Parts of the UK may still be waiting for reliable 4G, but the technology could be outdated by the time it arrives – 5G is getting closer, with Sony looking like it could release the world’s first 5G-capable smartphone. At a recent presentation event for investors Sony stressed how important smartphone innovation has been for the company down the years. It then went on to broadly outline the aims of its new Xperia handset: in addition to quicker and more momentous improvements it specifically mentioned 5G as being a top priority.
Combine that with murmurings from other manufacturer camps and it’s looking all but certain that the UK will see the first 5G mobile phones in 2019. Best Buy mobile phones – Want to see the best handsets you can buy right now? Click the link to see all our top-scoring models
Leaked images of the upcoming Sony Xperia XZ3 via @onleaks
Who makes 5G mobile phones?
Sony is currently leading the charge to be the first, or so it seems, but there’s still plenty of competition for the storied Japanese brand.
Here are the handsets we expect to come ready for 5G when they release next year:
- Sony Xperia XZ3
- OnePlus 7
- Huawei P30 Pro
- Samsung Galaxy S10
None of those names are terribly surprising, and there could well be more additions to it in due course. With new flagship smartphones usually being announced at the start of the year, don’t be surprised if the race to 5G sees the first handset released around March or April 2019.
5G phones may also look a little different than we’re used to if the new tech requires a change in form factor. Handsets are already big, but 5G technology could require more space inside along with a bigger battery to power them.
How will 5G improve mobile phones?
5G will of course bring faster download speeds, but what else can it do?
As it happens, 5G has a lot of potential applications:
- Augmented reality With handsets already capable of a basic standard of augmented reality (or ‘AR’), 5G could seriously push the medium forward. AR is a bit like virtual reality (or ‘VR’), except instead of you strapping on a headset or goggles it instead uses your smartphone’s display and camera to show you an altered version of the world around you. Fantastical, yes, but it also has practical uses – like showing you if a sofa you’re shopping for online will fit in your lounge, or what that dress you’ve been eyeing up will look like on you.
- Better video calling Apple’s FaceTime is hugely popular, as is Skype, but there’s no denying it’s far from the perfect experience. Crackling images, bumpy frame rates and dropped audio all make it feel like more of a chore than it should be, and 5G could put an end to all of that.
Faster data means higher fidelity, more reliable sound and video. In fact the improvement could be so drastic that we might see things such as 3D video calling. Manufacturer Oppo is already working on the technology which could see Star Wars style virtual calls become reality.
- A better, more powerful cloud The thing about cloud computing is that it’s totally unobtrusive – you’re probably not even aware of when your smartphone is using it.
With faster 5G data, though, it will become a lot more prevalent. Not only will you be accessing saved files in the cloud, but games, movies and music will all be streamed straight from it more often, saving you memory on your handset.
- Faster tethering For some users, a 4G smartphone data connection is faster than wi-fi, meaning smartphone tethering is the best way to browse the web on a laptop or computer.
5G will only further improve upon that – using your 5G smartphone as a wireless hotspot could offer some seriously fast connection speeds.
5G: What have we seen so far?
For something that’s so close to being realised, just how 5G will work is still something of a mystery. Experts can only estimate how great its impact will be until it’s fully rolled out – how it functions in lab tests may not reflect how it functions when being used by thousands of people all at once.
The world’s first 5G network launched in Qatar in May of this year, courtesy of telecomms provider Ooredoo. As there are no 5G mobile handsets available right now, it’s currently only servicing a few lucky home broadband users. It was followed closely by Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Telecom Company, which launched later that month with the aim of being ready for when 5G mobile devices finally arrive.
Several other nations have trialled 5G, including South Korea during its time hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics, but there are no other networks up and running right now. In the UK EE has announced that it plans to trial its 5G network in October of this year, with London unsurprisingly the first city being targeted for the service.
5G vs 4G: How much faster is it?
Most of us are probably fairly satisfied with 4G speeds – it’s a big step up on 3G and will load most webpages and videos without any hanging around. It wasn’t quite as big a step up as 3G was from 2G, though, so you’d be forgiven for being skeptical of the supposed impact of 5G.
Below we’ve prepared a chart showing how 5G might affect you in your day-to-day life: With the average UK 4G speed sitting at around 18Mbps and the projected average 5G speed set to be a whopping 56Mbps that’s a huge difference. What’s more, 56Mbps is just the beginning – 5G has the potential to reach download speeds of over 1GB per second, or even faster – that’s quicker than the best fibre broadband in the country.
Mobile phone users across the country are paying for data they’ll never use, according to a uSwitch study on phone bills. Figures collected by uSwitch show that the average UK mobile phone owner pays for 3.4GB of extra data every month – that’s data you don’t need. See below for more on the study and take a look at our top tips on how to avoid bill shock.
Are you paying for data that you don’t use?
A fear of exceeding data limits has seen phone users buying contracts that offer more data than they need. According to uSwitch, mobile customers in the UK are collectively paying for a whopping 143 million gigabytes of unused data each month. The same study says that one in five smartphone users don’t know how much data comes included in their contact, while a third of over-55s with a monthly plan don’t know how much data they’re using.
But it’s not just older smartphone users that aren’t fully clued up. uSwitch says that the average 18- to 34-year-old pays for 7.5GB of data every month but uses less than half of that (3.6GB).
Which? members on mobile data
The uSwitch findings reflect our own. We surveyed over 1,000 Which? members on mobile data to see what they knew about their phone contracts.
32% of the people we spoke to didn’t know how to keep track of their mobile data at all, and 71% of respondents admitted they didn’t know the cost of using data outside of their monthly allowance. In addition, 50% said they were concerned about receiving an unexpectedly high bill each month, and nearly a third were concerned about exceeding their bundle.
To prevent this from happening, Which? readers are going to some lengths to avoid ‘bill shock’.
Using wi-fi for calls and internet browsing is the most popular solution to avoiding bill shock, with 57% of the votes. But while this can be a good habit to get into, it’s not a great way to make the most of your mobile phone.
41% of Which? members took the more extreme route of turning mobile data off completely, while 26% prefer to stick to landline calls and 10% admitted to turning their phone off completely. One of the biggest benefits of mobile phones is their versatility, something that’s being curtailed by a fear of overpaying.
But if you’re tracking your data usage on a regular basis from your smartphone, you needn’t be concerned.
How to keep track of your data and minutes
The uSwitch survey suggests that erring on the side of caution – that is, opting for more data than you might need – is a safer proposition. But when we asked Which? readers why they hadn’t increased their contracted package, a substantial 63% said they didn’t want to increase the size of their bill. Combined with an effective way to monitor mobile data usage, this could be the best approach.
Armed with that information, you can find a mobile contract that suits you perfectly and saves you money. After all, you don’t want to be spending big on a contract that offers far more than you need it to. Our guide on how to keep track of your data and minutes tells you everything you need to know.
Are you better off with a different provider?
If you’re already adept at keeping track of your usage but still find it a struggle to manage your bills, you might be better off haggling or even switching provider.
Our recent research into customer loyalty found that two thirds of hagglers received a discount on their bill, amounting to GBP6 per month, on average. It’s especially important to haggle if your initial contract period is up: since you’ve paid off your handset at this stage, a monthly bill for usage should be considerably less. Our guide on how to haggle for the best mobile phone deal can help.
If haggling doesn’t work, it might be time to switch.
There’s often little benefit to loyalty when it comes to providers, so it’s important to shop around to make sure you’re getting a deal that’s good value and well suited to your needs.
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.