The race to 5G has been expected to reach its fruition in 2020. India isn’t ready but smartphone makers are, with the first two 5G phones in India being launched this week. What does a 5G phone really mean for you? Mint takes a look.

Who has launched 5G phones in India?

Realme and iQoo are the first companies to launch 5G-ready smartphones in India. Interestingly, both the companies are owned by BBK Electronics of China. The smartphones, Realme x50 Pro and iQoo 3, start at 37,999 and 36,999, respectively. Realme had started off as a sub-brand of Oppo and later became independent, while iQoo is a sub-brand of Vivo now. Oppo and Vivo are also owned by BBK Electronics. All three—Oppo, Vivo and Realme—rank among the top five smartphone sellers in India at present, according to market research firm Counterpoint Research.

Does a 5G-equipped smartphone matter?

Absolutely not. India doesn’t have 5G networks and won’t have them at least before the next year. Union telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said in September that the government planned to begin 5G spectrum auctions by the end of this year or early next year. Even if we assume that telecom service providers are ready to buy spectrum and then spend a few more months on final tests, it’s unlikely that 5G networks will be live in India before mid-2021. So, the fact that a phone supports 5G networks shouldn’t factor into your buying decision right now, especially if you have to pay a premium for it.

Graphic by Paras Jain/Mint
Graphic by Paras Jain/Mint

Why are companies harping on the 5G aspect then?

As an access point—a device that connects you to the internet—phones should remain ahead of network providers. So, companies are not wrong to enable 5G on their smartphones. But for a consumer in India, paying a premium for a 5G phone does not make sense. Given the saturation in the smartphone market, firms are using 5G as a way to make their phones seem “new".

What does 5G actually mean for me?

The benefits of 5G networks on consumers are not more indirect benefits. A 5G network allows better operability for Internet of Things devices such as CCTV cameras and connected cars. Anything that requires data to be transmitted dependably and fast will benefit from 5G. The difference in your connection speed will not be as evident as it was when we moved from 2G to 3G or 3G to 4G. 5G impacts the overall “smart" infrastructure more, so you will get smoother and better services from providers.

Are these other 5G smartphones right?

The Realme x50 Pro and iQoo 3 are the first in India, but Xiaomi has been showcasing the Mi Mix Alpha at some of its stores, though the company calls it a concept phones and is not ready yet to sell the device in the country. The company had earlier said it would launch at least 10 5G devices in 2020 and it is expected that some of them would make it to India as well. Smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 do have 5G variants globally, but their Indian variants do not support 5G connections right now. .

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