The iPhone 12 is the rocket booster that 5G desperately needs
One of the things that have always impressed me about iPhones is the degree to which they are part of the mainstream cultural discourse. When Apple introduces a new iPhone, the news is covered not just by tech media, but even lifestyle or general news outlets. It’s a level of relevance that most other phone brands often fail to garner – although Samsung is often heavily covered, it seems like everyone has something to say when Apple makes an announcement.
This is great news for everyone in the mobile industry, from carriers to Qualcomm and even rivals like Samsung, because they’ve all been driving the 5G hype train — even if 5G isn’t quite ready for prime time. But now that Apple is doing it, 5G is going to get that much-needed boost.
5G is here! Well, kind of…
Technically speaking, 5G has been available in the US for over a year, but it’s partially here practically and realistically speaking. Speeds for sub-6 5G (used by T-Mobile and AT&T) are, for the most part, just a bit faster than 4G, and in some cases, slower. Then there’s the mmWave 5G that Verizon has deployed, and while it’s actually noticeably fast – we’ve received upwards of 2Gbps connected to Verizon’s fastest network – reception areas are extremely limited.
In fact, Verizon used the iPhone 12 launch show as a platform to announce it, too, is launching a sub-6 network, one that’s slower but will at least cover “nationwide.” It’s unlikely Verizon has magically been able to work out the kinks slowing down AT&T and T-Mobile’s sub-6 5G, so chances are, in the immediate future, the state of 5G remains mostly unchanged.
Normally, if something has been hyped this much and fails to deliver at even the most basic level, consumers would revolt. Imagine how mad you’d be if you purchased a Tesla that still needs gas or a Galaxy Fold that couldn’t fold. You’d flip out.
The fact that there hasn’t been much pushback against the sad state of 5G in the US shows that, for the most part, the average person doesn’t know much, nor do they care about 5G. Samsung, LG, and Motorola may have been releasing 5G phones stateside for well over a year, and every carrier and phone store in the US are plastered with banners advertising 5G. Still, for the most part, people don’t care yet — until the iPhone 12.
When Apple does something, the mobile industry follows
A couple of years ago, I interviewed the CEO of Anker, Steven Yang, and he told me he wishes Apple would make the switch to USB-C because, in his words, “once Apple does it, the entire industry follows and USB-C instantly becomes the norm.”Android fans reading this may be rolling their eyes, but it’s true. Think about FaceTime. Video calling had existed in various apps long before Apple introduced their take, but it wasn’t until Apple did it that video calling took off, at least in North America. The same can be said for true wireless earbuds. Almost a year before the AirPods made their debut, German brand Bragi and Chinese start-ups had already released wireless earbuds. But the market did not take off until after the AirPods.
Today, AirPods are synonymous with wireless earbuds and ubiquitous around the world. And since we’re on the topic of the AirPods, remember when the headphone jack was a no-brainer, must-include port in all electronic devices? Apple killed it; people, including media and fans, complained loudly; but ultimately, Apple won anyway — the headphone jack is dead in smartphones.
Now that the latest iPhones not only support 5G, but Apple is actively hyping it? It’s going to be a game-changer for the industry. The average person will want to know what 5G is now and perhaps start asking questions when their iPhone 12s are connected to 5G networks that don’t bring the noticeable improvements in data speeds that every carrier tries to extol as the benefits of 5G.
How will the iPhone 12 5G spur carriers into action?
Consider other features like visual voicemail, iMessage, and eSIMs. Each of these was a feature that Apple developed and received widespread support from carriers for almost immediately. Considering the sheer number of iPhones sold every year, the iPhone is the number one smartphone that can spur carriers into action.eSIMs is a great example – they’ve existed in some form on certain Android phones for a while, but carrier support was incredibly sketchy. The introduction of the eSIM to the iPhone and the iPad resulted in a lot more carriers supporting the eSIM. Still, even then, issues remain that can only be resolved as the technology matures.
The same will ultimately apply to 5G and the iPhone 12. The technology isn’t fleshed out, but until now, most people didn’t care about 5G. It’s a well-known industry secret that iPhone customers offer significantly higher Average Revenue Per User – one of the key metrics that partners and carriers look at – meaning Apple users spend more than Android users. This also means that Apple can exert a certain amount of influence over carriers – we’ve seen that with Apple’s tight control of pricing ever since the first iPhone. Now, they need to figure out how they can make meaningful improvements to 5G in a short space of time.
How can they do it? An AT&T spokesperson told the Washington Post it could aggregate more 4G spectrum for 5G to boost speeds (Sub-6 5G essentially share the same spectrum as 4G LTE right now). “Densification” of 5G signals – increasing the volume of signals in a given space – is another method that’s been proposed and is how Verizon has approached the ultra-wideband part of its network.
Whatever they end up doing, the pressure is now on for carriers to deliver data speeds that are actually, you know, fifth-generation. As the iPhone now supports it, Apple’s marketing arm will make the mainstream general public want it. As Steve Jobs once said, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them, and we can trust that Apple will make people want 5G.