T-Mobile has been making headlines for its industry-leading 5G network, but how does its 5G Home Internet offering stack up?
We take a look at T-Mobile’s 5G Home Internet solution to see how it stacks up against traditional broadband, and whether it provides a viable solution for customers.
Why 5G Home Internet Matters
Reliable, high-speed internet access is front-and-center on the minds of consumers and regulators alike. The COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly turned millions of homes into offices, complete with videoconferencing, file-sharing, meetings and more.
Unfortunately, the United States has long suffered a “digital divide,” a major disparity between the internet access available in urban areas, versus what is available in sparsely populated rural regions.
A couple of years ago, just before the pandemic, my wife and I bought a house in the country, away from the conveniences of urban life. While not being able to get a pizza delivered is unfortunate, the complete lack of any high-speed internet or TV service (barring satellite) was a major issue.
We initially tried several services that buy up unused cellular data and resell them as home internet solutions. We used both Blazing Hog and UnlimitedToGo, but both services were expensive and it was virtually impossible to watch streaming TV, since the data packages both services provided seemed to throttle video.
When T-Mobile began offering their 5G Home Internet solution, we jumped at the opportunity.
T-Mobile 5G Home Internet: The Lowdown
T-Mobile is widely viewed as the 5G market leader in the US. The company has a wealth of spectrum at its disposal, thanks to wise purchases at FCC spectrum auctions and its acquisition of Sprint.
Thanks to the spectrum at its disposal, the company is offering its Home Internet service as a way of tackling the digital divide that impacts so many. In typical T-Mobile fashion, the company is also offering the service with a degree of panache, offering it at a rock-bottom, no-fees price that is a slap in the face to the rest of the internet service provider industry, an industry that made $9 billion from fees in a single year.
T-Mobile’s 5G Home Internet is available for $50 per month, no equipment fees, all other taxes and fees included. $50 is all the customer pays. Best of all, the company promises there are no data caps.
It is possible for data to be de-prioritized, if a tower is struggling with heavy demand. After months of use, however, I personally have yet to see this happen.
So exactly how fast is T-Mobile’s 5G Home Internet?
It’s important to have reasonable expectations. While the fastest flavor of 5G is capable of delivering speeds measures in gigabits, there’s almost no chance of getting those speeds with the company’s 5G Home Internet. The spectrum capable of delivering those speeds has extremely limited range — just a couple of hundred meters per base station — meaning it wouldn’t work for the vast majority of T-Mobile’s customers.
Instead, the company is largely using its low and mid-band 5G spectrum to power 5G Home Internet. That means customers will see speeds ranging from roughly equivalent to 4G LTE on up to 300 Mbps.
My house is located roughly 1.5 miles from the closest T-Mobile tower, separated by acres and acres of forest. In spite of that, my speeds are consistently over 100 Mbps. Here’s a breakdown of my last five Speedtest.net results:
- 138 Mbps download, 51.3 Mbps upload, 28 ms ping
- 124 Mbps download, 55.7 Mbps upload, 25 ms ping
- 133 Mbps download, 54.9 Mbps upload, 28 ms ping
- 140 Mbps download, 41.7 Mbps upload, 27 ms ping
- 126 Mbps download, 52.6 Mbps upload, 28 ms ping
In contrast, the median speeds for traditional broadband in the US is 115.22 Mbps down, 17.18 Mbps up and 14 ms latency. While T-Mobile 5G Internet may have slightly higher ping, it’s still low enough for everything from streaming TV to videoconferencing to video gaming. In terms of speed, it easily beats traditional broadband, at least in my case.
The T-mobile 4G Home Internet router (which I used before the 5G version was available at my address) was nothing to write home about. Each WiFi band — 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz — only supported 10 clients each. Going past, or even hitting, the limit would cause the service to crash.
The router’s WiFi range was also very limited, making it hard to reach the entire house, depending on where it was placed. The admin features also left a lot to be desired, and the router didn’t have the processing power or memory to support multiple devices very well, leading to slowdowns. I ultimately ended up turning off WiFi and plugging a wireless access point directly into the 4G router.
Fortunately, the 5G router fixes all of the shortcomings of its predecessor. By default, each WiFi band supports 128 clients, although it can be set higher. The WiFi range is strong enough to be accessible over 200 feet away from the house, through trees no less. The new router also includes enough processing power to handle two computers, three iPhones, an Apple TV, an Air TV and an iRobot vacuum, all without slowing down. The 5G router is so powerful, I no longer use a dedicated access point with it, relying directly on the router instead.
Setup was also a cinch. The router has a QR code on the bottom. Simply download the T-Mobile Home Internet app and point your smartphone’s camera at the QR code to start the setup process.
That being said, the first router I received died unexpectedly. While irritating, T-Mobile quickly sent a replacement free of charge. Unfortunately, a look at T-Mobile’s forums show that the problem is not an isolated one, with numerous customers needing their devices replaced.
The Fine Print
There are some issues with the router and service, although they are workable.
The biggest, and really only, major problem is interference. Because mid-band 5G doesn’t have the same ability to penetrate buildings as well as low-band 5G, or 4G LTE, the 5G router is more sensitive to where it’s placed and the construction of the building it’s placed in.
For example, placing the router in my garage — metal roof and vinyl siding — yielded similar speeds to those listed above. Unfortunately, my garage is not insulated, which means the router can’t stay there in the summer.
Moving the router to the kitchen window, nearest the tower, yields the above results, with one big caveat: the kitchen window must remain open. If it’s closed, speeds drop to 20 or 30 Mbps, indicating the router is likely pulling a 4G signal instead of the faster 5G. Because the house is brick, putting it next to a wall doesn’t work any better, unlike being in the vinyl-sided garage.
Obviously, leaving the window open all the time isn’t an option, anymore than being in an uninsulated garage. As a result, I will need to install an electronics enclosure designed to allow electronics to be mounted on the outside of a building, while still maintaining an acceptable internal temperature.
In areas where a customer may be closer to a 5G tower, with fewer obstructions and a stronger signal, there may not be the same issues with achieving perfect router placement. On the plus side, at least the router will fall back to 4G internet if 5G is unavailable.
The main alternative to T-Mobile’s solution, especially for rural clients, is Starlink satellite internet service. Unfortunately, the service is twice the cost of T-Mobile’s offering, coming in at $99 per month — after paying a $500 deposit.
In addition, Starlink requires clear line of sight to the satellites. Because the satellites are in low Earth orbit, it doesn’t take much for something to block the signal.
The company provides an app so you can test how the service will work at your location before paying for the service. In my case, the Starlink app predicts that my service would drop every one minute, due to the trees on my property.
In comparison, although trees may interfere with the signal to a degree, T-Mobile’s service is a much better option than Starlink for many customers.
All-in-all, T-Mobile 5G Home Internet is a game-changer for customers like me, ones who have limited options for high-speed internet. At only $50 per month, the service is a bargain compared to the third-party solutions I was previously using, and is competitive with traditional broadband — if that was even an option at my location.
T-Mobile 5G Home Internet easily supports multiple devices being on Zoom simultaneously, streaming Sling TV at the highest quality setting, video gaming and more, all without slowing down.
Obviously, each customer’s mileage will vary, depending on how close they are to a 5G tower and the construction of their home/building. Nonetheless, T-Mobile is providing a game-changing solution that rivals traditional broadband at a competitive price.
- High-speed comparable with broadband
- Low price with taxes and fees included
- Powerful router
- Excellent WiFi range
- Router will fall back to 4G LTE if 5G is unavailable
- 5G reception can be weak
- Questions about the long-term reliability of the router
4.5 out of 5 stars