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One photo shows why Apple is smart to not release a 5G iPhone anytime soon

Tim CookApple
  • Apple won’t release a so-called “5G” iPhone until 2020 or later, according to a new report.
  • A look at the only 5G phone that has been announced makes it clear why Apple is sitting this cycle out. 
  • 5G technology simply isn’t ready for phones. 

One of the most anticipated next-generation features for smartphones is “5G” wireless connectivity. 

Once the next-generation wireless networks become available, “5G” service will blow away the LTE and 4G networks most phones currently work with, at least according to the carriers.

5G mobility service will provide massive bandwidth, greater opportunities for connectivity and improved network reliability,” Verizon crowed on Monday in a press release. “When fully implemented, it will offer capacity and download speed many times faster than today’s 4G LTE network.”

Sounds great! But at least one tech giant will sit out the rush to release a 5G phone next year: Apple. 

Apple’s not planning to release a 5G iPhone until 2020 or later, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing sources familiar with the plans. 

“As with 3G and 4G, the two previous generations of mobile technology, Apple will wait as long as a year after the initial deployment of the new networks before its main product gets the capability to access them, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing the company’s plans,” Bloomberg reported

This comes as Wall Street analysts have started saying that 5G is the most likely feature that could spur a big cycle of iPhone upgrades for Apple. 

But if you look at the current state of 5G, it’s obvious why Apple is sitting this round out: The technology simply isn’t ready for it. 

One photo shows it all.

Check out the Moto Z3 

Moto Z3: The First 5G PhoneYouTube/Android Central

The chunky phone above is the Motorola Z3, which was launched to much fanfare in August, claiming the title of “first 5G phone.”

But as you can see from the photos, the first ever “5G” phone is a little chunky. Once the 5G modem attachment is affixed to the Android phone, it becomes distinctly clunky and large. Part of the attachment is a battery, but that only underscores how experimental and power-hungry these new 5G electronics can be. 

And although the device was revealed in August, according to people who got to try the device, it was only a prototype, and journalists weren’t allowed to photograph the working device. The 5G mod isn’t ready yet – it will go on sale in “early 2019,” when Verizon launches its 5G network in Los Angeles, Houston, Indianapolis and Sacramento. 

Plus, if you don’t live in those specific areas, you won’t be able to use 5G connectivity.

Even a Motorola representative seems skeptical that 5G will be built into phones anytime soon. 

“If we did put [5G] in the cell phone, it wouldn’t be early 2019, it would be much later,” a Motorola director told CNET. “The four antenna modules use up a lot of space…and if you put them all in the phone, you’d wind up with a thicker phone with a much smaller screen.”

Apple doesn’t make chunky phones – think of the company’s obsession with thinness and weight – and it builds devices for a global audience. It simply wouldn’t make sense for Apple to launch a 5G iPhone if it could only work in a few cities in the United States and other developed nations, like Korea. 

It’s really hard to imagine Apple ever releasing a phone that looks like the Moto Z3 with 5G.

Even Verizon is calling 5G developments scheduled for next year a “proof of concept” in an announcement on Monday – and it’s the company building the network. 

A different kind of cellular connection 

Apple Innovation ZoneFCC

That’s not to say that Apple isn’t deeply curious about 5G.

It’s been working on the technology, Business Insider has previously reported. In 2017, Apple received approval to test “millimeter wave” connectivity, one of the key technologies underpinning 5G. Earlier this year, it deleted a job listing for a “millimeter-wave IC design engineer,” strongly suggesting that it planned to develop its own 5G chips.

Apple has also received permission to conduct new radio frequency tests inside “innovation zones” at both its Apple Park headquarters and 1 Infinite Loop campus. Apple has also joined an industry group for 5G technology. 

But it’s still unclear whether 5G technology is something that will ultimately end up in a phone, or whether the tech will instead exist as a wireless industry infrastructure or a “last mile” connection to homes or offices. 

As Business Insider previously reported, 5G may end up being a “middle mile” technology that connects so-called “small cells” to the broader network, which then connects to a phone over a standard like Wi-Fi. That means your first 5G device might not be a phone – it might be a router, instead. 

However, there are drawbacks to millimeter wave technology on a handset as well. One issue is a “propagation” problem, which means that its waves can’t travel very far before they start losing information. Another problem with millimeter waves is often it requires a clear line-of-sight between the device and the transmitter – so a 5G phone might lose signal when you go behind a wall. 

Apple’s experiments may end up being more closely related to it severing relationships with Qualcomm and Intel, which make wireless modem chips and are expected to make their own 5G chips. 

Experts have said that millimeter wave is only one technology that will make up the 5G standard, which is still being finalized. The biggest advantage to millimeter wave is that it can achieve very high data rates, with much more bandwidth than current cellular networks.

There’s a huge push from carriers, chipmakers, and others to commercialize 5G soon, though. “I’ll call it the classic ‘More G.’ In cellular, you’re going to have more capacity, more data rates, lower latency. From an operator’s point of view, it really helps them grow the capability and the network,” Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf told Business Insider in 2017. 

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