After months of touting their 5G wireless network as better and faster than their rivals, Verizon Wireless is now telling customers to make the switch back to the company’s older 4G LTE network if they want better battery life on their phones.
In a customer service tweet issued on Sunday, a Verizon social media maven said customers who notice their phone batteries draining should consider switching their 5G network off by going into their device settings and tapping the LTE option instead.
The advice comes at a time when users of new, 5G-enabled Samsung and Apple phones are noticing the next-generation network comes with an unfortunate trade-off: Poor battery life. And while Verizon and other carriers may take some heat for this, the problem actually lies with how the devices themselves are designed to behave.
As the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) noted in a report published last year, phone manufacturers include several types of wireless standards in their devices, including cellular (3G, 4G LTE and 5G), WiFi and Bluetooth.
“Early experiments indicate that the state-of-the-art radio frequency switches running in smartphones are continually jumping from 3G to 4G to Wi-Fi,” the IEEE said. “As a smartphone stays connected to these different sources, its battery drains faster.”
So why didn’t customers notice a significant battery drain when phones started including 4G LTE technology nearly a decade ago? The IEEE thinks it has something to do with the new computer chips that are needed for phones to be compatible with 5G networks across the board.
“Unlike 4G chips, the chips that power 5G phones are incredibly draining to lithium batteries,” the IEEE said.
A few phones, including Apple’s newest iPhone 12 lineup, tries to alleviate this problem through software: When 5G is available, Apple’s operating system by default goes into a cellular mode called “5G Auto,” which uses a carrier’s 5G network when it’s most needed, like when a person wants to stream video. Menial tasks, like checking email, defaults back to the slower, but still speedy, 4G LTE network. (Customers can also choose to always use 5G or only use 4G LTE.)
Still, other customers will have to choose between accessing a carrier’s 5G network or conserving battery life by using 4G LTE until manufacturers design better batteries, which IEEE predicts will eventually happen based on market demands.
“As 5G continues to expand across the globe, increasing the energy density and extending the lifetime of batteries will be vital,” the IEEE said. “So market competition for problem-solving battery solutions promises to be fierce and drive innovation to meet user expectations.”