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Your iPhone 12's 5G signal might not be fast enough yet. How to turn it off and use 4G instead

We'll also show you how to control when and how much 5G data your iPhone uses.

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5G is one of the iPhone 12's main features, but it's not readily available to everyone. 

Patrick Holland/CNET

Apple's latest crop of iPhones -- the iPhone 12 MiniiPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max --are all capable of connecting to 5G wireless networks. That means, if your carrier has 5G coverage where you live or work, then you should see faster speeds and a more reliable connection. But that's not always the case. You may find that your iPhone 12 is constantly switching back and forth between LTE and 5G and refusing to send messages or refresh your favorite app, or that battery life just isn't the same as it is on LTE. Frustratingly, you may not be on the right price plan to even access the new network, and you might not want to level up to a new one. In other words, for you, it may not be the right time for 5G.

Thankfully, Apple has given you control over your phone's 5G connection. With just a few taps you can disable the new feature, or tailor how and when it's used to do things like download updates.

To be clear, Apple has built a new Smart Data feature into the iPhone 12's software that only uses a 5G connection when you're doing something that requires it -- like streaming a video or playing a game on a cellular connection. The goal of switching between an LTE and 5G connection in the background is to extend the iPhone 12's battery life. So the battery life reduction you experience may end up being negligible. I personally haven't been able to test the difference because I don't have 5G coverage. 

That said, if you don't want or need your phone to connect to a 5G network, you can disable 5G with just a few taps on your iPhone's screen. 

You don't have to do too much to turn 5G on or off, but there's more that you should know. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

How to turn off 5G on the iPhone 12

Open the Settings app then go to Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Voice & Data and tap LTE. Your phone will then turn off its 5G connection, reverting to (sometimes) slower LTE connection. You can always turn 5G back on when you want it, or when service in your area improves by repeating the steps above and selecting 5G Auto. Or if you'd rather your iPhone 12 not use Apple's Smart Data mode, you can force it to always use a 5G connection when available by selecting 5G On

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Install OTA updates over 5G? It's possible. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

One more thing…

If you decide you want to leave your iPhone 12's 5G connection on 5G Auto, it's a good idea to double check this setting. 

Go to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Data Mode on your iPhone. There you'll find three different options for how aggressive your iPhone will be with how it allows apps and services to use your 5G connection. 

For example, with Allow more data on 5G selected, your FaceTime and streaming video will come through in "high-quality," and your phone will even allow you to download future iOS updates over a 5G connection. 

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Read through the descriptions for each data mode and select the one that works best for you — and remember, even if your carrier touts unlimited data plans, odds are there's some sort of limit after which your internet speeds will be slowed down. 

If you're waiting for your iPhone 12 to be delivered, get your current iPhone ready now, ensuring a smooth upgrade process when it does arrive. After that, read through our guide that covers four different ways to set up your new phone, and then dig into these settings.