Will Old Phones Work on 5G Networks?

If you’ve been paying attention to the news within the past 6 months, you’ve likely heard the latest buzzword “5G” pop up a few times. If you don’t know what it is, 5G is the fifth generation in wireless technology and all major US telecom carriers like T-Mobile, Verizon & AT&T all have 5G offerings scattered across the country. DISH Wireless, the newest telecom carrier to emerge after the T-Mobile and Sprint merger, is still working to get their standalone 5G network up by 2023. 

5G is worth all of the buzz surrounding it because it promises to deliver blazing-fast speeds that we’ve never seen before. On average, users can expect 1 Gbps with peak speeds boasting 20 Gbps. In addition to speeds, 5G has a millisecond latency making buffering a thing of the past. With 5G, you can download a full-HD season of your favorite TV in a matter of seconds. 5G will bring life to the Internet of Things, essentially connecting everything and everyone together. 

So now the obvious question is, will old phones work on a 5G network? Unfortunately, no they will not. 5G technology requires additional components to be added to your phone to access the necessary spectrum to produce 5G speeds. Therefore your phone, unless built specifically for 5G connectivity, will not be able to access a 5G network. 

If you’re a customer of AT&T and see a 5GE at the top of your phone and think that it’s 5G, it’s actually not and AT&T has come under fire for it. 5GE stands for “5G evolution” and is just 4G LTE branded to look like 5G. 

To understand why your phone doesn’t have 5G connectivity, it’s key to understand that not all 5G is built the same, and there are different types of 5G based upon the radio frequencies the carrier is using and what your phone is built to access. The sub-6 GHz spectrum uses low-band frequencies that can travel far distances- perfect for more rural and suburban areas. The mmWave boasts incredibly fast speeds on the high-band spectrum but a major con is that the signals on this spectrum are easily disrupted by buildings, trees, walls and other things. It’s best to think of the mmWave as a hot spot, which is why you’ll see this type of technology in densely packed urban areas or huge venues like concert halls or sports stadiums. The mid-band frequencies are around the 2.5GHz spectrum are a good balance between the low and high-band frequencies. 

As it stands, all of the 5G phones available will work on a specific band and not on all three like they likely will in the future. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G phone uses the high-band mmWave on Verizon but only uses the low-band 600MHz on T-Mobile. Both phones are 5G capable but based upon their carrier their speeds vary. 

The reason why 5G phones will be more complex in the future is because they require special antennas and a separate modem to access the full 5G spectrum. The mmWave spectrum is easily disrupted by barriers so phone makers are having to put 3-4 mmWave antennas around your phone so that at least one of the antennas can receive a signal when making calls or downloading movies since your hand can be a barrier. The special equipment needed for 5G phones is another reason why you’ll see 5G phone prices grow, because of the complex build. 

So will your old phone work on a 5G network? No, not unless you’ve purchased a new phone that’s made specifically for 5G networks, it will not work. And even if you have a 5G phone, you’ll need to be in a city with 5G coverage for it to work. Eventually, all future 5G phones will work harmoniously across all of the bands as the technology matures and networks provide more 5G coverage. You can stay up-to-date on all 5G device news here