Samsung's 5G version of the new Galaxy Note 10 Plus will be heading to all four major carriers, but it won't be without some trade-offs. Verizon will get the $1,300 5G Note first, with AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all announcing their own plans to carry the phone later this year.
But the differing versions of those phones, and the early status of 5G in the US, will make this launch a bit more complicated than previously thought.
Each carrier will get a slightly different flavor of the Galaxy Note Plus 5G. Verizon will get the version with Qualcomm's X50 modem, which is capable of tapping into the millimeter-wave 5G network Verizon has currently deployed in nine cities around the US (with plans to cover over 30 cities before the end of the year). The variants heading to AT&T and T-Mobile, on the other hand, won't work with millimeter-wave.
Instead, both versions will have Qualcomm's latest X55 modem and support a different flavor of 5G known as sub-6. While this will allow the phones to tap into the wide-ranging 5G networks both carriers are planning to roll out over the coming months, they won't work with the super-fast millimeter-wave networks both carriers have already launched around the US.
Millimeter-wave 5G is great for providing super-fast speeds, but its coverage is currently largely limited to certain city blocks. It also struggles with reaching inside of buildings, and its higher frequencies can cause problems when the phone is used in warm temperatures.
Low-band 5G, meanwhile, lacks the same blazing speeds but offers a much wider coverage area than millimeter-wave and should fare better in buildings. A third flavor, known as midband spectrum, is a compromise that offers some faster speeds than low-band but with better range than midband.
The 5G in AT&T's version will work only with its low-band spectrum. A T-Mobile spokesperson tells CNET that its Note 10 Plus 5G will work on its 600MHz low-band spectrum as well as support midband 2.5GHz spectrum.
Sprint currently uses that 2.5GHz band for its 5G network. T-Mobile, of course, is in the process of trying to, which would give it access to that spectrum.
Sprint declined to comment on what modem will be in its 5G Note.
The company currently sells the Galaxy S10 5G with a Qualcomm X50 modem that supports its own 2.5GHz midband 5G and is also capable of using T-Mobile's millimeter-wave network. If its version on the Note follows Verizon's lead and uses the same X50 chip, it is possible that there might be two different Note 10 Plus 5G phones with different experiences on T-Mobile's network.
The Sprint version could support 2.5GHz midband and T-Mobile's super-fast millimeter-wave network, while the T-Mobile version would support the wider-ranging 600MHz, which will cover much of the country and Sprint's 2.5GHz band.
Confused yet? The main takeaway is that now may still not be the best time to buy a 5G phone.