Apple laying the groundwork for a 5G Apple Watch

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watchOS 5 Breath face
It’s only a matter of time before there’s an Apple Watch 5G.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The first Apple Watch with 4G cellular-wireless networking came out years ago, and design work for a 5G version is already going on.

Such a wearable will offer faster data transfer speeds, as well as quicker connections.

Not a rumor

Apple filed for a patent on Electronic Devices Having Millimeter Wave Ranging Capabilities. The abstract makes it clear that the devices in question are Apple Watches:

“An electronic device such as a wristwatch may be provided with wireless circuitry. The wireless circuitry may include antennas arranged in a phased antenna array for conveying first radio-frequency signals at a first frequency between 10 GHz and 300 GHz (e.g., millimeter wave signals at a millimeter wave frequency). The wireless circuitry may include a non-millimeter wave antenna for conveying second radio-frequency signals at a second frequency below 10 GHz.”

5G works at millimeter wave frequencies

Don’t get lost in the jargon. Most US carriers are going to offer 5G service over millimeter wave frequencies. Typically referred to as mmWave, this enables the quickest transfers, but is also short range.

Telecoms aren’t going to use their mmWave spectrum for 4G. So the only reason to add support for these frequencies to an Apple Watch is for 5G.

The non-millimeter wave antenna mentioned in the patent filing means the wearable will also support 4G. Which is wise, as 5G isn’t expected to become ubiquitous for quite a few years.

Apple Watch 5G in 2020?

Apple is widely expected to introduce the first iPhone with 5G next year. A reliable analyst predicts that the first iPad with 5G is coming in 2021.

An Apple Watch with the faster replacement for 4G could theoretically be about at the same time as the iPhone 5G, or it could wait until the same year as the iPad 5G. Or even longer.