What is 5G for iPhone and iPad?

iPhone 11 Pro Max
iPhone 11 Pro Max (Image credit: iMore)

Apple's likely to introduce at least one 5G-supported iPhone before the end of the year. What this means isn't 100 percent clear, although we're on the case. Here's the latest information on 5G and what it means for iPad and iPhone going forward.

What is 5G?

As Joe Keller first noted, 5G is the name for the next-generation of wireless networks and encompasses several technologies and applications. As it relates to mobile, U.S. carriers are mainly focusing on two different sets of spectrum for 5G. These include the high-band millimeter wave (mmWave) and sub-6 mid-bands.


Being tested by T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon, this so-called millimeter-wave high-band 5G technology is stylized by Qualcomm. It offers low latency, which allows individual messages to get transmitted near instantaneously. For now, mmWave uses a high-frequency radio spectrum (between 24GHz and about 39 GHz), allowing for speeds exceeding 1 Gbps.

Unfortunately, mmWave has limited range and can't penetrate buildings and other objects. In time, however, this could be an excellent choice for densely-populated urban areas where tiny millimeter-wave towers could reside close together.


For suburbia and more rural areas, carriers are looking to the sub-6 mid-band, which refers to spectrum with frequencies below 6 GHz. Primarily being tested by T-Mobile and Sprint (which are about to become one company) and AT&T, this 5G version is deployable alongside existing LTE networks. It's because of this, mid-band is being implemented at a much faster rate than millimeter-wave. Another bonus: Sub-6 can penetrate walls and other objects, thereby offering a more consistent signal in more places.

Which way will Apple go?

Apple may release new iPhones this year that will specifically target the different 5G standards or produce one phone that supports them both. For guidance, Apple could turn to Samsung, which recently announced plans for the new Galaxy S20 lineup of phones. According to the Samsung website, the Galaxy S20 5G is not compatible with Verizon's high-band 5G network, although the Galaxy S20+ 5G and Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G are.

My bet: By the time Apple rolls out new iPhones this fall, it will have a way to support both standards in the same handset.

Current rumors

This fall, Apple's likely to announce four new "iPhone 12" models. Like the iPhone 11 series, the lineup should include two Pro models (perhaps the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max), but in a change, two regular models too (let's call these the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Max).

All four 2020 iPhone models should include OLED for the first time, with screen sizes as follows:

  • iPhone 12, 5.4-inches
  • iPhone 12 Max, 6.1-inches
  • iPhone 12 Pro, 6.1-inches
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max, 6.7-inches

Which of these models will support 5G isn't yet known. However, more likely than not, both Pro models will. Regardless, any 2020 iPhone will also support 4G LTE.

What about iPad

Way back in March 2012, Apple released the iPad (3rd generation), which was its first device to support LTE. The first iPhone to support LTE was the iPhone 5, which arrived six months later. With this as a precedent, it's possible the first Apple device to support 5G won't be an iPhone, but rather an iPad. Most likely, that will be the 2020 iPad Pro, which could launch in just a few weeks.

Thoughts and concerns?

What do you think about the incoming 5G iPhone(s)? Let us know in the comments below.

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.