To leave 5G on or off on smartphones?

Apple iPhone 5G
A Global Data analyst said 5G on mmWave particularly drains battery life. (Apple)

Verizon customer support tweeted over the weekend that if subscribers found their 5G smartphone batteries were “draining faster than normal” they should try switching their phones to LTE to save battery life.

LightShed Analyst Walter Piecyk joked on Twitter, “Turning on LTE is another way of saying Turn off your 5G.”

The Verizon tweet has since been deleted. But the tweet said, “Are you noticing that your battery life is draining faster than normal? One way to help conserve battery life is to turn on LTE."

Verizon did not respond to a request for comment, asking whether smartphones burn through battery power as they hunt for a 5G signal.

GlobalData analyst Lynnette Luna said, “So battery drain with 5G has been a known issue as 5G is a power hog. She said that Apple has tried to ameliorate this for the iPhone 12 by developing a feature called Smart Data Mode that lets an iPhone 12 automatically choose which network to run on – not just based on what network is available. “The phone is designed to figure out the best network based on what a user is doing and will automatically switch over,” said Luna. “But then there were reports later that 5G still drains iPhone 12 devices faster.”

It’s not just the one, poor Verizon customer service rep who advised customers to switch to LTE to save battery power.

A T-Mobile website suggests toggling between LTE and 5G to save battery life on Samsung Galaxy S20 5G phones.

“In particular, the super-fast mmWave flavor has shown that battery life drains down quicker when tapping those higher power frequencies,” said Luna. “This whole issue is not unlike the early days of 4G and seems to be something the industry has always had to grapple with when it comes to every new flavor of mobile technology.”

In 2019, IEEE published an article stating that the wireless industry should have chosen a more efficient encoding option for 5G. 3GPP’s Release 15 selected orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM), a holdover from 4G, as the encoding option.

But 3GPP could potentially change this in future releases of the 5G standard in order to improve battery life in phones.

556 Ventures analyst Bill Ho said of 5G, “The industry’s been saying it’s a power savings, but really because of OFDM it’s a problem. We were a little over the skis in terms of promise. From the standpoint of technology, I think it will work itself out.”

Verizon’s 5G

Verizon has put a lot of its initial 5G focus on deploying mmWave spectrum in dense urban areas. It calls this service 5G Ultra Wideband. Because mmWave signals don’t propagate very far, the carrier has to install many, many small cells in metropolitan areas where it wants to provide 5G coverage. Those Verizon customers who have 5G-capable phones can probably find a good signal in those mmWave pockets, and so they’ll want to have the 5G capability on their phones switched on. But they will have less luck as they move away from mmWave areas, and they may want to switch on LTE, instead.

That’s all kind of a pain from the consumer’s perspective.

RELATED: Verizon launches 5G Ultra Wideband in 3 more markets

In vast regions of the country, Verizon is using lower spectrum bands to offer a combination of LTE/5G coverage via dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS). It calls this service Nationwide 5G. Unfortunately, the 5G speeds in these areas aren’t much better than the existing LTE speeds.

In a June 2020 report, Opensignal found that Verizon’s 5G network on its mmWave spectrum was delivering fantastic speeds of 494.7 Mbps. But then, in its January 2021 report, Opensignal found that after Verizon had been deploying 5G on its lower band spectrum, its average 5G speeds had dropped to 47.4 Mbps.

RELATED: 5G download speeds in U.S. at meager 47-58 Mbps range, per Opensignal

Mid-band spectrum

Verizon has recognized its need for more mid-band spectrum, which is considered the spectrum sweet-spot for 5G, between the good coverage of low-band and the high speeds of mmWave.

RELATED: The skinny on the top 5 C-Band winners

In the recent C-band Auction 107 for mid-band spectrum, Verizon spent a whopping $45.5 billion. Although some of the C-band spectrum will be ready by the end of this year, much of it won’t be available until 2023.