Here's Why Verizon's Google Pixel 4a 5G UW Is $100 More Than Unlocked Versions

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Google announced the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5 yesterday after months of leaks. The smartphones share the same processor -- the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G -- the selfie and rear cameras, and display resolution. However, they differ with regards to screen size, battery capacity, and in many other details.

But the biggest difference between the two is with regards to price. The Pixel 4a 5G is priced at just $499 unlocked, making it a pretty good bargain in the mid-range 5G market. The Pixel 5, on the other hand, is priced at $699, putting it higher than some of the cheaper Snapdragon 865 flagships on the market like the OnePlus 8 and Samsung Galaxy S20 Fan Edition. However, there is a new pricing wrinkle that involves the Pixel 4a 5G on Verizon.

Rather than being priced at $499 like the unlocked versions available for T-Mobile and AT&T, Verizon has priced its Pixel 4a 5G UW $100 higher at $599. So, what's the deal? Why do Verizon customers have to pay $100 extra just to get a Pixel 4a 5G UW? Well, it all comes down to hardware support for 5G mmWave technology. 

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As you might recall, 5G wireless in the United States is currently broken down into two categories. 5G mmWave offers extremely fast downlink and uplink speeds, but has limited range, devices need line-of-sight to a tower, and the high-frequency signals can't penetrate buildings. There's also sub-6GHz 5G, which is most similar in concept to existing 4G LTE infrastructure with regards to range, performance falloff, and building penetration. However, sub-6GHz 5G can't match the performance of mmWave, as it provides performance that puts it somewhere in between the speeds 4G LTE and mmWave can deliver.

So that brings us back to mmWave; phones require additional hardware and antennas to support that sub-6GHz 5G solutions don't need. And in Verizon’s case, mmWave is currently its only 5G strategy, so all phones that use its 5G network require that hardware support. The added costs of the mmWave support in the Pixel 4a 5G is being passed on to the customers, which is why Verizon subscribers that want a Pixel 4a 5G are going to have to pay $100 extra to get the UW model.

Considering that AT&T and T-Mobile are relying on sub-6GHz for their 5G networks, their customers can simply purchase the unlocked Pixel 4a 5G and be on their way with a wallet that is $100 heavier. 

On the other hand, we also have to consider the price of the Pixel 5. It’s priced at $699, and already includes the necessary hardware for both sub-6GHz and mmWave 5G networks. So, in theory, Google could have released the smartphone at around $599 unlocked (for T-Mobile and AT&T), which would have made it a more attractive option for discerning customers. But for some reason, it didn’t decide to go that route in the United States, although it offers a similar option in other global markets…