Why is it so difficult to get 5G network on your smartphone?

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When 4G was introduced in India, nobody really gave it much thought. People continued using their phones while the networks seamlessly connected to the speedier 4G long-term evolution (LTE) networks and gradually abandoned the voice-only 3G networks. Now, despite the 5G network marketing blitz by Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, even the tech-savvy are wondering how to get 5G on their 5G-enabled phones. This explainer should help you cut through the noise.

Do 5G phones need a software update?

You will mostly not get to see the 5G signal on your phone until the phone brand sends you a software update, even if you have bought a ‘5G ready’ phone. The reason is that smartphones are programmed to continuously search for the best possible 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. ‘5G ready’ phones do have the hardware to connect to a 5G network but when shipping them to India, brands used a so-called ‘soft lock’ to prevent these phones from connecting to 5G networks and drain their batteries. Several phone makers have offered deadlines within which you will receive a software update that enables 5G connections on your phone. Apple and Samsung have promised updates that will enable 5G on Indian devices by December. Check the ‘software update’ section on your phone regularly, for this.

Have you checked your network setting?

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, go to 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?

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. The same was required at the user’s end as well in the form of a new SIM card that would identify you on a 4G network. However, 5G 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, Jio, which is building a SA 5G network in the country, says existing SIM cards will do.

Has 5G been rolled out in your area?

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

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