Your Complete Guide to Getting an Apple iPhone 5G

If you’re on the hunt for a new iPhone and want to make sure you can take advantage of all the features of 5G, making sure you get the right model is key. Fortunately, it’s not hard to do. However, it can still be confusing which models support “real” 5G and which will be left behind, especially when roaming across international borders.

The short answer to this dilemma is that every iPhone released since Fall 2020 supports at least some flavor of 5G. This includes the entire iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 families, as well as the third-generation iPhone SE that arrived in early 2022. This latest entry also makes a safe bet that from now on we’ll never see a Apple’s new iPhone which is not 5G compatible.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

However, the longer answer is that there are some things you should pay attention to when looking to get an iPhone that’s compatible with your favorite 5G service.

Regional differences

As long as you buy your iPhone from an Apple Store or other legitimate retailer in your home country, you can be sure it supports the necessary 5G frequencies, and it’s even safer if you get one directly. with your operator.

Things can get a little tricky when you buy an iPhone in one country to use in another. Whether you’re ordering a new iPhone overseas to save a few bucks, buying one on vacation, or moving to a new country, you’ll need to make sure the iPhone you get is fully compatible with your chosen carrier. .

It might surprise you to find that Apple manufactures 21 different variants of the iPhone 13 series to cover all the different 5G frequencies used around the world. That’s five each for the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max, and six for the iPhone 13 Mini.

The iPhone 12 lineup included 17 different variants, however, Apple added a fifth column last year, with a new version of each iPhone 13 model to ensure compatibility with 5G services in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

iPhone 12 Mini
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

The good news is that it’s not as complicated as it looks. The days of Apple selling different iPhones for Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are long gone. Now, Apple only sells one version of each iPhone in the US that is compatible with 4G and 5G frequencies on all US carriers.

However, a different version is sold in the rest of North America, including Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. This version is also sold in Japan and, in the case of the iPhone 13 line, in Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

The other global variants are one specific to mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau, the aforementioned iPhone 13 variant for certain Eastern European countries, and a “global” version that covers 5G services offered in the rest of the world.

The Chinese models of iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 13 Mini are split in two, with one version for mainland China and the other for Hong Kong and Macao. Another significant difference is that all iPhones sold in mainland China have two physical SIM card slots instead of one eSIM. Except for iPhone mini and iPhone SE, this also applies to those sold in Hong Kong and Macao.

This shouldn’t be a problem for most people, but you could run into trouble if you plan on doing a bit of cross-border shopping. For example, going from Seattle to Vancouver might get you a better deal on an iPhone 13, but you’ll likely get the Canadian model, which will only be partially compatible with the 5G service offered by US carriers. The same is true if you take an iPhone on a trip to Puerto Rico or Guam, which are generally the same models sold in Canada.

Millimeter wave support

The main difference between North American iPhone models is support for the extremely high frequency mmWave band. This is widely used by Verizon in major urban centers and by AT&T in congested areas like stadiums and airports. T-Mobile has also rolled it out in a few densely populated areas, though it doesn’t talk about it as much.

Although that will likely change one day, Apple currently sells its mmWave-enabled iPhone models exclusively in the United States. All iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 sold in the US support mmWave, regardless of carrier. No iPhone designed to be sold outside of the United States supports mmWave. Notably, the US models support mmWave bands which are used exclusively in other countries, so Apple may possibly sell them elsewhere; he’s simply chosen not to, at least for now.

In practical terms, that means you can buy an iPhone from T-Mobile and use it on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network and get full mmWave speeds (assuming you’re within a block of a transmitter- mmWave receiver). However, if you buy an iPhone in Toronto, you’ll be limited to the middle C-band portion of Verizon’s network.

The smaller notch of the iPhone 13 Pro compared to the larger notch of the iPhone 12 Pro.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Support for mmWave is the only difference between iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models sold in the United States and those sold in Canada and US territories. So an iPhone 13 purchased in Guam will work fine on low and mid-band 5G.

It’s also less of an issue if you’re looking to buy a 2022 iPhone SE. The iPhone SE doesn’t support mmWave at all, and as a result, the same model is sold across North America. A 2022 iPhone SE purchased from an Apple Store in Montreal will be the same one you would get from an Apple Store in New York.

However, it won’t work as well if you want to buy a new iPhone while traveling in Europe. Although a European iPhone 13 supports most of the same 5G frequencies used in the US, it is missing a few key bands. For example, only North American iPhone models support the 600 MHz frequencies used by T-Mobile in less populated areas. For the curious, Apple has a helpful list of supported 5G and LTE frequencies for each iPhone model sold in each country.

So what’s the bottom line? Don’t buy an iPhone from another country unless you’re sure you know what you’re doing. If you’re moving to a country where different iPhone models are sold, be prepared to replace your iPhone if you want the best possible 5G coverage in your new home. Finally, stick with the iPhone 12, iPhone 13, and other flagships if you want the fastest 5G speeds possible in densely populated areas, as the budget iPhone SE doesn’t offer mmWave support. .

Can I add 5G to an older model iPhone?

Although AT&T has done a brilliant job of covering the waters with its 5GE stunt, no iPhone before the iPhone 12 supported 5G, and it’s not something that can be added retroactively via an update. software.

Cellular technologies are driven by hardware, especially things like modem chips and antennas. This means that a smartphone cannot support 5G unless it was designed for it from the start.

If you’re on AT&T, your iPhone 11 or iPhone XR may display a “5GE” symbol, but don’t be fooled into thinking you suddenly have a 5G-enabled device, because 5GE is a silly marketing name that AT&T uses for its advancements. 4G/LTE network. It’s the same technology you would use if your iPhone was on Verizon or T-Mobile, where they would more accurately display a “4G” or “LTE” symbol.

Apple is slightly behind the curve

Another point worth mentioning is that Apple iPhones have always lagged a bit when it comes to the latest and greatest 5G technology.

The iPhone 12 came late to the game, more than a year after the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G first appeared in early 2019. In early 2020, 5G became standard on Samsung’s flagship smartphones. Apple didn’t enter the 5G arena until this September.

Since Apple uses Qualcomm’s 5G modem chips (for now), it’s also been hampered by its iPhone release schedule. Every year, Qualcomm introduces its new 5G chips at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in March, which doesn’t give Apple enough time to integrate them into its new iPhones.

Conceptual image of the Qualcomm Snapdragon X70 chip with additional mmWave, AI and RF modules.

The iPhone 12 was launched with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 modem at the same time as Samsung and other Android handset makers were already gearing up to use the X60 modem, and it repeated itself in 2021 when the iPhone 13 is released. switched to the X60 just a few months before the Galaxy S22 showed it. with the upgraded Snapdragon X65. There is every reason to believe that the trend will continue with this year’s iPhone featuring the Snapdragon X65 instead of the recently announced Snapdragon X70.

It’s not something that will affect most people on a daily basis, mainly because 5G networks aren’t up to the task of delivering the maximum 10Gbps 5G download speeds that the X70 is capable of. However, the new Qualcomm chips also consume less power, which improves battery life. It’s no wonder Apple wants to build its own 5G modem chip instead of continuing to rely on Qualcomm.

That’s it. You should now be fully capable of making the correct and informed decision about purchasing an iPhone 5G.

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