The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 5G model has been unveiled, but if you didn't think 5G was complicated enough, things just turned even more so. The latest on the new 5G model is that it will work with Verizon's fastest network but won't access AT&T and T-Mobile's fastest.
The reason comes down to different modems in the new Galaxy Note 10 5G. Not every carrier will get the same modem in their 5G model. No. 1 US Carrier Verizon Wireless will receive the Galaxy Note 10 5G with Qualcomm's X50 modem, designed to work with Verizon's millimeter-wave 5G spectrum. Millimeter-wave spectrum provides blazing speeds but does so over short distances. With Verizon's small cell deployment in major cities in the US (nine, with 30 more to go this year, Verizon says), the Galaxy Note 10 5G has good coverage and should have excellent performance.
AT&T and T-Mobile, on the other hand, are trying to future-proof their networks with modems that won't work with their current ones. AT&T and T-Mobile will get the Galaxy Note 10 5G bearing Qualcomm's new X55 modem instead of the X50 modem in Verizon's 5G model. The new X55 modem is designed for sub-6 5G, referring to mid-band spectrum (between 2.5GHz and 4.2GHz; the general term refers to "under 6 (GHz)". Verizon's Note 10 5G with its X50 modem won't be able to access mid-band, but AT&T and T-Mobile's will.
While this is good news for AT&T and T-Mobile and will give them better penetration into buildings for better coverage than Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have built millimeter-wave networks that can't be accessed with mid-band spectrum. Mid-band spectrum provides better building penetration than millimeter-wave, but millimeter-wave spectrum provides faster data speeds. So, with that said, AT&T and T-Mobile Note 10 5G models will provide good 5G coverage, but not fast 5G data speeds.
Verizon will provide fast 5G data speeds in the nine cities where spectrum is already deployed, but building penetration will prove its greatest drawback — not to mention how excessively warm handsets can become when accessing millimeter-wave spectrum. CNBC addressed Verizon about how handsets turn hot when accessing its network early on, with the Wall Street Journal saying that a smartphone had to be placed into a freezer to get it to cool down after accessing 5G data for just a matter of minutes.
Aside from the issues with 5G, millimeter-wave, low-band, and mid-band spectrum and their strengths and weaknesses (some have better building penetration while others have faster data speeds), there is the issue of exclusivity on Samsung's latest 5G model. Big Red carrier Verizon will be the first to get its hands on the $1,300 Galaxy Note 10 5G, while the other three carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint) must wait at least 30-60 days before they can offer the handset. Estimates say these three carriers won't get to touch the new 5G model until October at the earliest.
Tech site PCMag's own study of 5G Service Plans found that Magenta UN-carrier T-Mobile and giant Verizon offer smaller data packages while charging as much as $4 per GB of 5G data. In contrast, Sprint, who has the only mid-band spectrum available currently in the US for better building penetration, offers the most affordable data buckets for the price. Verizon is the most miserly of the Big Four, owning eight times the spectrum that all other US carriers do while refusing to give up much data to customers. Verizon is slowly changing, with new 5G plans recently that give a little more data to customers than before.
As can be seen from the information above, AT&T and T-Mobile are doing what they can to improve their networks. AT&T has already improved its 4G network (infamously called "5G Evolution"). T-Mobile just acquired majority Softbank-owned Sprint and will use Sprint's 2.5GHz spectrum to roll out its 5G network at a faster pace. With Sprint's Extended Network and reach into rural areas, T-Mobile will accomplish in the merger what it couldn't accomplish solo.
Verizon has tons of millimeter-wave spectrum, but the carrier is also rolling out its Ultra Wideband spectrum that will benefit cities. Verizon's test will come with 5G in rural areas, as the carrier's network is said to be heavily congested in urban areas and non-existent outside city limits. T-Mo CEO has already said that Verizon is "clueless" about its 5G strategy.
In short, if you're a Verizon customer and urban resident, you'll enjoy your 5G data speeds but may lack sufficient building penetration. If you're an AT&T and T-Mobile customer, you'll need to wait until a 5G model is released that supports the millimeter-wave spectrum your carriers already own or their mid-band spectrums are near complete (or both). The headache isn't worth the futureproofing right now; maybe next year.