Consumers can finally access 5G mobile speeds for themselves now that Telstra's next-gen network is active and three compatible phones have hit the market. But a wait-and-see approach might be prudent for most customers given the early state of the 5G rollout and relatively high cost of the devices.
The promise of 5G, at least for mobile phones, is faster uploads and downloads, lower latency and a connection that stays stable even if many people are using it in the same area.
In my own testing, I've been regularly getting around 200Mbps download speeds, and around 50Mbps up, on Telstra's 5G network. Which is good, though not that much better than what you'd expect on a solid 4G connection. Latency was low in my testing, but again similar to 4G.
A benefit of jumping on 5G early could be getting the network all to yourself and avoiding congestion on the train while everyone else is fighting for a piece of the 4G network, but the problem at the moment is that the areas covered by 5G are much too small to make this a reality.
In Melbourne, I got coverage in parts of the Tullamarine Airport, Southern Cross Station and the Bourke Street Mall, but walking around the CBD would result in mostly 4G with 5G connecting now and then, which isn't that handy if you're looking to download something rapidly. On a handful of occassions, my phone said 5G but I had no apparent internet connection and had to manually shift back to 4G to fix it.
It was a similar situation in Sydney, where I got 5G reception at Milson's Point and parts of The Rocks, but mostly 4G elsewhere and the occasional connectivity problem. Telstra has maps of its coverage for all cities on its website.
Of course, the network is constantly expanding and improving, and will only get faster, more consistent and more widespread with every month. But since the experience right now won't be much of an upgrade for the majority of people, buying a brand new phone for it might be tough to justify.
The phones themselves are all big, multi-camera, high-end affairs with their own respective gimmicks and selling points.
Samsung's Galaxy S10 5G has everything you'd expect from a Galaxy phone (except a MicroSD card slot, which is missing), wrapped in a massive 6.7-inch screen and featuring time of flight cameras front and back for improved blurry-background portraits. LG's V50 ThinQ 5G has advanced sound and music capabilities as well as a detachable secondary screen that lets it act something like a foldable phone, with multiple usable apps displayed at once. Oppo's Reno 5G has a hidden selfie camera that sits on a motorised pop-up so there are no interruptions on the front of the screen.
All three phones are great flagship-quality devices, but all three also come with a cost premium over their respective 4G variants. You can see how they fared in initial speed tests here.
Telstra and Optus are in the throes of rolling out their respective 5G networks and a number of smartphone makers are already pushing their new handsets, hoping to grab the first early adopters. At a string of events at Telstra's flagship store in Sydney, three handsets were put to the test to find Australia's fastest 5G handset. Here's what happened.
Looking specifically at the total cost when paying for the phone monthly through Telstra, the $2016 S10 5G is $800 more than the S10+, which is a bit smaller and lacks the time of flight cameras but retains a microSD card slot. The $1728 V50 is $500 more than the LG G8S, which of course does not include a secondary screen.
The Oppo Reno 5G seems to be an exception to the rule, with its $1260 total quite close to that of its 4G counterpart the Reno 10x Zoom at $1199. But it appears this is a case of Telstra subsidising the phone to make for an attractive lower-priced 5G phone, as at retail the Reno 5G goes for $1499. LG and Samsung's 5G phones are exclusive to Telstra for the time being, so you won't find them in Australian stores.
In real terms, assuming you're paying the phone off over 36 months and also paying for Telstra's medium data plan, the price difference means you'd be paying a minimum of $94 per month for a Galaxy S10+ and a minimum of $116 per month for the S10 5G. But keep in mind that 5G access through Telstra will attract an additional $15 fee from July 1 next year, which would bring the premium to $37 per month for the benefit of 5G on your S10.