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How exactly does 5G work?

5G arrives properly in 2020, but what's real, and what's hype?
Christopher Schodt
February 25, 2020
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We've been hearing about 5G for ages, and 2020 is the year it'll finally become a reality for some people. Until this point there have been a few sparse 5G networks available in cities, but with only a handful of phones supporting 5G, even if you lived in an area with coverage odds are you couldn't connect. That's all set to change with a host of new 5G phones expected to be announced through 2020, and providers all around the world starting to switch on additional 5G towers.

Even so, it's hard to know what to expect from 5G. Depending on your provider and your network, you may get blazing fast speeds but only in certain places, a bump in reliability without much speed, or anything in between. It turns out 5G isn't really one thing, it's a collection of technology and new frequency bands, and different carriers are focusing on different aspects of the network.

Even just looking at the new frequencies in use, the low, mid and high bands all offer different trade-offs in speed and reliability, and most phones can still only connect using one of those blocks (for example, while the OnePlus 7T Pro Mclaren 5G uses the 600MHz low-band, the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G only connects on the mid-band). Hopefully with time the differences will level out -- the Galaxy S20+ and Ultra, for example, support a handful of bands across the spectrum -- but for now two phones on different networks can have very different experiences of 5G.

So what is the new tech that makes a phone 5G? And how do those different frequency bands work? In our explainer video we dig into all the details of 5G to try and break down what's actually going on, and what you can expect from your next smartphone.

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