Apple's 2020 iPhones will offer 5G, but does it matter?

The three iPhones set to launch in 2020 will all have 5G support to compete with Android phones, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

5G outlook: What's to come in 2019 and beyond Steve Ranger discusses the forecast for 5G including the implications for smart phones, home routers and the impact on big cities.

All three iPhones scheduled for a 2020 release will support 5G, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, but will have to contend with potentially spotty coverage until the networks grow stronger.

Apple's shift toward 5G is driven by three factors, Kuo wrote in a note to investors obtained by MacRumors. First, after Apple's $1 billion acquisition of Intel's modem business, it now has more resources to develop 5G iPhones. Second, boosting 5G developments could improve Apple's growing augmented reality (AR) ecosystem. And third, adding 5G support to the iPhone could help the devices better compete with lower-cost 5G Android phones. 

SEE: 5G mobile networks: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The three new iPhone models will support both mmWave and Sub-6GHz spectrum, Kuo predicted in the note. It remains unclear if Apple will release a 5G iPhone that only supports Sub-6GHz, which would likely cost less, potentially allowing Apple to gain market share, particularly in China, which only supports Sub-6GHz. 

The 2020 iPhones will likely come in a higher-end 5.4" and 6.7" option with OLED displays, and a lower-cost 6.1" model with an OLED display, Kuo previously predicted. 

Will 5G phones make a difference for business users? 

5G phones must have a compatible chip that can connect to 5G networks, and most on the market now are premium devices with high price tags, our sister site CNET noted. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G costs $300 more than the 4G Galaxy S10 Plus on Verizon. 

Despite the price increase for the phones, not all 5G networks will use the high-speed mmWave technology at launch, as it's best suited to dense urban areas, MacRumors noted. In rural and suburban areas, sub-5GHz 5G will offer faster speeds than 4G, but not those as fast as mmWave. While these bands will get faster over time, the fact remains that at least for now, users outside of major cities may not notice a large difference in 5G speeds. 

Even major cities are experiencing some 5G hiccups. When CNET's Jessica Dolcourt tested Verizon's new 5G network in Chicago after it rolled out in April, results were mixed. 

"At times, the 5G speeds recorded by the Speedtest.net benchmarking test got us the 600-plus megabits per second download speeds Verizon has promised (my peak speed was 634Mbps). Other times it was closer to 200Mbps, and still other times, the phone professed to be on 5G, but acted a lot like 4G," Dolcourt wrote. 

5G networks are still nascent, and will face growing pains along the way, Dolcourt noted. This begs the question: Who will high-end, pricey 5G-supported iPhones be for at this point in time? They may not make a large enough difference for business users or remote workers outside of major cities for years to come. Apple enthusiasts will likely want the latest iPhone model no matter what, but the 5G support might be a less useful feature for the near future than upgraded cameras, for example. 

For business users, phones that support 5G may not be worth the high price tags in the coming year, unless you live in an area where 5G is already rolled out and consistent, and those phones include other features that you find useful. 

Whatever the results of Apple's first foray into the 5G device space, 5G-enabled devices overall will occupy more than 51% of all smartphone shipments by 2023, according to a recent Canalys report, quickly outnumbering 4G phones. 

For more, check out 5G smartphones: A cheat sheet on TechRepublic. 

Also see 

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Image: CNET

By Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.