Many 5G smartphones have problems transmitting over 5G

The range of 5G smartphones on the market has grown significantly. Not only the Android providers such as Samsung, OnePlus and Xiaomi have suitable models in their range. Apple has also equipped its current iPhone 12 with 5G. But there are reports that some 5G smartphones cannot transmit over 5G. What’s behind it?

5G is the latest network standard, which in the future should leave even the fast 4G / LTE far behind. Data rates in the gigabit range are theoretically possible where the 5G networks have already been expanded. In order to be able to surf the 5G network, users not only need a suitable tariff, but also a 5G smartphone. But some of the current 5G smartphones have problems dialing into the 5G network. One of the reasons for this lies in the type of network expansion.

5G networks 

At the beginning of the 5G roll-out in Germany, Telekom and Vodafone relied exclusively on frequencies in the 3500 and 3600 MHz range. The so-called band n78, on which all providers transmit in the long term, scores with its large bandwidth and high data transmission speeds. However, the radio range is very small here, so that the n78 band is mainly used in cities.

In contrast, the bands n21 (at 2.1 GHz, especially Deutsche Telekom), n3 (at 1.8 GHz, especially Vodafone) and n28 (at 700 MHz) are available for expansion across the country, i.e. in rural areas especially Vodafone) relevant. They have a long range, but the maximum data rate is significantly lower than with 5G at 3500 or 3600 MHz – sometimes it even lags behind the LTE maximum of 500 Mbit / s.

The high data rates and short latency times advertised so often with 5G are therefore hardly possible in the standard over our current networks. Because so far they have only been so-called non-stand-alone networks (5G NSA). So you are not independent, but need an LTE anchor network. In many places, providers are relying on DSS (Dynamic Spectrum Sharing) antenna technology for network expansion. It allows the parallel operation of 4G / LTE and 5G in the same frequency range. The 5G expansion with DSS is relatively quick and, above all, cheaper because one antenna can supply an area with LTE and 5G at the same time. But the technology also has disadvantages. Because it poses problems for some 5G smartphones and prevents them from dialing into the 5G network.

Smartphones that are known to have this problem are, for example, the iPhone 12 series from Apple and the current Galaxy smartphones. But owners of a OnePlus 8 model also report connection problems online.

That is why DSS poses problems for 5G smartphones

But why is that so? With DSS technology, the network recognizes the need for 5G and LTE in real time. If mainly LTE devices are in use in a radio cell, more capacity is allocated to them. Conversely, the same applies to 5G cell phones. This efficient distribution of resources is one of the main arguments in favor of DSS technology in the 5G expansion.

However, the 5G networks developed in this way require an LTE anchor band in order to be able to connect to the core network. Hence the term non-stand-alone. 5G smartphones must therefore not only support the necessary 5G frequency, but also the frequency of the LTE anchor cell if they want to dial in using the new cellular standard. The problem:  .

If the frequencies of the 5G carrier and the LTE anchor cell are too close to each other – for example in the range of 2100 MHz for 5G and 1800 for LTE – the cell phone remains in the LTE network and does not switch to 5G, as actually intended. The combination of frequencies mentioned is often used by Telekom, for example, in metropolitan areas. Many 5G smartphones have problems with 5G reception here. In rural areas, however, it looks different. Telekom also offers LTE on 800 or 900 MHz, while 5G is implemented on 2100 MHz. In this case, the frequencies are significantly further apart, which means that the smartphones can easily dial into the network via 5G.

At Vodafone, the problem is usually the other way around. The provider often uses 5G on 700 MHz and an LTE anchor on 800 MHz on the route. The frequencies are therefore very close again, which means that 5G smartphones cannot find a network. In cities, Vodafone also offers 5G on 1800 MHz together with an LTE anchor on 800 MHz. End devices cope much better with this combination.

It works better with O2

O2 currently offers 5G almost exclusively in cities and relies on 3500 MHz. The frequency range is thus significantly higher than the frequencies used for LTE between 700 and 2600 MHz. So actually all 5G smartphones should also support O2’s 5G network and have no problems connecting.

Also read: Do I need a contract with 5G now?

What can users do?

Users usually have no way of checking which combinations of 5G and LTE anchors the respective model supports before buying a 5G smartphone. Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone are aware of the problems. You have already announced that you will make this information available in your shops in the future. It remains to be seen whether this information only applies to 5G smartphones that are obtained from the provider, or whether retail devices from free trade are also included.

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