Should your next phone be a 5G phone? Being patient might pay off

EE has confirmed everybody’s long-held fears about 5G smartphones and 5G mobile contracts − they’re going to be expensive.

Speaking at a briefing attended by Trusted Reviews this morning, Marc Allera, the CEO of BT’s consumer division, said we can expect several 5G smartphones to come out in 2019, but they’ll have “more premium” price tags attached to them.

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“When we think about pricing, we believe − very similar to how we launched 4G, where 4G was a small premium over 3G − we do believe customers will pay a little bit more for that premium experience. We’ll be making their service more reliable, and we know that’s a huge priority for all customers,” he said.

EE will announce its first 5G smartphone partners “in the coming weeks”, he added.

We’re expecting at least one variant of the Samsung Galaxy S10 to support 5G, as well as an upcoming phone from OnePlus − which may or not turn out to be the OnePlus 7. These will almost certainly launch in 2019, but reports have suggested we won’t see the first 5G iPhone until 2020.

If true, that alone will have a massive impact on 5G adoption.

So should the next phone you buy be a 5G phone? That is, of course, entirely up to you, but the impression we’ve got is that, unless you’re a proud early adopter determined to get a taste of 5G before everyone else, you might not want to buy a 5G smartphone right away.

While Allera refused to reveal which smartphone makers are and are not preparing to launch 5G handsets in 2019, he admitted that it could be a while before 5G goes properly mainstream.

The biggest early issue will be actual coverage. EE, which is so far the only UK mobile operator to have revealed any key details of its 5G launch plans, says it will launch 5G in 16 locations around the UK in 2019. Outside of these very specific areas, you’ll only be able to connect to 4G (or 3G, or worse), and expanding coverage to the rest of the UK will take time.

And there are plenty more potential barriers to consider too.

“There won’t be a full range of smartphones by every vendor [straight away], and they’ll certainly be at more premium prices. Our belief is that for a faster, better service, customers will pay a little bit more,” Allera said.

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“All of that points to not mass-adoption in the first year. But what we saw with 4G was, as that coverage [expands] − and it will roll out pretty quickly over the next few years − and as the vendor portfolio increases, so you’ve got the very biggest names offering multiple versions of [5G] smartphones, tablets and mobile broadband products, and then prices come down on the devices, then it will exponentially kick off in terms of penetration.

“So a relatively slow start but a very fast uptake, I think… as devices, coverage, pricing, ecosystem and awareness [expand].”

How soon do you think you could make the switch to 5G? Share your thoughts on Twitter @trustedReviews.