A 5G phone won’t do you much good without 5G service. Here’s where to find both.
The age of the 5G smartphone is almost here, but before you buy one, you might want to think about where you have to go to find 5G service and how much you want to spend.
All four of the major telecommunications carriers say they’ll have 5G networks up and running by this summer, but only in select parts of a few big cities. A handful of smartphone makers, big and small, plan to offer compatible phones around the same time.
According to telecommunications experts, 5G speeds—five times faster than those of 4G connections at peak performance—will eventually allow users to download a movie in just 5 seconds. They’ll also pave the way for the instantaneous response times required to safely perform robotic surgery and operate self-driving cars.
Motorola’s 5G smartphone is likely to be the first to reach consumers, narrowly beating out devices from Samsung and LG. That’s largely because the company has chosen to create an attachment that plugs into the Motorola Z3 phone, which came out last summer, to make it 5G-compatible, rather than build a new phone from scratch.
While the phone—and the extremely limited Verizon network it will operate on—might not appeal to most people, the product launch did provide clues as to what parts of the country could see 5G service first and how much that service could cost the average person.
Verizon also will offer Samsung’s first 5G phone, the Galaxy S10 5G, sometime this spring. The phone will reach the other carriers later in the summer.
And LG’s first 5G phone, the V50 ThinQ, is expected to launch on Sprint’s network in the first half of this year.
Samsung and LG have yet to release pricing information for their 5G phones, but given that they’re souped-up versions of flagship models, they’re almost certain to exceed $1,000.
Here’s a look at the broader 5G landscape, including which parts of the country should expect to get 5G service first.
The carrier says its 5G service will launch next month in Chicago and Minneapolis. If you live elsewhere, you’re going to have to wait. And even in those cities, 5G is going to be limited to a few high-profile neighborhoods and the areas surrounding flagship Verizon stores.
To use Verizon’s 5G network, you’re going to have to pay $10 per device on top of the fee for an unlimited plan, though Verizon is currently waiving these charges for the first three months of service.
The 5G service will be unlimited as well, and Verizon says there will be no throttling of data speeds, even when the network gets busy. You can also tether your laptop to a 5G-enabled phone for use as a hot spot without paying an extra charge.
Phone options: As mentioned before, Verizon will exclusively carry the 5G-enabled Motorola Z3 and the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G when they launch.
While it has yet to release any 5G pricing information, Sprint says it’s set to roll out service in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City, Kan., this May. But like Verizon, the carrier won’t provide coverage citywide, only in select spots.
Parts of Los Angeles, Houston, New York, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C., will get service before the end of June.
Phone options: The soon-to-launch LG V50 ThinQ 5G will be the first compatible device. The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G will follow this summer.
This carrier has come under fire from other carriers for labeling its high-speed 4G service “5G Evolution,” potentially misleading consumers into thinking it’s genuine 5G.
It rolled out real 5G service in parts of 12 U.S. cities last year—Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Houston; Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Fla.; Louisville, Ky.; New Orleans; Oklahoma City; Raleigh, N.C.; San Antonio; and Waco, Texas—but only for select businesses and consumers. And because 5G smartphones aren’t yet commercially available, there’s not a whole lot you can do with the service just yet.
The company plans to roll out service to nine more cities this year: Chicago; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Minneapolis; Nashville, Tenn.; Orlando, Fla.; San Diego; San Francisco; and San Jose, Calif. And it expects to have a nationwide 5G network in place by early 2020.
Phone options: The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G will be available this summer, and AT&T says it’s working with Samsung to make another 5G smartphone available in the second half of this year.
A company spokesperson says T-Mobile, which plans to merge with Sprint, expects to have a 5G network in place when the Galaxy S10 5G goes on sale this summer, but would not say which markets will be covered.
T-Mobile plans to launch a nationwide network in 2020. And while the company won’t reveal specific pricing, it says that a united T-Mobile and Sprint will not charge extra for 5G service, according to current plans.
Phone options: T-Mobile says only that it will carry multiple 5G devices by the end of this year.
The Galaxy S10 5G is set to launch later this spring and will be exclusive to Verizon until later in the summer, when other carriers get it, too.
The display, measuring 6.7 inches diagonally, will be Samsung’s biggest yet. The model has six cameras, including a 3D depth camera, and will be able to create videos in portrait mode. All of that will be powered by a monster 4500mAh battery.
The company has also pledged to produce a 5G version of the Galaxy Fold, a book-style phone that opens up into a small tablet. The 4G Fold goes on sale April 26. No word yet on when the 5G model will follow.
Not much has been said yet about the V50 ThinQ, except that, like the V40 ThinQ before it, it will have five cameras. And it will launch first on the Sprint network sometime this spring.
Instead of creating a new phone, the company created a 5G “mod” for the Z3. It’s a hardware attachment that clips on the back.
The device, which can be preordered now and will reach stores April 11, includes a 2000-milliamp-hour battery and a USB-C port for charging. It retails for $350, but Verizon’s currently selling it for $50.
The Z3, which retails for $480 on its own, rates well, according to our testers, but it’s a midpriced phone with midpriced features.
It has a 6-inch OLED display and comes with 64 gigabytes of storage. And while its front and back cameras both received okay ratings, they didn’t measure up to those of many phones we’ve tested.