What’s next for 5G now that Apple supports it in the iPhone 12?

Coverage is patchy, not all 5G networks are the same, and for most Apple customers in most places and on most networks, the speed increase you’ll get using it will be more like fast LTE than anything more profound.

So, what’s next for the much-ballyhooed 5G now that Apple’s introduced the iPhone 12?

When 5G isn’t really 5G

Most of the world’s networks now offer some form of 5G, including Verizon in the U.S. and EE in the UK. The problem is that deployment isn’t universal and in many cases, you’ll only find a 5G network in urban areas — though deployment will now accelerate.

There’s some consumer confusion around 5G, in part generated by poor marketing decisions on behalf of some carriers. At present almost half of iPhone users think they already have 5G. Compounding this is the fact that three basic breeds of 5G exist, each with different speed potentials:

  • Low-band 5G is more widely available, but delivers speeds about as good as 4G LTE.
  • Mid-band 5G delivers better speed than Low-band, and supports much better coverage than mmWave, particularly indoors.
  • mmWave 5G is the highest-frequency brand of 5G. This can deliver speeds topping 1Gbps, but it works only at limited range and doesn’t respond well indoors.

Apple’s devices support all of these three broad 5G families, though mmWave is harder to deploy and unlikely to see a great deal of presence outside major conurbations.

T-Mobile offers mid-band already. AT&T and Verizon are expected to supply it just as soon as they manage to buy additional bandwidth from the FTC.

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg tried to get everyone interested in the standard during the Apple keynote, when he told us his company is introducing mmWave support in 50 U.S. cities.

While carriers are expected to spend $275 billion on 5G networks, the fastest mmWave breed of 5G isn’t really available outside the U.S., meaning most Apple customers will be consigned to slower versions of the standard.

Regardless of all these caveats, tens of millions of Apple customers will now purchase an iPhone 12 and will expect to enjoy those fast 5G experiences — and will seek out new services designed to exploit that mobile bandwidth. The problem? Expectations versus reality.

The services aren’t quite there yet

Vestberg discussed Verizon’s work with the NFL on innovative new in-game experiences during Apple’s keynote, during which we also saw a demo of a game called League of Legends: Wild Rift.

But there was a distinct lack of any other 5G usage cases during the show. We should have expected this, as services designed to exploit 5G don’t really exist yet.

This is work-in-progress stuff, and it seemed a lost opportunity that Apple hasn’t (yet) developed some kind of proprietary service to exploit the tech (though it is useful the company is offering new iPhone purchasers three free months of access to Apple Arcade).

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