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5G and the iPhone 12: all of your questions answered

iPhone 12
The whole iPhone 12 range features 5G (Image credit: Apple)

The iPhone 12 range has been unveiled by Apple, and all four phones, including the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro, are 5G-ready. But what does that actually mean for you if you’re planning to buy one later this year, or at any time in the future?

5G is the next generation of mobile internet technology, which (unsurprisingly) follows on from the 4G standard that was launched in 2009.

The fastest 5G networks are capable of more than 10 times the speed of current 4G speeds, and this is the first time you'll have access to this technology if you've been buying Apple phones over the last few years.

 Wait, so what actually is 5G? 

It’s the next iteration of mobile internet technology, and it’s becoming a reality across a lot of the world. Many carriers and networks are rolling out 5G technology across the globe, and we’re now seeing it become commonplace in major cities.

You know how your mobile internet appears with a logo at the top of your phone to say either 3G or 4G? That is how your phone shows you the connection you have, and 5G essentially gives you access to faster speeds.

There's a lot more to 5G - for example, it's expected to supercharge infrastructure to make smart cities a possibility - and we've put together an explainer on the technology for you to learn all about 5G.

What do you need to get 5G? 

How do you get 5G in the first place? Number one, you won't be able to get it on your current phone unless you have a device that is compatible. There are a couple of things you’ll need to ensure you have. 

  • A 5G-ready phone - the new iPhone 12 range is built for this
  • A 5G compatible plan - your current deal with your network or carrier
  • Live in a 5G-ready area - or at least be willing to travel to get the connection  

The device you own will dictate what internet technology you can use. Your current iPhone won’t be able to connect to 5G networks, and the iPhone 12 range is the first time the company has released a device ready for 5G connections.

Your phone carrier or network will also need to provide 5G. Not all of them do at this time, and the ones that do can often ask for more money each month to be able to connect to it. If you have this already, you’re one step closer.

The location where you live is perhaps the most important factor when working out if 5G is for you. If you live far away from a big city, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get access to the technology as it’s most in built up areas for now.

Some countries have far better access to the tech than others at the moment as well. Check with your provider to see what 5G coverage is like, and whether they actually offer services at this time.

What if I don't want 5G?

The iPhone 11 from 2019

The iPhone 11 from 2019 (Image credit: Future)

You can still use 4G networks with the iPhone 12, and if you don't have a 5G-ready plan you won't be stopped from using one of Apple's new phones.

If you want a 4G-only iPhone 12, that isn't an option. Instead, you may want to look at either the iPhone 11 or another of the other iPhones that the company has released in the last couple of years.

What technology does the iPhone 12 use?

This is both sub-6 and mmWave technology in the iPhone 12. For the average person, that won't mean much but it largely means that it'll be compatible on most carriers networks.

For example, in the US provider Verizon exclusively uses mmWave technology (which is incredibly powerful in cities and at close range, less so over long distances) but most UK networks opt for sub-6 technology. Apple using both technologies allows the phone to be compatible around the world.

What does Smart Data mode do?

Apple briefly outlined a new feature called Smart Data Mode during its launch event, and that essentially allows your phone to intelligently switch back to 4G when it notices you don't need 5G connectivity.

We don't know exactly how that is set to work - or how much battery it will save you in the real world - but the basic premise is that the iPhone will have an idea from each app whether it'll require a speedy or hungry data connection and can decide when to prioritize this.

It's almost a certainty that Apple adopting 5G connectivity will improve the technology for everyone. Carriers and providers will now focus on the technology more because of the huge install base, and that will improve connectivity for all those who want 5G.

Ben Wood, Chief of Research at CCS Insight, says, "Although 5G devices have been available from pretty much every other smartphone-maker for over a year, there's a strong argument that this line-up of 5G-enabled iPhones will be the market-maker for the technology.

"Inevitably, the iPhone 12 will mark the real start of 5G for the consumer mass market."