Analysis: New Apple 'iPhone 12' to offer 5G speeds U.S. networks can't deliver
By Supantha Mukherjee and Kenneth Li
(Reuters) - 5G will finally get its US close-up with the expected debut of Apple Inc.'s next iPhone on Tuesday. But the promised rapid speeds will not occur for most people.
The device, dubbed the iPhone 12 by analysts, can fall back on 5G or fifth generation wireless technology, which theoretically works 10 to 20 times faster than current 4G wireless networks.
However, using the next iPhone or 5G enabled device on today's network is "like a Ferrari ... but if you use it in your village you can't go up to 200 mph simply because the roads can get those speeds." do not hold, "said Boris Metodiev, deputy director of the research company Strategy Analytics.
Apple, which is expected to showcase the new phone at a virtual event on Tuesday, has to walk a tightrope between luring consumers to upgrade their phones without being too promising about what 5G can do today.
Current US 5G networks mostly use a wireless low-band spectrum or airspace that is slower than the high-band spectrum, but more reliable over greater distances. It will likely be years before the promise of massive increases in the speed of phone providers makes augmented reality and real-time cloud gaming seamless.
Several US telecommunications operators have deployed networks based on lower frequency bands at speeds slightly higher than 4G. A noticeably faster variant of "mid-band" 5G is also being rolled out, but it's unlikely to hit three-quarters of Americans by 2025, estimates long-time Apple analyst Gene Munster of venture capital firm Loup Ventures.
The fastest speeds touted by carriers are 5G millimeter waves (mmWave) that operate over shorter distances. Verizon Communications Inc has the largest mmWave network available today and is only available in limited areas.
Although Verizon 5G users were able to connect almost ten times faster than Sprint and T-Mobile, actual average speeds were far lower, according to research firm OpenSignal's report on mobile signals in June.
On average, AT&T Inc and Verizon customers with 5G phones saw only a small increase over 4G speeds, according to the same study.
Faster 5G networks are widespread in South Korea and China. However, Apple will compete against local brands including Samsung in South Korea, which is already offering its second line of 5G phones, and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd in China, whose sales have soared after the US telecommunications giant was banned.
The other big disappointment is that applications that use higher speeds to deliver something new have yet to be built. It's a chicken and egg problem this part of the tech cycle, executives said, noting that interest in 4G was fueled by Facebook Inc's mobile apps and Alphabet Inc's YouTube.
"The applications that we will love and really use the network will not be developed until the network and equipment are available," said Morgan Kurk, chief technology officer of CommScope, a telecommunications equipment maker.
The most motivated US consumers to buy a 5G phone are those in need of a new smartphone right now and looking to protect their investments.
"When you buy a phone that you will have for three years, make sure it supports the latest networks," said Geoff Blaber, vice president of research for CCS Insight.
Just know what to expect, added Blaber. "There will be relatively little you can do on a 5G iPhone that you can't do on a 4G iPhone today."
(Reporting by Kenneth Li in New York and Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm; editing by Richard Chang)
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