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5G comes: Here are answers to your biggest questions

There is a lot of 5G hype – too much, in fact – and it's much more complicated than the transition to 4G was. On top of complex technological issues of millimeter waves and modems, there are also geopolitics, trade war, gigantic lawsuits between tech titans and empty buildings in Wisconsin.

We track all these stories on The Verge – lets you find our 5G coverage here – but if you just want a quick primer on what's happening now, when 5G phones are getting sold in stores and the White House issues 5G-related orders, read on. [19659003] 1. Should I buy a 5G phone this year?


Why not?

The networks are barely existing, only present in some cities. Even then, they only work well in certain blocks, and even then you need point of view, and even then you will still have LTE upload speeds.

Oh. Well, maybe I should buy a 5G phone anyway since I need a phone right now and I don't want it to be obsolete if I keep it for a few years. Is that a good idea?

No. Please do not. The first generation of phones that use new mobile technology is generally quite poor. They are large, battery-absorbing, ineffective monsters. This year may be a little different since the $ 1,400 Samsung Galaxy S10 5G looks pretty decent. But even though it's great, you'll still be stuck with a phone that costs a ton of money to access a network that just comes off the ground.

Although a miracle happens and the networks spread faster than anyone expects, it is likely that the modem in your phone will not be nearly as good as the second or third generation modems coming next year and the following year. Qualcomm makes all 5G modems for phones in the US right now, and it announces new modems almost as fast as it is shipping current.

(You know what? I count all three of these questions as a question. The answer when we first saw 5G in 2018 was "no." The answer in 2019 is "no." Ask me again in 2020 – but no promises of the answer will be different at that time.)

2. What about all the 5G hype then?

There are many reasons. Here's a cynical: Phone sales in the US are really slowing down, and the entire smartphone industry is looking for ways to get consumers into another wave of expensive upgrades.

Here's a less cynical reason: when 5G works, it's legitimate, really fast with super low latency, which could allow many surprising new technologies we haven't thought of yet. Think of your smartphone's early days when it seemed like every day, someone found out a smart new thing you could do with your phone.

Many people are hoping for another innovation watch. Rather, many people hope to make a lot of money by convincing you that another innovation weapon will happen. It cannot, even though 5G networks are more difficult to build than 4G networks were. They require many more cell sites, and the signal cannot easily pass through buildings. So all the promises of innovation are probably too optimistic or completely hollow. Wow. It was cynical again, right?

Well, the truth is that there is a lot to be cynical about with 5G. Businesses are overpromising and underdelivery right now. The gap between the huge amount of marketing around 5G and the number of 5G products and services we can test is huge. And in that gap there is not much to do, but wait and wonder.

3. I heard there was a whole thing about Apple, Qualcomm, Intel and 5G. What happened there?

Below is a series of sentences that describe facts that just ask to be connected but not necessarily be. When you read them, understand that there are two ways to interpret them. One: The way technology works in our time and age is an impossible complex interaction between massive, semi-monopolistic giants and sometimes weird coincidences. Two: It's a huge 5G conspiracy.

Should you connect these points? Some of them, maybe! But probably not all of them. But to answer the question: that's all happened.

4. Why is the US government so angry at Huawei and 5G?

The Government's concerns with Huawei before the current trade war with China, but you are welcome to link them to your own time if you wish. But don't try too hard because even if no US carriers sell Huawei phones in the United States, many other Chinese companies still sell phones here.

The bigger problem is that Huawei makes a lot of the equipment used to network infrastructure around the world, and it makes it cheaper than many of its competitors. There are concerns that Huawei is too close to the Chinese government, and all that the network equipment might be a security risk. That the claim is something Huawei denied strenuous and also something we do not yet have to see concrete evidence.

Does that mean you can definitely trust Huawei? It is tough. Other countries use the equipment, and many rural companies in the United States will too. The old "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence", applies here, especially since so many in the US government are quite stubborn not to trust Huawei. It is also a completely different problem regarding the extradition of Huawei's CFO on costs related to fraud.

One thing is certain: this conflict is escalating.

5. What about Foxconn's Wisconsin plant that has something to do with "AI 8K + 5G"?

Foxconn promised to build a factory to create TV, which would create jobs. But then the plan changed, and everything has become very strange and very complicated. Everyone began to see how shady it was, so Foxconn admitted that it didn't build that factory; Instead, it said that it would create many jobs around the hippest things that happen in technology. It put together three acronyms that sounded futuristic. 5G, as previously mentioned, has a lot of hype around it.

So, to make everyone feel better about this weird, changing deal, Foxconn bought a bunch of buildings, but let them be empty. (They said they were not empty, but they are definitely empty.)

6. My AT&T phone says "5G E" in the corner. Does that mean I have 5G now?

It doesn't. AT&T is lying to you with an icon, and the company that makes the phone help it do it. For the record, since 5G E is not really 5G, I do not count this as a 5G question. (Also, I really wanted to keep the headline down on "five questions" because it's about 5G.)

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