Are 5G cell phones possible?

Why your 5G phone doesn't have 5G

The marketing departments of the major mobile network providers advertise 5G with pithy words: "Up to 100 times faster than LTE, data transmission in real time and many other revolutionary features", for example, writes Telekom on its website. This is countered by reports and the trend blog's own experience that some 5G smartphones do not work with 5G despite the right tariff and actual availability. How can that be?

At the beginning of 2021 we find three possible causes for this:

  1. A software update is missing
  2. Your smartphone does not support certain frequency combinations
  3. 5G is not yet available at your location

5G is often already available in rural areas

point 3 one thing is clear: where there is no 5G, a smartphone cannot receive 5G either. But especially when it sounds as if the new generation of mobile communications is, as always, only existed in metropolitan areas, this is not the case with 5G. The reason: the digital dividend freed up frequencies in the 700 MHz range after DVB-T was switched off. Following the successful auction of these frequencies, Vodafone in particular is combining this band with the 800 MHz band that is already available for LTE.

The two generations practically share the standard for expanding 5G across the board and making it available along highways, for example. If your 5G smartphone reports "5G" in rural areas, this frequency band is very often involved. However, the transfer rates are nowhere near as high as the often advertised 1 Gbit / s and more.

5G only in mixed use

Point 1, a missing software update, we actually felt with all of our 5G test devices in 2020. His colleague Daniel Wendorf, for example, waited in vain for an update that would have made 5G available for the Motorola Moto G 5G Plus at his Dresden location. I felt the same way with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 5G in Bonn.

In the smartphone settings, we could sometimes only select a mixed use of 5G / 4G / 3G and 2G. In this case, it is up to the network operator whether or not to provide you with 5G.

Some 5G phones with DSS issues

Point 2 Ultimately, something is more complicated. 5G and 4G / LTE exist in parallel in Germany, and in many cases even share a frequency spectrum in the bands around 700 MHz, 2.1 GHz and 3.6 GHz. Yes, even more: In the early stages, higher-frequency 5G signals in some bands require an LTE frequency as an anchor signal; they are non-stand-alone (NSA). With the help of Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), both generations of mobile communications share existing frequencies.

The frequency combinations around 1800 and 2100 MHz apparently cause problems in the telecommunications network with some smartphones. The LTE anchor cell transmits at 1800 MHz, the 5G carrier signal at 2100 MHz. The signal is not transferred here, so many 5G smartphones remain in the LTE band at this frequency. That happened to us in the test with the iPhone 12 Mini, for example - but it affects the entire iPhone 12 series and, as other technology portals report, including Samsung 5G smartphones from 2020 or earlier.

Users report similar things for lower frequencies at Vodafone, where the anchor frequency is 800 MHz, but the 5G carrier frequency is 700 MHz. The transfer from 800 to the more distant 1800 MHz, however, works with iPhone 12 and others.

There is no way to retrofit it. The respective end device would also have to support the frequency combination on the hardware side. If this is not the case, 4G / LTE remains at the respective location. sums it up in such a way that some 5G smartphones are not able to neighboring To bundle 4G / 5G frequencies.

No 5G: what can you do?

Should you not be able to use 5G despite 5G availability and 5G cell phones, then first take a look at the settings of your smartphone. On the iPhone you will find the necessary setting under:

  • Settings -> Cellular -> Data Options -> Voice and Data

Check here whether your smartphone offers 5G at all. If not, reset the settings and restart the iPhone. If so, you can choose between “5G automatic” and “5G activated”. The latter setting forces 5G and always switches to the new network if it is available.

On Android smartphones you choose:

  • Settings -> Connections -> Mobile Networks -> Network Mode.

Select here “5G” or “5G / 4G / 3G / 2G (automatic)” or a similar setting. If you cannot select 5G individually, smartphone manufacturers and providers have not yet provided a suitable update for the device or you have not yet installed it.

If your 5G smartphone does not support the handover frequencies, then there is nothing you can do. You then stay in the respective 4G band.

At best, there is one consolation left for you: the network is not always really faster just because it says “5G”. This is especially the case for the lower-frequency radio bands. In our tests, for example, directly in front of the Telekom main building or in Bonn city center with an iPhone 12 Mini and an iPhone 12 Pro Max, the speedometer achieved 220 to 300 Mbit / s even with LTE. Telekom and Vodafone do not guarantee higher speeds for 5G at this point in time.

Gigabit 5G has only been found sporadically so far

In principle, you don't have to be annoyed because 5G in its current form is far from being exhausted. So far, only comparatively low-frequency bands have been used. 5G only gets really exciting when the next stage is ignited: 5G mmWave. Here frequencies from around 24 GHz are in play - so much higher than the already allocated 700 Mhz to 3.8 GHz.

The 100-fold increase in speed compared to LTE initially advertised by Telekom only comes with these high frequencies. And thus later, locally limited and at massive costs for the provider. In Germany, for example, these frequencies have not yet been assigned. Even current smartphones that are already capable of 5G mmWave (such as the iPhone 12) cannot yet “know” in which bands they will one day transmit. That's why you will probably never be able to use 5G mmWave with these early devices in Germany.

However, the n78 band, which transmits in the 3.6 GHz range and should already allow gigabit speeds (around 1 Gbit / s), offers a foretaste of high 5G transmission rates. Telefonica-O2, for example, is concentrating entirely on this frequency band in the first 5G expansion stage. Vodafone and Telekom have been using it at some locations so far.

Which smartphones are really 5G-capable?

The crux of the matter with 5G smartphones in the Telekom and Vodafone network are neighboring frequencies that LTE and 5G have to share with the help of DSS technology. At Telekom, these are primarily the anchor band around 1800 MHz and the carrier band around 2100 MHz.

If older 5G smartphones are not always able to do this, the combination in the Telekom network can be used by the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Huawei P40 Pro, the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro, the Motorola Moto 5G Plus and the Oppo Find X2 Pro, among others . The market is changing fast here. Still, it looks like Samsung and Apple devices released before 2021 have problems with DSS in the Telekom 5G network. It cannot be said with certainty that such problems will no longer occur with 5G smartphones that will appear later, even if the manufacturers are of course learning and improving their devices.

Smartphones that are supposed to master the well-known handover problem in the 700 MHz spectrum in the Vodafone network are the Huawei P40 Pro, the Oppo Find X2 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and here also the Apple iPhone 12 family.

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