5G phones are now available, but are they worth the cost?

5G phones worth the cost?

With global smartphone makers such as Apple, Samsung, LG and others rolling out their first 5G phones this year, many Canadians will be considering an upgrade to the latest tech during the peak selling season between now and Boxing Day.

But with 5G phones retailing for hundreds of dollars more than their 4G competitors, consumers will likely want to know what they're getting for their money. Is it worth being an early 5G adopter? Or is it more prudent to wait for 5G networks and software offerings to mature and better showcase the new generation's capabilities?

Sascha Segan, lead analyst at PCMag.com, says the latest crop of 4G phones will be a more practical choice than 5G for Canadians overall, with a few exceptions.

But Segan, who heads PCMag's annual review of Canadian mobile networks, says a lot depends on exactly where the phones are used.

"Because every city has its own quirks and its own trends in performance," he says.

In addition, wireless data speeds are dramatically lower in rural areas of Canada than in more densely populated areas — a well-known problem that's not unique to Canada.

But even if somebody chooses to buy a 4G phone, often labelled an LTE or LTE Advance phone, Segan says new hardware could well be an improvement over what they've got now.

"That's because, every year, the radios in the phones get better and they're able to access more of the channels (that) the carriers are using," Segan says.

"If you have a three- or four-year-old phone, just getting one of the latest models will be a huge jump in network performance for you."

So, for the budget conscious buyer, the question becomes a balancing act between price and performance and personal priorities.

PCMag's 2020 report on Canadian mobile networks, based on results gathered from 20 cities and a few rural areas from Sept. 14 to Oct. 15, found Bell's 5G network came out on top in 12 cities and tied for top spot with Telus in two cities including Toronto.

Telus took top spot in four cities while SaskTel and Rogers were each No. 1 in one city.

PCMag says Rogers — which had its 5G network going a few months earlier than its two main rivals and says it still covers more locations — didn't fare as well on its tests because the phone it recommended couldn't make full use of the network's capabilities.

"Rogers is using some technologies that phones won't support until next year," Segan says.

None of the Canadian carriers will offer full 5G capability until the federal government auctions more licences for specific bands of radiofrequencies, particularly 3,500 megahertz (mid-band) and millimetre wave (high-band) spectrum.

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