If you need faster mobile data, or if you’re about to upgrade your phone, you may be wondering whether or not 5G is worth paying for.
In this article, I’ll explain what 5G is, where you can find the best 5G coverage and how to determine whether or not it’s worth upgrading your phone or service plan.
I’ve looked into the best and most affordable phones and service plans that offer 5G, and I’ve looked at coverage maps to figure out how much 5G actually costs and who can benefit from it.
Table of Contents:
What Is 5G?
5G is the newest generation of mobile networks following 4G/LTE. With 5G, you can expect higher download speeds when using mobile data, lower latency (the time it takes for a device to respond to information or an action), increased reliability and more network capacity.
Basically, 5G is faster and more stable than 4G, and it’s capable of connecting a lot more devices.
While 2022 was a big year for 5G as far as network expansion and device availability, it still isn’t completely built out. T-Mobile has been expanding its 5G network for some time now, but AT&T and Verizon are still working on providing more coverage to rural areas.
To get a better idea of how 5G works, here’s a brief description from Business Insider:
The 5G standard uses millimeter waves, which are a lot shorter than the wavelengths 4G uses. The shorter wavelength means 5G can carry a lot of data much faster than 4G, but it also means a much shorter range. 4G wavelengths have a range of about 10 miles. 5G wavelengths have a range of about 1,000 feet, net even 2% of 4G’s range.
Ultimately, while 5G provides faster speeds, it isn’t yet accessible in all areas. Because 5G isn’t available everywhere and not every device supports 5G service, many people are wondering whether 5G is worth paying more money right now.
Who Has the Best 5G Coverage?
If you’re thinking about upgrading to 5G, one of the most important questions to ask yourself is whether or not you’ll have access to 5G service in your area. This will mainly depend on which phone service provider you use.
According to a recent study published by RootMetrics, T-Mobile offered the best 5G experience in the second half of 2022 for the third straight time. T-Mobile won in two of three categories: 5G availability and 5G speed. Verizon won the third category: 5G reliability. Based on a market analysis by Ookla in the fourth quarter of 2022, T-Mobile is still the best when it comes to 5G performance, availability and consistency.
To get a better idea of the 5G service offered by each of the major phone service providers and their MVNOs, I checked out each carrier’s coverage map and scores from RootMetrics and Ookla.
T-Mobile’s 5G Coverage
According to RootMetrics, T-Mobile offered the best overall 5G experience in the second half of 2022. Data from Ookla during the fourth quarter of 2022 mirror these results: T-Mobile continues to offer the best 5G performance and availability.
Based on Ookla’s study of Q4 2022, T-Mobile’s 5G performance will likely keep its first-place title for 5G performance going into 2023. In fact, the T-Mobile 5G network provided a median download speed significantly higher than Verizon Wireless and AT&T:
Despite T-Mobile’s great nationwide scores on 5G service, it’s still important to see if you’ll have 5G access in your area before making any decisions. The best way to do this is by checking T-Mobile’s coverage map.
You can visit T-Mobile’s website and enter your address to see the specific type of coverage you can expect in your area.
If you’re using a T-Mobile MVNO such as Tello (Review), Mint Mobile (Review) or Boost Mobile (Review), check the details of your plan to ensure you have access to 5G networks. You can also view these specific service providers’ coverage maps online to make sure you’ll have access to 5G service in your area.
With T-Mobile or a T-Mobile MVNO, you likely will.
Verizon’s 5G Coverage
While T-Mobile won the title of best 5G availability and 5G speed, Verizon beat both AT&T and T-Mobile in 5G reliability based on RootMetrics’ study. The study also highlighted that Verizon improved its 5G speeds and availability in many cities across the country since the first half of 2022.
In Ookla’s most recent study, Verizon continued to show improvements throughout 2022 and came in second for 5G performance behind T-Mobile. The two companies nearly tied for first place in the 5G consistency category.
Clearly, the landscape of 5G is changing rapidly. If you’re thinking about upgrading to a 5G device with service on Verizon, it’s important to make sure you’ll have access to 5G service in your area. You can do this by checking Verizon’s coverage map.
The red dots on the map indicate 5G ultra wideband service. You can see the interactive coverage map online to search for your address or location. Then, you’ll be able to see what type of service you’ll have in your area.
If you use a Verizon-owned service such as Visible (Review) or Total by Verizon (Review) or a Verizon MVNO like Twigby (Review), check to see if your specific plan offers 5G accessibility. You can also find the coverage map on each of these cell phone service providers’ websites to determine if you’ll have 5G access at home.
AT&T’s 5G Coverage
While AT&T didn’t win in any of the three 5G categories tested by RootMetrics, the study does indicate strong 5G reliability and improving 5G availability from AT&T in the second half of 2022.
In Ookla’s study during the fourth quarter of 2022, AT&T fell last in 5G performance and consistency, but it did place second in 5G availability behind T-Mobile. If AT&T does offer 5G coverage in your area, you can expect decent reliability. However, AT&T’s 5G download speeds likely won’t be as fast as T-Mobile or Verizon. Remember to check AT&T’s coverage map to see if you’ll have service in your area.
You can view the interactive coverage map online and enter your location to see the available service options.
If you’re considering an AT&T MVNO such as Boost Mobile (Review), Cricket Wireless (Review) or H2O Wireless (Review), check the details of your plan to see if it includes 5G access. If it does, you can find the MVNO’s coverage map online to see if you’ll have 5G service in your area.
Upgrading to a 5G Phone
In addition to coverage, your phone itself is important to consider when you’re thinking about switching to 5G. In fact, having to upgrade your phone is likely where most of your cost will come, as 5G is included for free on many cell phone plans now.
To see exactly how much you can expect to pay for a 5G-compatible phone, I looked at the best used, refurbished and new prices available on popular unlocked phones. The following prices are accurate as of April 2023.
|Device||5G Capability||Used Price||Refurbished Price||New Price|
|Samsung Galaxy S22||Yes||$344||$399||$699.99|
|Google Pixel 6a||Yes||$209||$230||$299|
|Samsung Galaxy S20 5G||Yes||$140||$184.99||-|
|Moto G Power||No||$77||$119.99||-|
|Samsung Galaxy S10||No||$145||$163.95||-|
The Samsung Galaxy S22, iPhone 13 and Google Pixel 6a are newer 5G-capable devices, so clearly, they’re a little pricier than older 5G-capable phones like the iPhone 12 and Samsung Galaxy S20 5G.
Still, opting for an older used or refurbished phone that isn’t 5G compatible will result in the most savings. These phones will still provide access to reliable 4G/LTE service across the country.
Is 5G Worth It?
Once you begin to understand what 5G is and learn how widely-available the coverage is in your area, the important question becomes whether or not 5G is worth it.
Since one of the biggest benefits of 5G is faster download speeds, I wanted to see exactly how great that benefit is. Will the difference in speeds be noticeably better? To find out, I consulted another study published by Ookla.
Ookla, founder of SpeedTest.net, tested 5G speeds on popular Android and iPhone devices throughout the third quarter of 2021. The results revealed that the most popular 4G devices in the U.S. were about half as fast for median download speed as the most popular 5G-capable devices.
As far as Apple devices go, the iPhone 13’s download speeds proved to be nearly three times as fast as the non-5G iPhone 11.
The study concludes that increased speed is definitely one of the benefits of upgrading your 4G phone to a 5G-capable device. You can read the full study here.
Of course, the increased speeds will be a benefit only if you have access to 5G coverage in your area. If you use T-Mobile or a 5G-inclusive plan on one of T-Mobile’s MVNOs, you’re more likely to have access to 5G service in your area. You can check out Ookla’s 5G map where 5G rollouts are tracked in cities across the globe; it’s updated weekly.
Whether you prefer T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless or AT&T, it’s important to enter your exact location on the service provider’s coverage map first to make sure you’ll have access to 5G. When considering whether or not 5G is worth it to you, knowing if you’ll have access to the network at home is one of the most important deciding factors.
No matter which service provider you use, your phone plan likely already includes free access to 5G. That means you may not have to pay any additional fees to upgrade or switch your plan. You can check your plan details online to see if 5G is included or not.
Finally, it’s important to consider the cost of a phone with 5G capability. If your current phone isn’t 5G-compatible, you will have to get a new one.
So, is 5G worth it? Unfortunately, the answer, at least for right now, is: It depends. If you need faster speeds, live in an area with 5G coverage and use a phone service provider that runs on T-Mobile or Verizon towers, upgrading to a 5G phone could be worth it for you. Plus, as 5G continues to expand, coverage and download speeds will only improve.
However, if you’re content with 4G/LTE download speeds, live in a rural area or prefer AT&T’s cell phone service, you could save a lot of money by sticking with your current phone or upgrading to one that isn’t 5G-compatible.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help determine whether or not 5G is worth it:
- Do you need faster speeds than 4G/LTE? 4G is more readily available across the country than 5G currently, and it won’t be going away anytime soon. If 4G download speeds are fast enough for your wireless needs, you may not need to upgrade to 5G.
- Do you have 5G coverage in your area? You can check the coverage map of any cell phone service provider online to see if you’ll have access to 5G in your area. If 5G isn’t in your area yet, there’s no immediate need to upgrade.
- Is your current phone 5G compatible, or are you willing to spend more money on a new phone? If your current phone is 5G-compatible, you likely won’t have to upgrade anything to get access to the faster service where it’s available. If your phone isn’t 5G-compatible, you’ll have to get a new one. Unfortunately, 5G phones are significantly more expensive on average than other phones.
If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, it’s likely worth upgrading to 5G. However, if 4G speeds will suffice, if you don’t have 5G service in your area yet or if you’re hoping to save on your next phone upgrade, there’s no immediate need to pay extra for 5G access.