Apple takes leap into 5G market with introduction of iPhone 12 series

Apple introduces its first-ever iPhones with 5G with the debut of four new smartphones: The iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 mini, the iPhone 12 Pro, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

iPhone 12 launch roundup: Apple's first 5G iPhone, HomePod mini and what was missing

Apple announced today that all four of its new iPhone 12 models will have 5G connectivity. This is the first iPhone to include that feature, although competitors have already provided it in their phones.

Hans Vestberg, the chairman and CEO of Verizon, joined Cook at the event to announce an expansion of its 5G network.

"We're excited to announce that Verizon is turning on a 5G nationwide network that will cover 200 million people across 1,800 towns and cities," he said. 

SEE: iPhone 12 event: What Apple announced at its 2020 Hi Speed event (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Verizon also is expanding its 5G Ultra Wideband network. Customers in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles already have access to this network. Vestberg said that the service soon will expand to Philadelphia, San Francisco, and 60 other cities by the end of the year. Millimeter-wave has the fastest speeds but the smallest range. 

Apple reports that its testing showed speeds of over 4.0 gigabytes per second in ideal conditions and 1 gigabyte per second in typical conditions.

Apple product engineers said that the new iPhones have custom 5G antennas and components to support this faster connectivity.

SEE: How to find out if your city has 5G right now (TechRepublic)

"We can be very space efficient while including the most 5G bands on a single phone," said Arun Mathias, vice president of wireless technology.

Mathias also said that Apple engineers have reexamined the entire software stack down to the firmware to take advantage of 5G speeds. He said that engineers also took into account power usage as well. The new phones also will use Smart Data Mode.

"When your phone doesn't need the faster speed, it will drop back to LTE," Mathias said.

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Apple's iPhone lineup for 2020

The new phones include:

  • iPhone 12 Mini 
  • iPhone 12 
  • iPhone 12 Pro 
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max 

Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Thomas Husson said that Apple is not late to the 5G game because the technology is not mature yet. 

"Apple is rarely the first to launch new technologies but waits for a technology to be mature enough to build new customer experiences on top of it," he said. "Given the renewal cycles of smartphones, Apple is right to embrace 5G now even though there is little demand for a 5G product per se right now."

SEE: Why I'm skipping the iPhone 12 and keeping my iPhone 11 (TechRepublic)

Husson said that although 5G is not mature enough yet to justify buying an expensive new phone, Apple is best placed to kickstart consumer demand for 5G. 

"Let's be realistic, 5G will provide more benefits for the industry than for consumers," he said. "5G is not yet a key driver for consumer demand since many telcos across the world are just starting to roll out the networks."

Steve Alexander, CTO of Ciena, a telecommunications networking equipment and software services supplier, said that infrastructure providers must continue their focus on the underlying telecommunications network particularly edge infrastructure to support cloud gaming and AR and VR experiences.

"This news from Apple will be another driver in the evolution to more intelligent and adaptive networks that will enable a much broader range of new services and deliver the true benefits of 5G connectivity sooner," he said.

SEE: Apple's iPhone 12 could be what finally makes 5G a thing (CNET)

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Apple iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini specs

5G connectivity varies significantly from country to country, with China leading the pack, followed by South Korea, and to a lesser extent with the US. Husson said that in Europe, the 5G landscape is much more fragmented and it will take years for 5G to reach critical mass among consumers. 

CNET's Roger Cheng predicts that Apple's new phone could become a tipping point for consumer demand for 5G service:

"5G could use a shot in the arm and Apple's ability to generate tons of excitement. Getting more consumers on those new networks means these carriers have more experience dealing with higher demand, letting them work out the kinks and ultimately provide smoother, faster service. More people using 5G phones also drives the industry to come out with follow-up devices that are slimmer, more power efficient and less expensive—just as it did with 4G." 

TechRepublic's Teena Maddox is sticking with her iPhone 11 for now because "... spending over $1,000 on something that won't offer substantially new features isn't worth it." 5G isn't widely available in her city yet. 

David Gewirtz on ZDNet has his own five reasons for not upgrading to a 5G phone that include limited availability and the fact that many 5G use cases don't have anything to do with cell phones. 

CNET's Patrick Holland suggests that many iPhone 12 buyers will be disappointed in their 5G experience at least in the short tem: 

"... the biggest feature on the iPhone 12 will be largely out of Apple's control and firmly in the hands of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. Depending on your carrier and where you live, your 5G experience on an iPhone 12 could vary greatly. It's an unusual position for Apple, which is known for its insistence on crafting virtually every aspect of its products, from the hardware to its software."

For now, buying any 5G phone will be more about future-proofing your mobile experience than getting faster speeds immediately after unboxing.

Your 5G mileage may vary

The first step in figuring out whether your city has 5G coverage is to check with your carrier. Most of the major telecoms have a 5G coverage map. Once you've figured out whether or not your neighborhood has 5G connectivity, you'll need to understand what flavor of 5G you've got. Each carrier has its own collection of labels for low-band, midband, and millimeter-wave service.

AT&T and T-Mobile both are using low-band 5G for the foundation of their nationwide networks. Low-band has decent range but isn't much faster than LTE connections.

Sprint went with midband connections to build its first 5G connections, which are now part of T-Mobile. 

 CNET describes millimeter-wave as a "souped-up Wi-Fi hotspot." Verizon's 5G Ultra wideband service operates on millimeter-wave frequencies.

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By Veronica Combs

Veronica is an independent journalist and communications strategist. For more than 10 years, she has covered health and healthcare with a focus on innovation and patient engagement. She led AIR Louisville, a three-year digital health project focused ...