COVID-19 has put a lot of America in a deep freeze, but as life has moved online, connectivity has become even more critical. 5G can absolutely help, especially if carriers offer 5G home service. But except for Verizon in small parts of five cities, they aren’t.
5G phone releases are still marching ahead, though. March saw the biggest 5G phone launches so far, including our Editors’ Choice Samsung Galaxy S20+ and its siblings the Galaxy S20 and S20 Ultra. The S20+ and S20 Ultra are the first US phones able to operate on every frequency that every US 5G carrier uses, knitting together fast high-band and broad-coverage low-band for the first 5G solution we can broadly recommend.
The LG V60 also came to market in March, and TCL announced a sub-$500 TCL 10 5G that will come to an unnamed carrier later this year. The OnePlus 8 series, which will be announced on April 14, will also feature 5G. It’s looking like all of 2020’s prominent phones will feature 5G, although in many cases (as with LG) you’ll have to choose between high-band and low-band.
With more 5G handsets becoming available weekly, we’ve started a roundup of the best 5G phones that we’ll update when worthy new devices appear.
The TCL 10 5G might be the first sub-$500 5G phone in the US
Anarchy In the UK
With a mysterious virus sweeping the world, conspiracy theorists have snagged on incoherent rantings about 5G to try to explain their misery. It all started when an R&B singer suggested 5G was causing the virus, but really took off in the past week as people in the UK started burning down mobile phone towers.
The petitions, viral posts, and theories driving the anti-5G movement in the UK make no sense. A popular theory argues that 5G causes coronavirus because it actually reduces the oxygen in the air, a completely false assertion. UK mobile providers, the government, and independent fact checkers have marshaled their forces to try to counter this misinformation.
This week, we updated our What is 5G? article to reflect that 5G is widely regarded by mainstream authorities as safe—especially the mid-band form of 5G used in the UK, and the low-band forms that are most widespread in the US. Mid-band 5G uses frequencies that are between 4G and 802.11n Wi-Fi, both technologies that have been used for more than a decade. Low-band 5G runs on frequencies in use since 1952. Emissions standards for 5G are the same or stricter than they were for 4G.
Here’s a page with the WHO, American Cancer Society, and officials from the governments of Sweden, Norway, Canada, and the UK all saying mobile phone RF, including 5G, is safe.
T-Mobile Is In the Lead
The United States is now officially a three-carrier country, as T-Mobile announced it has finalized its merger with Sprint. While the company will keep two separate brands and networks for a while, it will move as quickly as it can to combine them. Sprint’s “independent” network isn’t getting any more investment; T-Mobile will now focus on moving Sprint’s customers, spectrum, and technology over to T-Mobile. To that end, we’re retiring Sprint’s presence on our Race to 5G chart.
Together, T-Mobile and Sprint have a lot of 5G spectrum nationwide
T-Mobile currently leads in our rankings with an approach that I completely didn’t expect when I first set up the scoring in February 2019. T-Mobile has established a nationwide, industry-standard, genuine 5G network with a range of available phones—and it performs just like 4G. No, wait—it actually has lower mean download speeds, at 64.16Mbps, and even lower top 10% download speeds, at 85.68Mbps, than any of the three major Canadian carriers’ 4G speeds.
To some extent, T-Mobile’s 5G network makes a mockery of 5G promises, as it’s delivering on none of 5G’s promised benefits other than a new icon. While, sure, it’s faster than T-Mobile’s 4G network, there’s nothing T-Mobile is doing with its 5G technology right now that it couldn’t be doing with 4G. (There’s a small exception where T-Mobile has high-band 5G in seven cities, but that’s a tiny fraction of its network.) T-Mobile isn’t taking advantage of any of 5G’s unique benefits. Hopefully this will change as T-Mobile assimilates Sprint’s mid-band 5G spectrum.
AT&T’s “5G+” delivers on speed, in very limited areas
AT&T is currently better balancing low-band 5G coverage and fast high-band 5G usage, although Ookla Speedtest reports far fewer tests on AT&T’s network than on T-Mobile’s. AT&T’s low-band network is also disappointingly slow; if more people start using AT&T low-band 5G on Galaxy S20 or LG V60 series phones, AT&T will see its speeds fall to earth as well.
Verizon’s map features plenty of cities, but doesn’t cover much of each one
Verizon, meanwhile, has performance but almost no coverage. Its “ultra-wideband” 5G is super-speedy, but Verizon doesn’t appear to have added much in the way of coverage in the past month, and it still won’t estimate how many Americans it covers. We put it at around a mere 10 million or so in the parts of 34 cities it covers.
Our sibling site Ookla Speedtest has been covering mobile networks’ performance in this new locked-down world, and the good news (as shown above) is that both wired and mobile networks have been holding up so far.
We’ll continue to cover 5G releases and news on this page.