Samsung’s new flagship smartphones are incredibly expensive and set a worrying precedent that 5G is only for those who can afford it

  • Almost all top-spec Android smartphones of 2020 will come with 5G connectivity because the premium Qualcomm chip of 2020 supports 5G connectivity by default.
  • Samsung’s latest Galaxy S20 phones with 5G start at $US1,000, and there’s no cheaper version of the Galaxy S20 like there was with the Galaxy S10.
  • The high price of Samsung’s Galaxy S20 phones set a worrying precedent that the cost of entry for 5G is high, and it will only be available to those who can afford it.
  • 5G wireless plans are also more expensive, or are only available on the most expensive plans.
  • Still, brand new generations of tech are often expensive at first, and prices come down when they flow into the mainstream. Let’s hope the same goes for 5G.
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This year, the majority of premium top-spec Android phones will have 5G connectivity because the latest premium mobile chip from Qualcomm supports 5G by default.

That’s great, as 5G is said to herald in a new age of seamless, fast, responsive internet speeds on our smartphones, making any buffering or slow speeds from today’s 4G LTE networks a thing of the past.

But 5G is proving to be an expensive innovation.

Samsung’s latest Galaxy S20 phones are among the first to run on the 5G Snapdragon 865 chip, and they’re incredibly expensive. To be sure, smartphones in general have been getting pricier and pricier, but at least there’s usually a less expensive alternative.

Not this time with Samsung’s Galaxy S20 lineup, and it’s setting a worrying precedent that suggests 5G is only for those who can afford it. Here are the signs:

All of Samsung’s latest Galaxy S20 phones support 5G, and the cheapest S20 you can buy starts at $US1,000, whereas the Galaxy S10e from 2019 started at $US750.

The Galaxy S20 phones sure are pretty, and they can connect to fast 5G networks, but they’re awfully pricey. Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

Yes, the Galaxy S10e was a slightly pared down version of the full-fat $US900 Galaxy S10. But the point is that there’s no cheaper “e” version of the 5G Galaxy S20.

The $US750 Galaxy S10e had the majority of core features and specs as the $US900 Galaxy S10. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

It’s not a simple case of rising smartphone prices.

The iPhone 11, right, costs $US250 less than the iPhone 11 Pro and still maintains the majority of core features and specs. Crystal Cox/Business Insider

No doubt, smartphones have been getting more expensive, but smartphone makers like Apple and Samsung have also offered cheaper alternatives to counter those rising prices – there was the $US750 iPhone Xr for the $US1,000 iPhone XS in 2018, the $US750 iPhone 11 for iPhone 11 Pro in 2019, and the $US750 Galaxy S10e for the $US900 Galaxy S10 in 2019.

And most carriers charge more for 5G in their plans, too, or only include 5G in their pricier plans.

T-Mobile’s coverage map shows 5G coverage in dark purple, and 4G LTE in lighter purple. T-Mobile

AT&T and Sprint, for example, only includes 5G access in their two most expensive plans. Verizon offers 5G access on all its plans, but it charges an extra $US10 for 5G. It’s offering 5G access for free with its plans for a limited time at the time of writing.

T-Mobile is the only carrier that bundles in 5G access across all its plans, even its budget Metro-by-T-Mobile plans, without raising the cost.

With all that said, 5G technology will surely get cheaper over time, just like 4G LTE technology did. At least, I hope it does.

The first 4G LTE smartphone – the HTC Thunderbolt – sold for $US250 with a 2-year contract from Verizon (remember contracts?), which was slightly more expensive than 3G phones at the time that sold for around $US200.

And that’s often the fact with brand new tech and innovations – the first few iterations of something brand new are often more expensive. Over time, the price of that innovation comes down as it becomes more commonplace and mainstream.

Let’s just hope the same goes for 5G.