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There’s been quite a lot of noise being made about the new 5G networks. They’re being sold as the best thing since peanut butter on sliced bread, and soon to invalidate even the 4G/LTE phones. So, everyone is being told that upgrades are a must and we must do so now! But is it true? How quickly do we really need to do this, and how can we acquire a 5G capable phone on the cheap – Frugalite style?
What is 5G?
First of all, what exactly is 5G? According to Wikipedia, it’s the fifth generation standard for broadband cellular networks. The rollout began in 2019 and is now available across the nation. It’s touted as being better, stronger, and faster due to greater bandwidth and server unification, thereby allowing faster download speeds and superior Internet connectivity.
5G will also allow better Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, and therefore, new IoT applications. 4G/LTE phones aren’t capable of using the new service, and anything earlier such as 3G is essentially now junk. Flip phones are allegedly junk as well.
But wait! Is it true? And how soon will the new network be completely deployed?
Will 5G outdate my phone?
Technology advances with almost breathtaking speeds. Someone wanting to stay on the cutting edge needs to replace devices every few years, even though the old device is works.
The lifespan of phone network technology has decreased from 30 years for 2G to about 10 years now. Both 2G and 3G were sun-setted in 2020, largely due to the need for proper spectrum to run the newer technologies. So if you have one of those phones, you likely will have upgraded by now or are looking hard at upgrading. Unfortunately, both 2G and 3G soon will no longer work, period.
How long will 4G/LTE work?
But how about 4G/LTE? This was rolled out in 2008 and is still working (at the moment). These 4G networks are currently deployed globally, but how long will they last before we have to upgrade? The good news is: at least another decade!
According to Digi, 4G sunset notices aren’t expected until 2030, so those devices have some useful life in them yet. There’s no need to listen to the marketing hype and rush out to buy the shiniest, most expensive, top of the line model on the shelf.
But let’s say you do want to upgrade. What are your options? Do we really have to buy the expensive stuff, or can we stick with the dumb phones?
But I want to upgrade!
Sadly, most flip phones, TracFone, Jitterbug, and older smartphones are going away in 2022. These are 3G phones and as explained above, the network facilities are being used for the newer 4G and 5G technologies. So if you have one, you must upgrade. No ifs, ands, or buts.
So, what are our choices when upgrading? A smartphone isn’t the only option, but it might be the best option for many. The major suppliers are Apple, Samsung, LG, and a very few later model flip phones from Kyocera and Sunbeam Wireless. There are options in both iOS and Android and prices ranging from $49.95 to $1000.
Here’s a nice write-up on the best phones for seniors-and anyone else who just wants a basic connectivity without all of the bells and whistles.
Which 5G phones are Frugalite-friendly?
Let’s start with the phones which have the most bells and whistles: the iPhone 13 (or 12) and the Samsung Galaxy S21.
Both of these phones are about the same price, $799 vs $800 with similar processor speeds and capabilities, with lovely, large 6” screens. Those screens matter if you’re looking something up! I started using my first bifocals during my 40s, and it’s been a few years since I was a bifocal rookie. I like larger screens. You may as well.
Samsung does have slightly faster graphics displays, if that matters. Both phones have lovely cameras, but if you really want a LiDAR scanner you’ll have to buy either the iPhone Pros or the Samsung Ultras, in the $1000-$1200 range. Here’s a nice, side by side comparison of the two.
One thing I was very surprised to note while researching my own iPhone upgrade: the prices for most of the iPhone 11 4G/LTE phones in the refurbished store were actually more expensive than the very basic iPhone 12, which is 5G capable. There are a few cheaper older models as of this writing, and they do support Voice Over LTE (VoLTE), so you’ll be good to go.
Samsung also offers refurbished phones, some of which are pretty cheap. The lowest cost phone is $250 as of this writing. Both companies offer trade-ins on your old phones, which can help mitigate the cost.
Are 5G phones secure?
One huge consideration is security. How easy is it for my smartphone to be hacked or infected with malware? The short answer is this: iOS is by far more secure than Android.
The reasons for this are many: Apple not only keeps strict control of its OS vs. Android’s open source platform, but Apple also vets App Store offerings to remove those infected with malware. That’s not to say that an iPhone is unhackable: it’s not.
Take a look at the Pegasus Papers, and you’ll see a very sophisticated application being used to surveil iPhones. Yet even despite this, the risk of being hacked with iOS is simply less than the Android OS.
Are there secure 4G phones?
OK, but you love your flip phone and just don’t want a smartphone. You have options! (Not many, but there are some.)
Those that are 4G/LTE capable include the ZTE Cymbal Z320 ($117.99), the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 (which advertises 5G support but costs $850), the Nokia 2720 ($179), and a TracFone (now T Mobile) Alcatel MyFlip 4G ($49.95). There’s also the Sunbeam S1 models ($195) but choose carefully! While they’re 4G capable, they’re also Android and therefore quite hackable. The Google Pixel 5a With 5G ($449) is also Android-based and doesn’t support mmWave connectivity.
These are available from a number of retailers and it’s worth your time to be sure your preferred carrier supports them. It’s also worth your time to be sure that the flip phone you’re considering is either 4G/LTE or 5G capable, since there are still 3G phones on the market. Since the entire point of upgrading is the fact that 3G is being phased out, we obviously don’t want any of those. Caveat emptor, right?
Here’s a comparison of flip phones available on today’s market. Options 1-4 are most suited to our purpose.
Saying ‘goodbye’ to 4G and ‘hello’ to 5G
So there you have it! A quick rundown of why owners of 3G phones will have to upgrade and a few options for doing so without breaking the bank.
Good news: 4G/LTE phones will continue to work for at least a few years, so if you have one of those, you don’t have to hurry. But the best news? There are still flip phone options! I strongly suggest some due diligence and checking with your preferred carrier, because a technology in flux might mean that your new phone isn’t supported.
What are your thoughts on the situation though? Are there other frugalite means of 5G phones you’ve found? Let us know in the comments below!
Jayne Rising is a gardener and bookworm with a BS from the University of Wisconsin and a Master Gardener certification. She’s been growing food on her small urban lot since 2010 and teaching others how to do it since 2015. She’s involved in a number of local urban agriculture initiatives, working to bring a sustainable and healthy food system back into the mainstream.