Once seen as something that was always coming but never here, 5G has well and truly arrived, with the majority of our best phones picks supporting it. But the frequency band's support has yet to be the sole reason to buy a 5G phone.
Sure, connection speeds are faster than 4G, but they aren’t as screamingly fast as promised, unless you’re in a very specific area. Usually, the best 5G speeds blanket urban areas with access to mmWave 5G, which is not widespread and requires line-of-site to antennas. And here in the U.K., 5G coverage has hardly umbrellaed over the country, and it’s the same situation or worse for many other nations.
So, for a while, 5G was very much a nice to have, but as a regular tester of phones, it wasn't something I'd advise readers to immediately drop a 4G phone for.
Granted, I’d always suggest everyone to have a form of cellular internet hotspot readily available. Hotspot is already a feature found on many of the best Android phones, which is particularly handy in these work-from-home times as having a backup internet connection can be a lifesaver when internet goes down. Even then, when checking emails to chatting with colleagues, 5G mobile hotspot is hardly a game changer.
But it is a game changer, ironically, with gaming.
How 5G got me
Games have ballooned in install size over the past few years, with the likes of Halo Infinite, Call of Duty Warzone, Forza Horizon 5, and more, taking up around 100 gigabytes of storage space. Storage management issues aside, it’s also a heck of a thing to tackle when speedy internet is not available.
Due to the frankly archaic and absurd leasehold rules around London apartments (or flats as us Brits call them), getting a fiber internet connection to a non-modern building can be very tricky. That means people like me can be stuck on older ADSL connections despite being in an area that’s covered by fiber providers.
Somewhat absurdly for a tech journalist, I am stuck on a 10 Mb/s (at best) connection. That means big game downloads can often take 24 hours, if not more. This has meant I’d leave my various game consoles on rest modes on standby where they'd download files quietly without being fully booted up. It took a while, but it meant I could leave the machines to their business overnight or when I was out and about.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has changed all that. I’m now at home a lot more, so anything sucking up my internet bandwidth, like game downloads, can make remote working a nightmare. Often, I'd need to pause the downloads while bringing you, dear readers, hot takes on tech. This ping ponging between pausing and unpausing downloads adds another battier between me getting the latest games and actually playing them.
Well turn to 5G. Thankfully, I’m in a 5G enabled area, one of the benefits if living in London's smoggy embrace. It’s not the fastest 5G connection around, and there are blind spots in my apartment. But when a good connection is established, I can get three to 10 times the connection speed of my home broadband.
I found a good deal from U.K. telecoms provider EE that gives me unlimited cellular data, something that can still be rare in other nations and through other providers, for a reasonable £25 a month. With my infuriatingly slow, and currently spotty, Sky broadband connection falling on its backside in the face of big game downloads, I decided to start using my 5G connection with game consoles.
Thanks to the simplicity on Android, especially Android 12 on my Google Pixel 6 Pro, I had a Wi-Fi hotspot set up in moments, with my Google account remembering my settings even when I moved to other Android phones. From there, it’s a simply matter of going into the Wi-Fi connection setting in the Xbox Series X or PS5 and telling it to connect to my hotspot.
Suddenly games that were taking tens of hours to download shot to being a couple of hours or even a mix of minutes. Treacle-like downloads were converted into slick installs; no longer did I have to wait to play an enticing game days after my friends had.
Bypassing bad broadband
If you find yourself in a similar connection conundrum, then I would suggest you look at doing the same as me. 5G might not yet be the promised land of instant and flawless internet connectivity, but it does wonders for my gaming life.
There are caveats of course, because this is 2021 and nothing is easy. For a start, steady connections aren’t always guaranteed, with downloads speeds fluctuating wildly if my phone isn’t put in the right spot. And sustained 5G use will see a phones’ battery life get gobbled up. It can also get rather hot. When 5G hot spotting with the Oppo Find X3 Pro and charging it at the same time, after several hours the phone complained that it was getting hot and bothered and shut off the hotspot.
It’s an imperfect solution for an imperfect situation, but it’s still a game-saving workaround for users with shoddy home internet like myself. And it finally gives me a taste of how 5G can be truly of benefit right now, rather than in an idealized future where it never seemingly arrives.
That being said, concerns over 5G interference caused by the rollout of C-band connectivity, has resulted in a cascade of U.S. flight delays and cancellations.