Just as many of us are getting used to mobile-phone plans with 4G subscriptions, talk of 5G has already begun in earnest. But what does it mean for you, and will you have to shell out for an even pricier subscription? And, importantly, how can faster data speeds on mobile devices really help us?
What is 5G and why could it be important?
5G is the next generation of mobile communication for phones and other internet-connected devices, and should revolutionise the way our smart gadgets work. In other words, 5G is great for high-speed internet, but even better for the so-called ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).
5G will be important for IoT devices, allowing them to communicate with each other at high speed, with lots of bandwidth (sending lots of data in a short amount of time) and low latency (devices taking less time to respond to one another). This is crucial for self-driving cars that, in the future, will need to communicate with road infrastructure such as traffic lights and speed-limit changes, as well as with other vehicles so cars near each other can drive safely and efficiently. This needs to happen with very little delay, and only a high-speed network like 5G can provide this.
What’s more, this high speed and low latency will bring wireless internet up to speed with wired broadband. This means people living in rural areas may eventually be less reliant on slow, fixed-line broadband, and feasibly be able to switch to a 5G network as their source for internet at home. Many people are already using 4G broadband, in fact.
5G is an overarching brand name for a whole heap of technical standards, and these are still being worked through. In other words, it’s impossible to accurately define 5G until standards have been fully agreed by the 3GPP consortium, a global body of companies with an interest in getting 5G to the masses.
How fast will 5G be versus 4G?
Depending on who you ask, the theoretical maximum download speed of 5G is between 5,000 and 100,000Mbps (megabits per second). This is between 5 and 100 times faster the current theoretical maximum speed of 4G technology (1,000Mbps).
Theoretical maximum speeds are all well and good, but in reality mobile networks are always slower than those maximums. There aren’t many places in the world right now where you’ll get speeds anywhere close to 1,000Mbps 4G, for example. Indeed, the fastest 4G networks in the UK can currently only manage an average 29Mb/s, according to our most recent data.
This is still good enough to stream HD video to your phone without interruption, but still some way short of what 4G technology can do (see graph below).
4G ‘gigabit LTE’
The next upgrade to the 4G network offers a hint of who’s in the lead when it comes to 5G and beyond. In 2017, EE showed off ‘gigabit LTE’ 4G, managing an impressive 750Mbps in London’s Wembley Stadium, and is launching a few small-scale gigabit LTE 4G connections around the UK. Only high-end phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 can actually make use of these speeds, though, and only if you happen to find yourself in Cardiff or London’s ‘Tech City’.
So, while the theoretical maximum speed of 5G is mind-bogglingly high, if the rate of 4G advancement is anything to go by, it’s highly unlikely that any of us will experience these sorts of speeds in the foreseeable future. Find out which cities get the best 4G signal.
When will we get 5G in the UK?
Vodafone has already started 5G tests in the UK, and EE has carried out its own 5G trials, achieving speeds of 2,800Mbps – far faster than its Wembley Stadium 4G trial. But both of these tests were purely proof of concept, and there’s still some way to go before we can expect it to be rolled out on a large scale.
Not only does the standard need to be fully agreed, but 5G will also require a huge amount of infrastructure (high-speed internet cables and mobile masts). As yet, no UK provider could even think about starting a 5G network, because none of them actually own any of the 5G spectrum. Data-spectrum portions (bands) are similar to lanes on a motorway, and each lane is owned by a different mobile provider.
Who gets which lane is decided by an auction that’s run by the telecoms regulator, Ofcom. That auction is expected to raise billions of pounds for the UK government, and should begin in the first half of 2018. Once the spectrum auction is over, and 5G standards have been finalised, the networks can start preparing in earnest to be the first company to launch a 5G network in the UK.
Should you stick with 4G?
For now, there’s no need to think about 5G.
Indeed, there’s not very much you could do with those speeds, anyway. Data-tariff limits mean the huge speeds of 5G would see you burning through your entire month’s data in a matter of seconds if you wanted to, which is hardly attractive. So, for now, it’s safe to sign up for a long-term 4G contract.
?128 million deep in debt, smartphone brand Vertu is officially bankrupt.
200 UK jobs will be lost as it shuts down all manufacturing, with owner Murat Hakan Uzan only offering to pay creditors ?1.9 million of the debts owed. If you haven’t heard of Vertu before we can’t say we blame you – its products aren’t exactly for everyone. It presented itself as the ‘purveyor of the finest luxury mobile phones’.
You certainly can’t argue with the aesthetics, as handsets come in such decadent cladding as titanium and alligator-hide leather, but the technical specifications were often far from top-of-the-range. However, you didn’t just get a smartphone when buying a Vertu – you also got a full concierge service. The price of each handset also included 18-month access to a personal concierge.
This acted as a ‘lifestyle manager’, which would provide you with ‘discreet and personalised 24/7 assistance worldwide’. Currently the services section of the Vertu website says it has suspended those services with the view of relaunching them, better than ever, in September 2017. Whoops.
All beauty and no brains?
Sure, a mobile phone that costs more than a new car sounds ridiculous, but if you have the money to spare and are looking for something special then it’s not necessarily the worst investment in the world. Or is it? Perhaps the biggest oversight of Vertu’s line of handsets is that for all the money being asked, their tech specs simply aren’t that impressive on paper.
Take a look at the handsets below alongside some technologically comparable handsets from more reputable, affordable brands.
Left: Vertu Signature, Right: BlackBerry Curve 9320
As the name, and price, suggests, this is Vertu’s flagship handset. When it was first released in 2008 it made a lot more sense – or at least as much sense as a ?39,000 mobile phone could. Almost ten years on and its continued existence is absolutely baffling.
You don’t need to be a tech buff to realise that something is seriously wrong just from looking at the specs below. The Vertu Signature isn’t even a smartphone – it has functionality similar to most other handsets released in 2008, a time when the first iPhone was on sale, but most people were still using more basic handsets. Whilst woefully lacking in features it is at least available in a wide variety of styles.
The cheapest model is made of stainless steel and black leather with a single button made of ruby, but more expensive options feature mother of pearl inlays, sapphire-faced keys, 18 carat gold detailing and polished black sapphire inlays. Nice and subtle. Want a cheaper handset with the same specs?
Speaking of failing brands, how about a BlackBerry?
The Curve 9320 offers all of the above but for a far more reasonable ?110 (that’s 1/100th of Signature’s cheapest price). It also has a full QWERTY keyboard rather than a standard number pad, plus an actual app store. Of course it’s hardly the newest or best phone on the market right now, but that shows just how much of a dinosaur the Vertu Signature really is.
What else could you buy for the price? A two bedroom terraced house in Darlington.
Left: Vertu Signature Touch, Right: OnePlus 3T
The Signature Touch is a handset that actually looks like it belongs in the smartphone era, thanks to its touchscreen and 4G capability. It’s not exactly an iPhone killer, but compared to the Signature it’s a steal at a mere ?7,500.
Take note that the version of Android it runs is almost two years out of date, as is its processor – although 4GB of RAM is actually quite impressive. It also comes clad in alligator leather or polished titanium, if that’s something you look for in a smartphone. Want a cheaper handset with the same specs?
It’s got extremely similar specs to the Signature Touch, but for the much more palatable price of ?350 – plus no alligators were harmed in its production (we think). It also runs the latest version of Android, 7.0 Nougat. What else could you buy for the price?
You could employ a Starbucks barista to be your own personal coffee maker for a whole year.
Left: Vertu Aster, Right: Sony Xperia Z3
Just when we thought Vertu was redeeming itself with the Signature Touch, we get to the Aster. This is a mid-range smartphone in an ?8,000 body, although 64GB of internal storage is quite nice, as is 4G support. You’re not buying the Aster for its specs though – you’re buying it for its looks, and because you have more money than common sense.
How does ostrich leather sound? Brushed titanium? A chassis encrusted with 55 black and white diamonds?
All very real options that you can choose to pay through the nose for. Want a cheaper handset with the same specs?
It’s also able to update to Android 6.0 and has a rear-facing camera that’s almost twice the resolution, all for ?320. What else could you buy for the price? A second-hand 2005 Porschse Boxter.
Left: Vertu Constellation, Right: HTC U Ultra
Now we’re talking.
A Quad-HD screen! A shiny new high-end processor! An enormous 128GB of storage, powered by 4GB of RAM!
And all it will cost you is… oh. It’s not available. Presumably Vertu was planning on releasing the Constellation later this year, but sadly it looks like that will never happen.
Want a cheaper handset with the same specs?
We can only hazard a guess at how much the Constellation would have cost had it ever seen the light of the production line, but you can get the HTC U Ultra for ?590 – which is probably nearing the absolute most anyone should be looking to spend on a smartphone.
What else could you buy for the price?
We’ll never know, but presumably a lunar module or a modest Fortune 500 company.
Honor has unveiled its latest flagship smartphone – the Honor 9. With its octa-core processor, dual cameras and large battery, could it be the best choice for buyers who don’t want to spend a fortune? The Honor 9 is now available for pre-order and costs around ?380 to buy outright.
Bear in mind that Honor primarily sells its phones online so, unfortunately, you’re unlikely to be able to try it out in stores before buying. It has a 5.15-inch screen and a generous 64GB of on-board storage, which you can further boost by up to 256GB using a micro-SD card. It runs on the Android Nougat operating system, giving you access to the thousands of apps on the Google Play store.
But will its battery see you through the day, and will you be pleased with the photos it takes? We explore its key specs below, to help you decide whether it’s a phone worth keeping an eye on. We’ll also be sending it to our lab to discover whether it truly offers good value for money.
Do its dual cameras take stunning shots?
The Honor 9 has two cameras on the back – a 20Mp monochrome sensor, and a 12Mp colour one. The theory is that you’ll get better detail in low-light shots, and the cameras should find focus more quickly.
This isn’t a new feature for Huawei phones – indeed, we’ve seen it on the P10 and P10 Plus. Honor also says that the new flagship’s cameras will maintain pristine clarity even when you’re zooming in on objects and people. Selfie fans will be pleased to see there’s an 8Mp camera on the front, too.
We refuse to accept marketing babble when it comes to camera quality. That’s why we put all smartphones through a series of rigorous camera assessments, judging multiple photos taken in different light conditions. We can’t wait to see if the Honor 9 is truly one of the best camera smartphones for 2017.
Will the Honor 9 see you through the day?
Battery life is a key consideration when you’re deciding which smartphone to buy.
Nobody wants a phone that struggles to make it through the day without needing a recharge. Honor makes big promises for the 9’s battery life, claiming you’ll get up to 2.5 days, or 78 hours of offline music listening – that is, music you’ve downloaded to the device, rather than streaming online. It has a large 3,200mAh battery.
As a point of comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S8 has a smaller 3,000mAh battery, while the Apple iPhone 7‘s is 1,960mAh. However, there’s no direct link between battery life and battery size – it also depends on things such as processor efficiency and screen resolution. We test how long each smartphone lasts while making calls and browsing the web, to find the models with the most stamina.
Does the Honor 9 fulfil your need for speed?
Honor has given its latest flagship handset a Kirin 960 processor. This doesn’t mean much to most people, but it’s the latest processor in the Kirin series, made by Chinese company HiSilicon.
It should be pretty fast – but how does it actually compare with other processors? If you’re looking for the speediest phone on the market and you like to play lots of games and flick between apps like nobody’s business, you’ll want to check out our in-depth mobile phone reviews. We test how quickly phones get through everyday tasks, as well as assessing whether processors are fit for demanding requests.
Some nice extra touches
The Honor 9 has a curved glass back, to help give it that premium feel.
Honor says that the rear also reflects natural light, which gives it a ‘stunning aurora’. We’re keen to make up our own minds on this when we get our hands on it. It has a fingerprint scanner for fast unlocking.
This used to be a feature found only on expensive phones a few years ago, but, interestingly, it’s one that’s trickled down the price ladder.
You may like the fact that you can insert two Sim cards into the device.
This means you can have two different numbers on the same handset – useful if you want to separate business from pleasure calls.