Why do some 5G phones need a software update to enable 5G support?


Now that Airtel and Jio have already started offering 5G services in select cities in India, people who own a 5G phone in these regions are enjoying a high-speed 5G network. Smartphone makers have been selling 5G-ready phones since 2020. So, several people already bought a 5G phone to be future-ready. Soon after the launch of the 5G network, a lot of people realized that their 5G phone still needs an update to enable 5G.

Apple recently confirmed to roll out a software update to enable 5G in supported iPhone models before December. Samsung has also said that it would roll out updates across all its 5G devices by mid-November. Google has also started working to enable 5G for Indian carriers as soon as possible.

As opposed to premium brands, Xiaomi, Redmi, Poco, Realme, Oppo, Vivo, iQOO, and Infinix have made it really for users to enjoy the 5G network in the country. People who own a 5G smartphone from Chinese smartphone makers do not need to wait for an update to enjoy 5G. Some Samsung devices already support 5G in India but many Samsung phones still require a software update.

After memes flooded social media, a few of my friends asked me why a phone still needs an update when it was sold as a 5G phone.

The primary reason is optimization. When most brands started selling 5G phones in India, it was not clear what 5G brands will work in the country. The launch of 5G in the country was really fast. From the auction of the 5G spectrum to the launch, it happened in a very short period of time. Brands didn’t get enough to time optimize everything for a good 5G experience. So, brands simply disabled the 5G and waited until everything was made clear.

Premium brands like Apple, Samsung, and Google were selling 5G phones but they disabled the function for an important reason. When a phone supports 5G, it keeps searching for the network which could lead to battery drain. So, brands added a software lock to limit network searching to only 4G networks. That’s the reason 5G phones by these premium brands still show LTE and 4G networks in network selection.

Another reason could be the lack of ‘India Focus’. India is a big smartphone market but most people don’t spend more than Rs. 25000 on a smartphone. That’s the reason some global brands don’t consider India when designing their premium phone. Take the example of Google’s Pixel 4. This phone had Soli radar tech that uses the 60GHz frequency band. This frequency band is banned in India for commercial use. Google didn’t care for this while designing Pixel 4 because it has no considerable smartphone sales in India.

Apple and Google focus on the US market while designing their products. Some of the features in the iPhone remain exclusive to the US for a few years until Apple decides to bring them to other markets.

If Chinese brands could offer 5G as soon as the network becomes available in the country, premium brands could also do. They knew how the Indian government was pushing for the launch of 5G but they didn’t care.

Now that brands know what 5G bands are working in India, they are working on a software update to enable the 5G and optimize it for Indian 5G bands. It will take some time. That is the reason Samsung and Apple have asked for a few weeks to roll out the software update.

If you own a 5G phone in a region where the 5G network is available and your phone fails to search for 5G network, you need to wait until the brand rolls out the software update to enable the 5G support.

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