This is how mind-blowingly fast 5G on the iPhone 12 can be

If you’ve seen an ad for Apple’s new iPhone 12, you’ve probably heard that it supports 5G. The next-generation wireless networks promise incredibly fast downloads and uploads wherever you are, and if you subscribe to the right plan and live in the right place you’ll be able to enjoy it on any of the four major carriers.

But even if you opt for a pricey unlimited plan that includes 5G, the speeds you get might not be all you hoped for. That’s because there are two different kinds of 5G: sub-6GHz or “nationwide” 5G, and millimeter-wave or Ultra-Wideband 5G. In short: nationwide 5G is a little faster than LTE and Ultra-WideBand is ridiculously fast.

I tested two networks: T-Mobile/Sprint and Verizon. Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint subscribers all get access to the broadest nationwide plan, with a million square miles of coverage that reach hundreds of millions of people. If you live in a coverage area, you’ll get a decent speed boost, but depending on how strong the 4G LTE network is, it probably won’t be all that noticeable without running a speed test app, which is exactly what I did.

verizon 5g uwb coverage map Verizon

Verizon has a handy UWB hotspot right near my house in Connecticut.

Based on the map, T-Mobile’s 5G network is a bit broader than Verizon’s. For example, the entire state of Connecticut, where I live, is LTE-only for the most part with the fortunate exception of a small UWB area near my house. T-Mobile offers no UWB component to its 5G network yet. 

Of course, your mileage will vary, but when using T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network at my home in West Hartford, Conn., I got a top download speed of around 110Mbps, which is already much higher than T-Mobile’s national average speed of about 25Mbps. When I switched to 5G, that increased to roughly 150Mbps, an impressive jump for sure, but nothing that’s going to fundamentally change the way I use my phone.

t mobile nationwide 5g iphone 12 IDG

T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G network is quite good, but not game-changing.

You can probably expect speeds that are better than what you’ll get over LTE, sometimes significantly so. For example, my colleague Jason Cross got better than 50Mbps when connected to 5G versus just 15Mbps over LTE. Again, that’s a far cry from the multi-gig, download-movies-in-seconds promise of 5G, but it’s a nice boost.

The good thing is if you’re a T-Mobile or Sprint customer you already have access to their 5G network. The carrier includes 5G coverage on all three of its plans (Essentials, Magenta, and Magenta Plus) at no extra cost, so you’ll automatically enjoy faster speeds without needing to shell out any extra cash.

Ultra lives up to its name

5G on Verizon is a different story. While anyone with a Verizon plan will see a 5G icon on their iPhone when they’re within a coverage area, most people won’t get the speediest version of it.