Next week, Apple will be taking the wraps off of the iPhone 11. By this point, there isn’t too much about it that we don’t know, and from the rumors, it seems as though Apple will be adding several features that bring it up to speed with its competitors, including a triple-lens camera, bigger battery, and possibly even Apple Pencil support.

iphone xr xs maxChristopher Hebert/IDG

The new iPhone will bring lots of enhancements to the iPhone XR and XS, but not 5G.

But there’s one hot new tech spec I know for sure won’t be included on the iPhone 11’s sheet: 5G. Samsung, LG, OnePlus and others already sell handsets capable of tapping into the next-generation wireless network, so Apple fans are naturally champing at the bit to get a 5G-ready iPhone 11 Pro Max 5G. But I’m sorry to say, there’s absolutely no way that’s happening. It’s the one thing I’m absolutely sure of (aside from that ugly square camera bump). In fact, I’m willing to bet we probably won’t get an iPhone with 5G next year either.

But don’t worry, that’s a good thing.

5G isn’t ready for prime time

Last Wednesday, I tested the live 5G network in Providence, Rhode Island, with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G. It’s a $1,300 phone with a 6.8-inch screen, 12GB of RAM, and four rear cameras. Even without 5G, it’s the top Android phone, but the 5G modem is just a cherry on top.

In my testing, the Note 10+ 5G hit top speeds of better than 1.6Gbps, uploaded at 50Mbps, and downloaded two-hour movies in about 10 seconds. To say it ran circles around LTE is something of an understatement—in most of my download tests, the LTE file had barely started before the 5G-downloaded file was ready to play. In short, it was mind-blowing. And this wasn’t a contrived theoretical lab test. I was literally walking around the streets using a public network.

note 10 5g speed Christopher Hebert/IDG

5G speeds are legit—when you can get them.

With speeds like that, you’d think Apple would be rushing to add 5G to the iPhone. Qualcomm already makes a 5G modem that Apple could use in the iPhone, the x55, which “is designed to provide comprehensive support for 5G NR TDD and FDD, as well as mmWave and sub-6 GHz spectrum.” That means a 5G iPhone could connect to both the super-fast Verizon mmWave network I tested, as well as other slower 5G networks around the world without missing a beat.

There’s just one problem. Well, actually there are several problems, but the main one is that mmWave 5G is extremely limited. The only place I was guaranteed to get coverage was when I was standing right under the node, and even then I had to wait for the gigantic 5G logo to appear in the status bar. If I took too many steps, rounded a corner, or even turned my back on the node, I lost 5G coverage. And that’s the only 5G that Verizon is selling.

That’s not the kind of experience Apple is going to sell. And since I don’t think Apple would make a separate version of the iPhone just for 5G, a 5G iPhone would be selling a promise of a super-fast network, not an actual one. Apple rarely sells products that aren’t ready to use out of the box, and 5G is most certainly not.



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