5G is fast, but not perfect. Here’s why you might want to turn it off sometimes.
It's all about finding balance
5G is finally here, with next-generation connectivity offering maximum download speeds of around 1 gigabit per second. This can be up to eight times faster than 4G LTE, depending on factors like how congested the network is or how far away you are from the phone tower.
There’s another key benefit to 5G—bandwidth. The technology can handle around a thousand times more data at once than 4G LTE. This means a lot more users can be on it simultaneously, so you shouldn’t lose signal if you’re in a packed sports stadium or at a music concert.
This new platform is a substantial upgrade from 4G LTE, but because nothing since is perfect, 5G has its downsides, too. Its range isn’t as good as 4G LTE, so we’ll need more cell towers to cover the same area. Also, 5G radios are more powerful and data-hungry than their 4G LTE equivalents, which can drain your phones’ battery faster. This is something Apple reportedly worried about before introducing 5G with the iPhone 12.
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With 5G networks still in the process of rolling out, you might want to turn off your phone’s fastest cellular speed sometimes. This will ensure a stable connection, and a long-lasting battery life. After all, a good 4G LTE connection is still more than fast enough for most tasks, including streaming video and music.
How to know if your phone is compatible with 5G
Before you can turn off 5G, you need to be able to get it. Other than being on a spot with 5G coverage, you’ll also require a device and a data plan that support the network. If you’re not sure you have what it takes, a quick search for your phone’s specs on the web or a call to your carrier should solve the mystery.
New gadgets and new data plans appear on a weekly basis, but at the time of writing the only Apple devices that support 5G are the iPhone’s latest models: The iPhone 12 Mini, the iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Pro, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. If you’re using the iPhone SE or the iPhone 11, then you won’t find the same 5G options on your device.
When it comes to 5G, there are more options on the Android side of things. Most of the top-end phones launched in 2020 and 2021 can connect to the network, and a lot of the mid-range and even budget ones can, too. Handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S21, the OnePlus 9, and the Google Pixel 5 all come with 5G on board.
All US carriers now offer some form of 5G plan, though the details between them vary—and keep varying regularly. Take SIM cards for example. If you activated yours with a 4G LTE plan, the chip might move seamlessly over to 5G when you upgrade your contract. Or it might not. In that case, you’ll need to replace your SIM card for a newer version. It all depends on your carrier, so check with them if you have questions.
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There are three types of 5G to consider on three different frequency bands, but two are the most common. The first one is millimeter wave, also known as mmWave, ultra wideband or high band—this is the fastest. The second is Sub-6GHz or low band, which is less of an upgrade over 4G LTE, but is available more widely. All big carriers offer both these options under a variety of names and at a variety of price points, so make sure you know what you’re getting before signing up.
We’re starting to see a few mid band plans pop up as well, primarily from T-Mobile, though other companies are likely to follow suit. This is a sort of sweet spot between low band and high band, offering a significant speed boost over 4G LTE without the range and availability restrictions that mmWave is having at the moment.
How to turn off 5G
No matter what make of phone you have or which carrier you’re with, you should see a 5G symbol in the device’s status bar when you’re hooked up to the network—though it’s exact appearance will vary depending on your setup. On an iPhone, for example, you’ll see a small UW (for ultra wideband) next to the 5G symbol when you’re connected to the fastest mmWave network type.
To turn off 5G on an iPhone, open Settings, tap Cellular, and then Cellular Data Options. Tap Voice & Data and you’ll get three options: 5G Auto (your iPhone will switch between 5G and 4G LTE, depending on speed and availability), 5G On (5G will always be on when available, even if the connection is slower than the available 4G LTE), and LTE (your iPhone will stick to 4G LTE even if 5G is within reach).
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On Android, you’ll see quite a bit of variation depending on the make and model of your phone. On the Pixel 5, for instance, you can turn off 5G by opening Settings and then selecting Network and Internet, Mobile network, and Preferred network type. You should see both 5G and 4G LTE as options you can switch between (you might even find 3G and 2G are there, too).
On a Samsung Galaxy phone, from Settings go to Connections, Mobile networks, and then Network mode. Again, you’ll get a list of connection options that should include 5G and 4G LTE, so if you want to stick to 4G LTE, you can do it here.
Besides your phone and the operating system it’s running, your carrier might have a say on how much you control you have over the network you use. Not all of them allow you to switch between different cellular speeds. If you’re not seeing the options we’ve described above on your smartphone, get in touch with your carrier to see if they’re actually available.