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Why is it so hard to get 5G on your phone?

Why is it so hard to get 5G on your phone?
Photo Credit: 123RF.com
22 Nov, 2022
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When 4G was introduced in India, nobody really gave it much thought. We continued using our phones while the networks seamlessly connected to the speedier 4G long term evolution (LTE)  networks while gradually abandoning the voice-only 3G networks. Now, despite the 5G network marketing blitzkrieg by Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, even tech-savvy persons are wondering how to get 5G on their 5G-enabled phones. "Do I need a software update, an invitation to connect, or read a lengthy frequently asked questions (FAQs) list?", are some of the questions they're asking. This explainer should help you clear the air.

5G phones need a software update. Really?

You will mostly not get to see the 5G signal on your phone until the brand whose phone you own sends you a software update, even if you have bought a ‘5G ready’ phone since last year. The reason is that smartphones are always programmed to continuously search for the best possible telecom network signal. This is also why you will notice that your phone battery drains out faster if you are constantly switching across patchy network areas.

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‘5G ready’ phones do have the hardware to connect to a 5G network but when shipping them to India, brands used a soc-called ‘soft lock’ to prevent thse phones from connecting to 5G networks and drain their batteries. Different phone makers have offered deadlines within which you would receive a software update that enables 5G connections on your phone.

Apple and Samsung, for instance, have promised updates that enable 5G on Indian devices by December. Check the ‘software update’ section on your phone regularly, for this.

Have you checked your network setting?

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Your next task would be to ensure that you have selected the right mobile data network on your phone. Typically, every smartphone selects the highest network quality available on its firmware to give you the fastest connectivity speed.

To be doubly sure, access your phone network settings, and select mobile data. If your phone has the requisite firmware to access 5G networks, there will be a ‘5G/LTE’ or similar label under the mobile data settings. Make sure that this is checked. An 'Auto Connect' typically gives you coverage for all networks (3G/4G/5G).

Do you need a new SIM?

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The upgrade from 3G networks to 4G, which happened around seven years ago, required telecom service providers to completely upgrade the core infrastructure of older networks in order to enable 4G services. The same was required on users’ ends as well — in the form of a new SIM card that would identify you on a 4G telecom network. 5G, on the other hand, is built on the existing core framework of 4G. As a result, you do not need a new SIM to access 5G services.

Your existing SIM will continue to offer 5G connectivity, at least for all non-standalone (NSA) 5G networks. The latter is the type of 5G network where the user-end connectivity node is upgraded — and not the core of the network. While standalone (SA) 5G networks are theoretically stated to require new SIM cards, Reliance Jio, which is building an SA 5G network in the country, says existing SIM cards will remain compatible with its 5G network.

Has 5G been rolled out in your region?

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Your final step would be to wait for 5G networks to become available in your region. Both Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have regularly offered announcements in terms of regions where 5G services are being launched. You will likely receive an intimation of the same, when 5G becomes available in your network circle.

And what if all of these don't work?

We tried our best to help. Now wait patiently or dial the telco helpline.

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