5G is here! Well, it's somewhere. The lovely little golden 5G transfer on the back of our shiny new Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G confirms it. As does the occasional network speed flag, IDing the super-fast connection speed is go on our Vodafone SIM.
That's the thing with 5G: it's bloomin' fast. We're talking probably-faster-than-your-home-broadband kind of speeds.
Yet - and just like a Virgin Media account, really - you'll be yo-yoing in and out of those peaks with some troughs, too, depending on where you are, what the network traffic is like, and so forth. Sure, a dip to 4G or 3G isn't the end of the world, but this is 5G, people - five-gee! - and we wanna go fast and not stop, right?
We're on the cusp of a revolution. The stepping stones have been laid. This is early days and early adopter exciting stuff. The super-fast over-the-airwaves connectivity we've always dreamed about. It's just that it's in very specific locations for the time being, as the networks develop and evolve. And 5G will only get better from here on in.
So how has a week living with a Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G on a Vodafone 5G connection been? We've been at various locations in London to check it out.
Just how fast is 5G?
So here's the thing: you're not going to get gigabit speeds on 5G. That's theoretically possible but you'll pretty much need to be in a 5G lab to obtain it.
The same could be said of 4G/LTE: that could hit 300Mbps, but, again, only in lab-like conditions. At home and you'd be lucky to hit about one-tenth of that speed.
As such, we've been finding all kinds of connectivity speeds are possible, depending on which 5G pocket you happen to be in.
At home, in north London there's no 5G just yet - it's 4G+ for us - but Vodafone was still hitting 39.4Mbps on our Mi Mix 3 5G compared to 22.0Mbps on a Three 4G SIM.
Things can get a lot faster, though, which is what we've been hunting down in London town over the past week.
Around Barbican, EC2, in particular, there's some solid connectivity around 110Mbps. Again, that's not the massive 1.3 to 1.5Gbps that we experienced on a test Swisscom network in Switzerland, but it's still faster than our home broadband - which tends to top out at around 75Mbps or so, seemingly depending on what mood it's in. It's approaching the upper ends of what 4G would ever perform at.
At best, we landed a consistent 180Mbps in the City of London - with peaks of 210Mbps - using the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G on a Vodafone 5G SIM. That's pretty darn speedy.
Small note here: Mbps is megabits (Mb) per second, not Megabytes (MB), the former being one eigth the speed of the latter. But with Netflix suggesting a 60Mbps+ connection is good enough for a 4K stream on an Ultra-HD telly at home, scoring triple that on a mobile phone is, well, it's phenomenal. You could stream all the Stranger Things - well, if you had a 4K phone like the Sony Xperia 1 (which isn't available in 5G just yet, darn it, although we've seen a preview of that).
Where is 5G available?
Vodafone plans to have 1,000 5G sites live by 2020 in 50 towns and cities. The 5G network is now live in 15 cities, including Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and London.
The list also includes Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton.
That doesn't mean every inch of each of those cities, of course, but there will be peak speeds available where Vodafone positions its infrastructure. There is a 'network status checker' page on the official site, so you can search by postcode.
How does it compare to EE's 5G?
Interestingly, EE's network covers different areas in London compared to Vodafone. Pocket-lint's editor, Chris Hall, went exploring St Paul's, London, with his EE 5G SIM and OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, hitting a whopping 620Mbps. By comparison, Vodafone doesn't offer its 5G network there - we had to head further west to Whitefriars to get a tickle to 5G (although it was jumping between 4G+ and 5G).
Does that mean Vodafone's network isn't as good? No, because there are so many parameters at play. The phone that's being used is one - we're comparing Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G (Vodafone) to OnePlus 7 Pro 5G (EE). The time of day and how busy the network is as a result will impact results. You might get a better Vodafone connection than EE down one street, then turn a corner and have the opposite happen.
But that's the interesting thing about real-world testing: we've been getting a variance of connection speeds, which will reflect what other users biting the bullet to buy into 5G will also experience. You need the hardware and the contract in play, so it's not cheap either. But when it clicks in there's a real smug satisfaction about getting those next-gen speeds.
How much does Vodafone 5G cost?
Here's where things get a bit complicated because Vodafone offers a lot of 5G contracts with various caps and restrictions. Here's a look over the Mi Mix 3 5G purchase - £29 up front with various monthly costs - which can cost up to £69 a month. Yes, sixty-nine of your finest English Pounds Sterling - or £828 a year, if you prefer to read it that way.
It needn't cost quite that much, though, but the lowest £56 per month cost restricts downloads to 2Mbps; the middle £59 per month cost restricts to 10Mbps; it's only with the £63 per month package and beyond (some extend into Entertainment packs, including Now TV, Spotify, Prime Video, and Sky Sports Mobile TV) that download speeds aren't restricted.
Do those restricted packs defeat the point of 5G? Well, no. See, 5G isn't just about speed. It's also about latency, with quicker reactions in use. So online gaming won't hang so much for server-side games, for example, while jumping through the timeline on Netflix or YouTube will have hardly any load time compared to a 4G network. We recently saw an autonomous vehicle being driven over 5G - it's that speed of reaction we're talking about.
Furthermore, 5Mbps is fast enough to stream Netflix on a mobile device. But you can easily get that on a cheaper 4G contract too, so it's something to think about.
What comes next? 6G?
Whoa there cowboy/girl! Let's not even play around with the idea of 6G just yet.
What's really exciting about 5G is how the networks will expand over time. Because the bandwidth type depends on a shorter waveform than 4G/3G, 5G requires a lot of relay points to keep its signal at best.
That's why the networks have only been able to implement it to some degree in certain areas. In the future there's talk of more towers, therefore greater transmission, along with more infrastructure - even thing like 'tech bricks' in new buildings could help relay the connection, for example - to make the networks stronger, more reliable and cover a wider distance.
So there we have it: 5G is definitely fast and lag is especially low. It's faster than 4G/LTE from the off, if you're in the right area, but don't expect the world from it yet. It might be here, but you'll be chasing it down to find it at its very best. But that's how these early adopter technologies go.