This means you don’t have to schedule a professional installation, figure out where to drill holes for the wire, or take off work to wait for the cable guy. (AT&T’s service is an exception. More on that below.)
I recently tried out T-Mobile’s 5G Home Internet offering. After signing up online, I received the gateway (a router combined with modem) from T-Mobile in the mail three days later. I plugged it in, downloaded the required app on my phone, scanned the QR code on the back of the device, and completed the setup process in about 15 minutes. My phone, tablet, and laptop, and my family’s other devices, were able to connect to the gateway over WiFi immediately.
Fast self-installation is one of the main selling points of fixed wireless access. Generally speaking, other hassles you don’t have to deal with are annual contracts, installation and monthly equipment charges, and data overages that some traditional broadband customers are familiar with. You pay one fixed rate, typically $50 per month (lower than what you might pay for a different type of service)—sometimes with a 50 percent discount if you also have cellular service with the company.
It might also be convenient to be able to quickly move the gateway to another room in your home or even to your deck or patio for better reception, wherever your tablets or laptops may stroll. And if you move, you can easily transfer your home internet connection to a new address if it’s within the provider’s service area. (You have to inform the company of your move, though, so you can’t really just take the gateway to your vacation home or another location and expect the internet service to work.)
5G home internet service is relatively new, and the cell phone companies are obviously going after cable providers. Verizon launched its 5G Home Internet Service in 2018, but most of its 1 million customers for the home internet service were added in 2022. (By comparison, the company’s more mature fiber-optic service, FiOS, has 7 million subscribers.) Verizon says its 5G Home Internet Service offers “the ultra-powerful network performance and speed you need with none of the hassles of cable.” Meanwhile, T-Mobile launched its home internet service in 2021 and now has over 1.5 million customers. The company advertises its service as being “fast and reliable without all the traditional Big Internet BS.”
Analysts see fixed wireless access as a big disrupter in the broadband industry, in large part because of the low price—with cable companies suffering as a result. The analysts estimate that 60 percent of new home internet service subscribers through 2024 will be using FWA.
So should you join the growing crowd of 5G home internet service customers and save on your internet bill? There may be a few catches.
First, there’s reception. The closer you live to a cellular tower, the stronger and more reliable your signal will be—and vice versa. (But you may be able to get coverage even if you’re in a rural or remote area.) There’s also placement of the router/modem within your home: When I set up the T-Mobile gateway, the app advised me to place the device near a window and on a top floor if possible. I did that, and the gateway showed very good to excellent signal strength at various times of the day. However, the signal dropped, at midday, once during the two days I tested the service. Your mileage may vary.
Also, depending on where you live and what broadband connections are available to you, the data speeds you get from your cell phone service provider may be much lower than what you could get with a fiber-optic or cable connection. Data speeds can vary “depending on your location, signal strength and availability, time of day, and other factors,” according to T-Mobile’s Home Internet FAQ.
Advertised speeds across the providers range from around 20 to 300 megabytes per second (Mbps) download and 1 to 23 Mbps upload. By contrast, the mean download speeds for all U.S. fixed broadband providers is 249 Mbps down and 92 Mbps up, as measured by network intelligence company Ookla. (The data includes speeds for cable, satellite, and fiber-optic connections—as well as fixed 5G networks.)
The 5G home internet service providers don’t offer guaranteed speeds, and there are no speed tiers to choose from, unlike other broadband providers which may offer high-tier plans with speeds of up to 1 gigabyte per second or more.
But if you know your family’s needs, you can decide whether or not 5G home internet would be a fit for you. The more devices you have connected to your home network, the more speed and bandwidth you might need. CR’s internet speed calculator can help.
Here’s more information on the home internet offerings from the wireless carriers.