5G phones and service will cost you, Samsung, Verizon and AT&T almost admit

But nobody's fessing up to how much.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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Jessica Dolcourt
3 min read

How much are you willing to pay for 5G?

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

If you plan to be one of the first to own a 5G phone, maybe you'd better start saving up. Samsung , Verizon and AT&T can't stop talking about 5G's blazing speeds and instant connection, or how you'll be able to download the sixth season of House of Cards on Netflix in minutes. But try asking them how much owning one will cost. On that topic, they're suddenly silent.

5G phones are a hot topic at Qualcomm's annual tech summit, held in Maui, Hawaii, where Samsung announced it will launch the company's first 5G phone in the first half of 2019. The new wireless technology is poised to dramatically change the way people use smartphones, once the carriers begin turning on their 5G networks next year.

But change isn't cheap. Carriers are spending billions of dollars to build out 5G networks while also making their existing 4G networks faster, and carriers and device makers will need to recoup costs when these 5G phones and service plans go on sale.

Watch this: Qualcomm gives us a glimpse of our future in 5G

The shift to 5G also provides carriers and phone makers an opportunity to charge a premium for these top speeds, especially when adding a 5G product or plan can make 4G phones seem cheaper by comparison.

Although neither Samsung, Qualcomm, Verizon or AT&T clearly confirmed that phone and service prices will go up, it isn't hard to read between the lines.

"I don't think you can think about it as we think about pricing today," said Kevin Petersen, AT&T's senior vice president of wireless product marketing. "That paradigm has to shift."

Samsung's SVP of mobile, Justin Denison, similarly sidelined the question of a more expensive Samsung 5G phone. "If you generate enough value [in the phone], then consumers will be ready to pay," he said, referring to the notion that 5G's expanded capabilities will make phones more prized than they already are.


This is Samsung's prototype 5G phone.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

By being clear about a 5G phone's features -- including fast data speeds, very little lag time connecting to the network and crystal clear video calls -- Denison thinks that Samsung "can be very successful in getting consumers engaged and excited even in the early stages of consumer rollout."

Verizon agrees. "Verizon believes customers will pay for utility and value. There will be that, definitely, in 5G," said Nicki Palmer, Verizon's head of network.

Higher prices for phones and plans may not last forever. "The cost increase is not different than the increase in cost that we saw from 3G to 4G, with the benefit that as the technology matures, you can go down on phone storage," said Qualcomm's president, Cristiano Amon.

Watch this: Explaining 5G with a game of pool

Amon said that flash storage, along with a phone's display and chipset (in this case, the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 855) are the three most expensive components. 5G speeds will make it easier to quickly upload and download photo and video content to the cloud, so you may use less local storage.

"The technology, like everything in electronics, will get cheaper with scale," Amon said. "And you have to start somewhere."

CNET's Shara Tibken contributed to this report.

First published Dec. 4, 4:31 p.m. PT.

Update Dec. 5 at 4 a.m.: Adds quote from Verizon.

Read now: Qualcomm's 5G phone prototype teases our mobile future

Read also: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 will bring advanced features to 2019 5G phones