5G is the fifth generation cellular network technology.  Most telcos that have introduced such a technology have branded it to highlight its much faster internet speeds than the prevailing 4G or LTE, sometimes more than 1 Gbps, claiming that downloads of full HD films can be completed in only a few seconds.   Beyond speed, telecoms have touted the technology's ability to provide smoother experiences around augmented reality (AR), self-driving cars, and feeling stuff from a far.[1]

As at 2020, 5G is a fairly new technology with only a handful of telcos rolling it out only over the past year or so.  Therefore to enjoy 5G, you need to use a telco that offers 5G service, purchase a plan (or add-on, where available) that includes 5G speeds, have a handset that is 5G-ready, and be in a city/town with 5G coverage.  Otherwise, you will only be limited to 4G/LTE speeds at most, though 4G/LTE is not going anywhere.

5G-ready Phones[edit | edit source]

This is a list of just some of the 5G phones on the market. These are usually more expensive than their 4G-only counterparts. Even if you have a 5G-capable phone, you may need to download firmware updates to ensure that it is ready. Check with your provider to see if this is necessary. When shopping around for a 5G device, you may need to consider the frequencies that your device is capable of operating in as not all countries offer 5G on the same frequencies.

  • Google Pixel 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy A42 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy A51 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5g
  • Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy SF20 5G LTE
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
  • OnePlus 7 Pro 5G
  • OnePlus 8T
  • LG V50 ThinQ
  • Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G
  • Oppo Reno 5G
  • Apple iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro

Coverage and Availability by Country[edit | edit source]

As telcos have only started rolling 5G out, it is highly likely that within countries that offer it, not every major city or town has such coverage yet.  You can check coverage on a carrier's website, websites like nPerf, or apps like OpenSignal's (be careful with interpreting maps suggesting near-nationwide 5G coverage as these may just show coverage areas from all the carriers combined, i.e. some carriers may have 5G coverage in areas that others do not and vice versa).

Deployment may be slow not least because of the sheer number of 5G mobile towers that need to be installed to match 4G coverage. Unlike 4G whose signals can reach up to 10 miles from a mobile tower, 5G signals can reach only about 1,000 feet away from a 5G mobile tower.

Tariffs that include 5G access are generally more expensive than those that include only 4G, LTE, or lower speeds and in a few instances, can be purchased as an add-on to existing 4G/LTE plans. [2][3][4]  You will also need to consider the whether the frequencies your device is capable of recognising can pick up 5G signals in the countries you are travelling to.

Here is a list of known providers with some form of 5G coverage. A provider highlighted in red means 5G is not available on prepaid but available on postpaid/pay monthly; yellow means available on prepaid but surcharge or additional steps required; green means available on prepaid without surcharge and additional steps; and black means availability status of 5G for prepaid users remains unknown or unclear.

  • Australia - Telstra (partial), Vodafone (partial)
  • Belgium - Orange, Proximus (both partial)
  • Brazil - Claro (partial)
  • Finland - DNA, Elisa, Telia (all partial)
  • Hong Kong - CSL, Three, SmarTone
  • Republic of Ireland - Vodafone, Eir, Three
  • Italy - Vodafone (partial), TIM (partial)
  • Japan (under Japanese law, telcos may not sell voice SIM cards to short-stay foreigners, though the restriction does not cover data-only SIMs) - NTT Docomo, Softbank (all partial)
  • Monaco - Monaco Telecom
  • Netherlands - KPN, T-Mobile, Vodafone (all partial)
  • New Zealand - Vodafone (partial)
  • Norway - Telenor (partial)
  • Philippines - Globe, Smart (both partial)
  • Poland - T-Mobile , Orange, Play (both partial), Plus
  • Romania - Vodafone (partial)
  • San Marino - TIM San Marino
  • Saudi Arabia - Zain (partial)
  • Singapore - M1, Singtel, Starhub (all partial)
  • South Korea - SK Telecom, KT, LG U+
  • Taiwan - Far EasTone, Taiwan Star
  • Thailand - AIS Mobile (partial)
  • Spain - Vodafone (partial)
  • Sweden - Telia, Tre (partial)
  • Switzerland - Sunrise (prepaid unlimited 7d plan), Swisscom
  • UAE - Etisalat (partial)
  • UK - O2 (partial), EE (partial), Three (partial), Vodafone (partial)
  • Uruguay - Artel 
  • US - AT&T (partial), Sprint (partial), Verizon (partial), T-mobile (partial)

Speed[edit | edit source]

For most mobile phone users, the most obvious benefit of 5G is improved internet speeds. A 5G connection has a theoretical maximum of up to 10 Gbps. This is equal to up to 1.25 GB per second. Under the best circumstances, this would mean an average full-length HD film would finish downloading in less than five seconds. Some have even touted that 5G could provide speeds much faster than the average WiFi connection.

Currently however, as 5G internet is in its relative infancy, carriers are likelier to offer a very small fraction of that theoretical maximum speed. Open Signal has carried out a study that confirms this, with Saudi Arabian carriers' average speeds the fastest among those tested at approximately 291 Mbps (see table below for more countries from the study). Even within countries and carriers, 5G speeds could vary considerably.

Deciding whether to upgrade your phone and plan now should depend largely on whether the 5G speed your carrier offers is multiple times faster than the maximum speed your carrier could deliver under 4G. You do not want to fork out something like $600 and/or $75/month if the speeds on offer are just 50 Mbps faster than 4G.

US 52.3
UK 138.1
Spain 146.8
Australia 163.9
Kuwait 185.1
Switzerland 201.9
South Korea 224.0
Saudi Arabia 291.2

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Given that only a handful of countries have only started rolling out 5G, only selected cities within those countries have 5G coverage, and only a few handsets are 5G-compatible, there is absolutely no pressure on the consumer to find a 5G prepaid SIM just yet. A 4G- or LTE-enabled device will continue to work just fine for even heavy video streaming and most prepaid SIM cards circulating will be able to offer 4G. 4G is not going anywhere. If you want to experience super fast downloads on your phone without spending for a new 5G phone, your other best bet will be to connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot that offers such.

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