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Do I need to upgrade my iPhone for 5G?

The newest generation of cellular network technology is 5G. With faster speeds, lower latency, and the ability to connect more devices, 5G represents a major upgrade over 4G LTE. Many smartphone manufacturers have started releasing 5G-compatible phones, including Apple with its iPhone 12 lineup. This has left many existing iPhone owners wondering if they need to upgrade their device to take advantage of 5G networks.

What is 5G?

5G stands for 5th generation and refers to the next evolution in mobile broadband networks. 5G aims to provide faster speeds, lower latency, and the ability to connect more devices than previous generations.

Here are some key improvements 5G will bring:

  • Faster speeds – 5G can theoretically reach speeds up to 10Gbps, which is 100x faster than 4G LTE networks.
  • Lower latency – Latency refers to the time it takes for devices to communicate with each other. 5G aims to have latencies of 1ms, compared to 30-50ms on 4G.
  • More capacity – 5G uses a new radio technology called OFDM that allows more data to be transferred simultaneously.
  • Greater connectivity – 5G will allow up to 1 million devices per square km to be connected, enabling the Internet of Things.

These enhancements will enable new experiences like augmented/virtual reality, smart homes and cities, autonomous vehicles, and much more. 5G will be a major upgrade to our wireless networks.

When will 5G be available?

5G networks are already beginning to roll out in many parts of the world. In the US, all major carriers now have live 5G networks in certain areas. However, coverage is still limited mainly to major cities.

Widespread availability of 5G across the entire US is still years away. Building the infrastructure to support 5G requires huge investments and labor from the carriers. Most estimates expect 5G coverage to approach 4G levels in the 2023-2025 timeframe.

So while 5G is available now in some capacity, it will still take a few more years before the networks are mature enough to take full advantage of 5G speeds and capabilities.

Do iPhones support 5G?

In 2020, Apple released its first 5G-enabled iPhones with the iPhone 12 lineup. This includes the:

  • iPhone 12 mini
  • iPhone 12
  • iPhone 12 Pro
  • iPhone 12 Max

These phones contain the necessary 5G modems to connect to 5G networks. All newer iPhone models going forward will also support 5G.

However, older iPhone models do not have 5G capabilities. This includes the iPhone 11, iPhone XS, and earlier models. The hardware in those devices cannot connect to 5G networks.

So in order to use 5G on an iPhone, you will need at minimum an iPhone 12 model.

Should I upgrade to an iPhone 12 for 5G?

Whether you should upgrade your current iPhone to a 5G-enabled model depends on a few factors:

Your cellular coverage

Since 5G networks are still rolling out, you will only benefit from 5G if you live in an area that has coverage. Verifying 5G availability in your location will determine if upgrading your iPhone even makes sense.

Use carrier coverage maps to check if 5G has rolled out in your neighborhood. If there is no 5G where you live yet, upgrading now may not provide any immediate benefit.

Your data needs

You will only notice the speed improvements of 5G if you frequently perform data-intensive tasks on your iPhone. This includes streaming lots of video, using data-heavy apps, or downloading large files.

If you mainly use your iPhone for basic web browsing, social media, and messaging, you may not see huge gains from 5G speeds in your daily usage. In that case, it may not be worth upgrading yet.

But if you consume lots of high-bandwidth content or use data-intensive apps, the speed boost provided by 5G could be worthwhile.

Your current iPhone model

The newer your existing iPhone, the less benefit you may see in upgrading to a 5G-enabled model. If you have an iPhone 11 Pro for example, upgrading to an iPhone 12 may provide minimal improvements beyond 5G connectivity.

However, if you have an older model like an iPhone XR or earlier, you will likely notice camera, processor, and battery life improvements in addition to 5G. This makes the upgrade more compelling.

So consider whether you will be gaining meaningful new features beyond just 5G by upgrading your iPhone.

Your budget

Of course, cost is always a consideration. The iPhone 12 models all cost $699 and up. Upgrading is a significant expense, especially if your current iPhone still functions well.

Make sure the benefits you will gain from having 5G capabilities justify the upgrade cost. If budget is a concern, waiting and holding onto your current iPhone until 5G networks are more developed in your area can be a smarter approach.

Pros of upgrading to an iPhone 12

Here are some of the advantages that come with upgrading to a 5G iPhone 12 model:

  • Faster cellular speeds – 10-100x faster than 4G where 5G networks exist
  • Lower latency for real-time apps
  • Future-proof for next-gen networks and applications
  • Better resale value than older iPhones
  • Improved camera, especially on Pro/Max models
  • A14 Bionic processor is faster than previous chips
  • OLED display provides better contrast and colors
  • New squared-edge industrial design
  • Improved water and dust resistance
  • 5G connectivity available on all major US carriers

Cons of upgrading to an iPhone 12

There are also some downsides to consider before upgrading:

  • Expensive – $699 minimum for iPhone 12 mini
  • 5G networks still rolling out, limited coverage in many areas
  • May not notice dramatic speed improvements in daily usage
  • Shorter battery life than iPhone 11 series due to 5G
  • No charger included in box
  • Many apps don’t take full advantage of 5G speeds yet
  • Not a major upgrade coming from iPhone 11 series

Frequently Asked Questions

How much faster is 5G than 4G?

5G networks can theoretically reach speeds up to 10 Gbps, which is about 100x faster than typical 4G LTE speeds. In real-world usage, 5G is providing between 10-400 Mbps, depending on location and network congestion.

Will 5G make my iPhone battery drain faster?

Yes, using 5G can reduce battery life compared to 4G LTE. The power-hungry 5G modems and the higher bandwidth usage take more energy from your iPhone battery. Disabling 5G when not needed or using Low Power Mode can help conserve battery life.

Do I have to change my cell phone carrier for 5G?

No, you should not have to change carriers to use 5G on the iPhone 12. All major US carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint) offer 5G connectivity on the latest iPhones. However, check your carrier’s 5G coverage map to ensure service is available in your location.

Will my existing iPhone apps work on 5G?

Yes, all existing iPhone apps will work the same on 5G iPhones. They will simply take advantage of faster speeds where 5G networks are available. However, some apps may need updates to optimize performance for 5G speeds.

How do I know if 5G is available in my area?

Use your carrier’s coverage map to check 5G availability in your neighborhood. On your iPhone, you can also enable the 5G Auto option which will connect to 5G when available. The 5G icon will display at the top when connected to a 5G network.


Upgrading to the iPhone 12 mainly provides future-proofing with 5G capabilities. If you live in an area with 5G coverage and frequently use data-intensive apps or services, the speed improvements provided by 5G can be worthwhile.

However, if 5G networks are not available yet in your location or you don’t consume much high-bandwidth content, upgrading now may not provide huge real-world benefits. The iPhone 12 also comes at a premium price, so the upgrade may not make sense if budget is a concern.

Carefully consider your personal usage, needs, and budget to determine if now is the right time for you to upgrade to 5G with the iPhone 12. In many cases, holding onto your current iPhone and waiting for 5G coverage to improve in your neighborhood can be the smarter approach.