When you look at the top corner of your phone, what do you see? Upon upgrading to Android 11 or iOS 14, you'll see either "5G," "5G+," or "5G E" if you're connected to the right network. But what exactly do these symbols mean? They indicate not only if you're using 5G, but also what type you're connected to.
3GPP (the folks who created the 5G standard) opted for multiple ranges of frequencies to provide 5G. This was the best solution for carriers, as they were able to roll out 5G in a way that was both fast and less costly. Unfortunately, these frequencies provide a different experience on 5G, resulting in multiple icons.
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If your phone has a 5G modem, you will see one of two symbols: 5G or 5G+. 5G means your phone is currently connected to 5G NR on a sub-6 GHz frequency. Bands in this range provide better coverage but slower speeds. The higher the frequency, the faster your download speeds.
Unfortunately, this icon won't tell you if you are connected to low-band (less than 1 GHz) or a mid-band (1–7.125 GHz) 5G, but a quick speed test will give you a rough idea, as low band gets download speeds of 30–250 Mbps and mid-band gets 100–900 Mbps.
T-Mobile has been adding this icon on their phones even when they are not connected to the 5G network, so if you are unsure, download the app Signal Spy (on Android) or enter Field Test Mode on your iPhone to see what connection you have.
Then there is 5G+. If you happen to be lucky enough to see this symbol in your status bar, rejoice — you have access to a multi-gigabit connection. 5G+ indicates you're connected to a mmWave 5G NR tower, short-range radios that deliver breakneck speeds. Performing a speed test will reveal download speeds of 1–3 Gbps. For context, 4G LTE averages around 0.025 Gbps on most US carriers.
For those on Verizon, you may see 5G UWB in the status bar. This is the marketing name for its mmWave network and is the same as 5G+.
Sorry to tell you, but if you see 5G E, you are not on a 5G network. This symbol is fake 5G, and in fact, you're connected to an LTE Advanced network. You may see faster speeds than a typical 4G network but nowhere near 5G or 5G+. Unfortunately, Android 11 had added this symbol, and AT&T already includes this icon in the status bar of several phones.
Pictures by Jon Knight/Gadget Hacks
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