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5G phones move downmarket, but coverage still lags



(NEW YORK) — When smartphone manufacturer OnePlus pulled the wraps off its new “Nord N10 5G,” one feature stuck out: 5G compatibility.

5G is the next generation cellular data network, which is currently being rolled out by providers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.

“5G, like 3G and 4G before it, makes everything a lot faster,” says Gizmodo’s Caitlin McGarry. “For a phone, you’ll be able to download movies in seconds, you’ll be able to install apps really quickly.”

5G phones first hit the American market in early 2019, and since then companies like Apple, Samsung, LG, and Google have all introduced compatible devices. OnePlus is hoping the N10 5G, which starts at $300, is able to introduce the data network to a new, more cost-conscious demographic.

“We looked at this as an opportunity for us to really do what we’ve done well in premium [markets] and help consumers take the next step in terms of technology,” says Brian Woods, General Manager for OnePlus North America.

The N10 5G is available exclusively through T-Mobile, and represents the carrier’s cheapest 5G offering. Other 5G devices, like Google’s Pixel 4a 5G and Samsung’s A51 5G, are available on more networks but can cost up to a hundred dollars more.

McGarry says all major carriers are still in the process of rolling out their 5G networks, which means even if customers buy a compatible device, it will likely operate on older networks much of the time.

“The speeds are extremely fast in very specific areas of certain cities. So, it doesn’t mean a whole lot for most people just yet,” said McGarry. 

But she says that may not dissuade consumers who are considering a 5G phone, because it allows the device to be “future-proof.”

“There’s really no downside to getting a 5G phone. Even if you don’t notice anything right away, it will still, in the future, be the best option to have,” said McGarry. 

Woods says the time was right for OnePlus to get into 5G devices.

“I’d say 5G is becoming, and quickly becoming, a decision point for consumers… it’s something that people are starting to think about,” said Woods. 

The N10 5G isn’t capable of operating on the fastest – and least accessible – 5G spectrum, known as “millimeter wave” 5G. Woods says they made that decision to keep the cost of the phone down.

“If you look at Verizon as an example, they tout their speed because they’ve got a great ultra-wideband network which is based on millimeter wave capability,” says Woods. “The phones that run on that network, though, are more on the higher end. We’re not seeing the marketplace deliver millimeter wave capable phones that are lower than a certain price position, and far away from where the N10 sits.”

The decision could work in OnePlus’ favor. McGarry says the slower 5G spectrums are available to a broader population.

“It’s that low- and mid-band that is really going to be most meaningful to most people that will comprise the bulk of the network,” said McGarry.

Hear ABC News Radio’s Lionel Moïse report on OnePlus’ latest 5G smartphone:

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