With Samsung confirming that certain models of the Galaxy S10 will offer 5G, you may be wondering when a 5G iPhone will launch. Some sceptics believe you’re in for a long wait – but there are reasons to be cheerful, too.
In this article we round up the leaks, rumours and patent activity that point to an imminent 5G iPhone launch, predicting the device’s release date and features. We also offer information about the progress of 5G adoption in the market at large, and the benefits that 5G will offer to iPhone users when Apple gets on board.
iPhone 5G release date
We expect a 5G iPhone to be released in the second half of 2020.
The Galaxy S10 5G edition will launch later in 2019 and a OnePlus 5G phone is expected to arrive later in May 2019. But while other smartphone manufacturers continue to make 5G plans for 2019, it sounds like Apple won’t be ready to follow suit until 2020.
In 2018 it was reported that Apple was working on a 5G modem with Intel, but apparently insoluble connectivity problems cropped up in testing. Neither Intel (which has since quit the 5G arena) or later supplier candidate MediaTek would be able to supply 5G components for an autumn 2019 launch.
This may be disappointing, given the progress made by Apple’s competition, but a 2020 launch is a lot better than had been feared. It was thought that Apple’s iPhone 5G might not arrive until 2021, but that was before the company came to an agreement with Qualcomm, who will now be providing the necessary modems.
Why is the 5G iPhone delayed?
There are a couple of reasons why Apple’s work on the 5G iPhone has been delayed.
One is its disagreement with Qualcomm (which we’ll discuss next), the other reason was that due to its beef with Qualcomm the company was having to rely on Intel (and as we’ll discuss later on, Intel was struggling a bit with development of its 5G modem.)
Apple vs Qualcomm
The Apple vs Qualcomm case was the main hurdle to Apple’s plans for 5G handsets.
For a number of years Apple had been in partnership with Qualcomm, which was sole provider of wireless chips for the iPhone prior to 2016, and from 2016-2017 provided chips for Apple alongside Intel.
We won’t go into too much detail about the spat between Apple and Qualcomm other than to say that when Apple stopped using Qualcomm chips in the iPhone in 2018, the relationship between the two companies broke down.
In a nutshell, both companies accused the other of infringing on their patents, Qualcomm claimed Apple owed it royalties for using its tech, and the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was also suing Qualcomm for anticompetitive practices. And there was a whole lot more to the battle than that.
Qualcomm apparently refused to supply Apple with chips while the legal battles continued. Since Qualcomm had already unveiled what it refers to as “the world’s first 5G modem”, the Snapdragon X50 – which is already being used in other smartphones – it looked like the iPhone would be left behind.
Fortunately, the companies have since come to an agreement. In a press release (which you can read here) the companies announced they have agreed to drop all litigation.
As part of the settlement deal Apple has accepted a six-year licensing deal with Qualcomm. So we should be seeing Qualcomm modems in new iPhones after all.
Intel and 5G
Intel was the other factor delaying the 5G chip. With Qualcomm temporarily out of the picture, Apple was reliant on Intel – but Intel was struggling with development of a 5G modem.
According to Fast Company sources in November 2018, the Intel 5G modem chip that Apple was working with was suffering from “heat dissipation issues”. Various Intel spokespersons confirmed the delays, and reports discussed the problems Intel was facing.
Following the Apple and Qualcomm agreement, Intel confirmed that it would exit the 5G baseband chip business.
Apple’s own 5G modems plans
Despite coming to an agreement with Qualcomm, Apple may not be planning to rely on that company beyond 2020.
Apple has a team working on 5G modems, led by senior hardware VP Johny Srouji, according to a Reuters report from February 2019.
In addition, in February 2019 Apple hired Intel’s 5G modem lead Umashankar Thyagarajan, according to a Telegraph report. Thyagarajan ran Intel’s project to build cellular modems for Apple.
It’s unlikely these Apple-made modems will be ready for use before 2021, however.
What is 5G?
5G is the successor to 4G. It should be able to offer download speeds of around 1Gb/s (gigabits per second) – maybe even 10Gb/s. That would make it possible to download an HD movie in just 10 seconds rather than around 10 minutes, as is currently the case.
It should also pave the way for new technological advancements such as driverless cars, as it will offer lower latency. That should also be good for online gaming, delivery drones and other things that require an always-on connection.
You can also expect to see more in the way of VR and AR applications and IoT gadgets will become more common as more devices will be connected to the internet.
5G will use higher radio frequencies, which are less cluttered and can carry information faster. However, they don’t carry the information as far, so more antennas are needed.
And no, despite what Donald Trump says, there is no 6G…
When will we get 5G?
Whether you will be able to access 5G networks in the near future depends on where you are based, and when coverage arrives, it is still likely to be restricted to major cities.
In some parts of the world 5G has already arrived – although coverage is likely to remain limited for some time. For example, in the US rollout for AT&T and T-Mobile has started and Verizon and Sprint’s 5G is expected in the first half of 2019.
In the UK 5G won’t be rolled out until late 2019, with EE saying that it plans to launch 5G in late 2019. EE, Vodafone and O2 are all running 5G trials. Other networks may not offer 5G until 2020. Expect coverage to be limited at first – you might have to wait until 2022 before 5G reaches you if you aren’t in a major city.
As for smartphones – Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi are expected to launch 5G-ready handsets this year.
Will the iPhone XS work with 5G?
No existing iPhones will be able to use the 5G network. In fact, it looks like even the 2019 iPhone won’t be able to use the 5G network.
However, the iPhone XS and XS Max offer Gigabit LTE. If your carrier supports Gigabit LTE you could take advantage of a faster connection and your phone should be better able to find and maintain the connection when the signal is weak.