Who makes 5G a reality

The 5G reality: expensive tariffs, expensive smartphones, but hardly any network

At first glance, it looks as if 5G has taken the mobile communications market by storm: the providers advertise their 5G networks extensively, and the smartphone manufacturers supply the appropriate hardware. At least in the Android world, there is currently practically no new top-of-the-range device without 5G support, and Apple is also said to have jumped on the bandwagon in the coming months. On closer inspection, however, a completely different picture emerges: Currently, 5G customers are not much more than paying beta testers for mobile network providers and hardware manufacturers.

The hardware is there

What is least lacking is the hardware: Chip manufacturer Qualcomm has indirectly ensured that every top Android device of 2020 offers 5G support. And in the most effective way: The manufacturers were simply left with no choice. Anyone who wants the current top chip from Qualcomm also has to add a 5G modem.

This is very positive for 5G advocates and network operators, but less so for consumers - after all, this has meant that 2020 has become a rather expensive year for high-end smartphones. After all, all of these components cost quite a bit of money to buy, and prices for 5G modems and the associated antenna modules are only likely to move towards a level comparable to LTE in the coming years.

The fact that you sometimes get hardware that in reality only offers partial 5G support - since central frequencies of the new standard are not covered - is something the providers are less likely to raise about the big bell, as this would be the word from the Question "future security" as a purchase argument.

The nets? Rather not

A reality that fits perfectly with the current status of the 5G network. Its availability in Austria must currently be described as rudimentary at best, even with friendly consideration. It looks best at A1, where you refer to 400 locations. In the case of Magenta, on the other hand, there is only talk of 145 items, while "3" says it has almost 150 locations to offer. In practice, this means that you have to be a bit lucky to have a 5G network close by - and even more so that the mast is close enough so that something remains of the promised better performance.

But above all: Little will change in this situation in the foreseeable future. Magenta has set itself the goal of 300 locations by the end of the year, and other providers also want to gradually expand. The postponement of the second large 5G frequency auction was not necessarily helpful: the outbreak of Covid-19 led to the auction originally planned for April being postponed to August. Incidentally, the providers emphasize that this will not have any relevant effects on their own 5G plans, at least in the long term. However, this may also be due to the fact that they are not particularly ambitious anyway. Even A1 does not promise comprehensive coverage until 2023.

5G is a hodgepodge

What is also not mentioned here: 5G is not just 5G. The standard is made up of different frequency ranges. But when there is talk of significantly lower response times and significantly higher speeds, then we are talking about an area that is currently not even close to being in sight in Austria. All of this is only available in the so-called mmWave spectrum, for which no auction date is currently foreseeable. What is currently advertised as 5G in Austria, on the other hand, is largely a kind of somewhat faster LTE from the user's perspective. A nice extra, but actually not one that is worth spending a lot more money on.

But that is exactly what is currently necessary to get 5G support at all. Magenta, for example, has the cheapest 5G-compatible tariff from 45 euros per month - and that without a smartphone. With a smartphone it would be a minimum of 60 euros. The fact that the download speed is limited again to 150 Mbit / s - and thus hardly goes beyond conventional LTE tariffs - puts all the marketing into perspective again quickly. With A1 it looks very similar, and with "3" you also have to pay a lot for 5G support - but at 39 euros extra you get up to 500 Mbit / s - and 300 Mbit / s in the LTE- Network.

Delicate beginnings

In view of this, it is not entirely surprising that all mobile operators refuse to give specific answers to the question of current 5G use in Austria. With "3" you formulate it diplomatically with the note "Still within limits", with Magenta you prefer to emphasize that there are hardly any suitable smartphones left. However, it is also pointed out that the 5G-compatible tariffs would be well received, similar - and similarly vague - sounds similar to A1.

The situation remains rather unsatisfactory: Anyone who wants can currently combine an unnecessarily expensive smartphone with an unnecessarily expensive tariff in order to get almost no network. So as not to create a false impression here: In the long term, this offensive introduction of all those involved into the topic of 5G may be quite useful. Consumers should be aware, however, that there is still very little to get here for a lot of money. And that will hardly change in the near future. (Andreas Proschofsky, June 22nd, 2020)