that producers can put on the box but will only have practical appeal for a small minority of buyers.

“If you’re buying a phone that you’re going to have for three years, you’re going to want to make sure that it’s going to support the latest networks,” he said, but “there’s going to be relatively little that you can do on a 5G iPhone you can’t do on a 4G iPhone today."