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Samsung Galaxy S20 5G: What you need about 5G on Samsung's latest

© Angela Lang/CNET

By Eli Blumenthal, CNET

Samsung's Galaxy S20, S20 Plus and S20 Plus Ultra hit stores on Friday, March 6 and with it, the first big 5G launch gets underway. While the Galaxy S10 line from last year was largely 4G-focused, Samsung's S20 phones are the first major family of devices to incorporate 5G on every US carrier, and they're ready from the get-go to tap into the country's nascent 5G networks.

Since the launch of 5G in 2019, networks have matured over the year and 5G phones are more capable thanks to the upgraded 5G-compatible Qualcomm chips inside them.  All the S20 phones will support 5G in addition to 4G LTE in the US on all four major carriers.

But that's not to say each carrier will be getting the same phones or that each experience will be the same. If you're considering buying an S20 for the 5G capabilities, here is what you'll need to know.


The devices

© Provided by CNET   5G will be present on all forms of the S20. Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung has three main Galaxy S20 phones in its lineup: the S20, S20 Plus and S20 Ultra. The phones share many features, but one area the S20 will differ from its more powerful (and pricier) siblings is when it comes to 5G.

Both the S20 Plus and Ultra will support the fast millimeter-wave 5G networks deployed by Verizon , AT&T and T-Mobile , as well as the low-band and midband 5G networks that AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint use.

Verizon plans to launch 5G on other bands this year but has yet to specify exactly when. Its S20 phones should be capable of using those bands when available.

This is a break from Samsung's first 5G devices -- the S10 5G and Note 10 Plus 5G -- which either supported just millimeter-wave 5G or low-band and midband 5G, due to limitations with Qualcomm's first 5G modem. With Qualcomm's new X55 modem and latest Snapdragon 865 processor, those limitations go away.

The S20 for AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, meanwhile, will only support the lower and midband 5G networks and lack the chips necessary to tap into the millimeter-wave networks.

© Provided by CNET   The rear of the Galaxy S20. Sarah Tew/CNET

Verizon will have a special version of the S20 that works on millimeter-wave and lower and midbands, but it won't be available until the second quarter.


The carriers

AT&T

AT&T will have all four new Galaxy phones, including the three S20 versions.

The S20 will work on its low-band 5G network, what AT&T calls simply "5G," while the Plus and Ultra will work on that network as well as the millimeter-wave "5G Plus" service that the carrier has turned in on in parts of 35 cities.

AT&T is expanding its 5G low-band market count on Tuesday to coincide with the Galaxy S20 news, to bring its total list up to 45 markets. 

In addition to 5G and 5G Plus (on the S20 Plus and Ultra), as mentioned above all of AT&T's S20 phones will still support 4G LTE, which it calls "5GE."

Plans: To take advantage of any AT&T 5G service, you will need to also subscribe to AT&T Unlimited Extra or Elite plans. 


Verizon

Verizon only currently offers 5G over millimeter-wave (what it calls "ultra-wideband") and as such will only be offering the millimeter-wave capable S20 Plus and Ultra at launch, but not the base S20.

Although it is unclear when exactly Verizon will turn on its lower-band 5G, the S20 Plus and Ultra will be able to support it when it does go online.


That special version of the base S20 with support for millimeter-wave and low-band 5G is coming in the second quarter of the year.

Plans: Verizon includes 5G with its Play More, Do More and Get More unlimited plans. Those on its cheapest Start unlimited plan will need to pay $10 more a month for 5G, which brings it to the same price as the Do More or Play More plans.


T-Mobile

T-Mobile's 5G strategy is a bit trickier due in part to its merger with Sprint.

The carrier will have all three S20 phones, including the low- and midband-only S20, which shouldn't be a problem for T-Mobile, as it has a nationwide 5G network on its 600MHz low-band spectrum.

The S20 Plus and Ultra, meanwhile, will be capable of tapping into those 5G networks as well as the millimeter-wave service T-Mobile has turned on in a handful of cities.

All three phones, like T-Mobile's earlier 5G phones last year, will be able to work with Sprint's 5G midband network once the still-pending merger goes through.

Plans: T-Mobile does not require any special plans to use 5G.


Sprint

Like its merger partner, Sprint will carry all three S20 phones. With its midband 5G network Sprint's S20 phones will offer a good mix of 5G coverage and speed increases, though the rollout of its new network has largely stalled at the nine cities it launched last summer. (For the Super Bowl it turned on 5G in some parts of Miami as well and has kept the network active even if it doesn't officially list Miami on its 5G website.)

Although the carrier's earlier 5G devices were announced to be compatible with T-Mobile's millimeter-wave 5G, it is unclear at the moment if the S20 phones will support that and/or T-Mobile's low-band 5G network.  CNET has reached out to Sprint for comment and will update when they respond.

Plans: Sprint requires 5G users to be on its Unlimited Premium or Unlimited Plus plans.

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