I’ve decided to embrace the future over the past few weeks, starting with my home internet. Ifor the next generation of over-hyped wireless: 5G. The new technology was touted as a solution to many problems, but one of its early successes was to compete with Comcast Xfinity, Charter Spectrum, Altice’s Optimum, AT&T and Verizon Fios.
For several weeks of my trialsand services, both have shown great promise as an eventual replacement for my home broadband. But neither has proven reliable enough to stick with today, so for now I’m back to a more focused home ISP.
Here is what I learned.
How Verizon and T-Mobile Compare
While neither carrier officially offers 5G home internet services in my building, both providers have particularly strong 5G coverage in my New York area.
On Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, I can often find download speeds of over 200 Mbps (and sometimes over 300 Mbps), an impressive connection that can easily handle all of my gaming, streaming, and work needs. myself and my two roommates.
Downloads,were around 20 Mbps, or on par with my Spectrum cable connection.
T-Mobile, which has its 5G Ultra capability available where I live, recently achieved similar download speeds in my area – a more recent development that gives me confidence that the carrier is still actively working to boost its network even in areas where it has already rolled out a lot of 5G.
The T-Mobile connection was also more responsive, often offering lower latency and higher download speeds, regularly exceeding 40 Mbps. That’s double what Verizon’s 5G and my Spectrum 400Mbps plan offered.
Both carriers charge $50 for their 5G home internet plans and those prices include taxes, fees, and a modem/router in the monthly cost. Neither have data caps, and both offer discounts on monthly service if you also have certain wireless plans. T-Mobile drops the price to $30 per month if you have its most expensive Magenta Max plan. Verizon drops the price to $25 per month if you have its Play More, Do More, or Get More wireless plans.
Compared to traditional broadband options, this could quickly add up to serious monthly savings, even without the discounts on wireless plans.
Setting up either is also incredibly simple: take the modem/router out of the box, place it near a window, and plug it in. No visit from a technician is required.
T-Mobile’s modems have screens on them so you can immediately see if the area where you placed your device has strong coverage without entering any apps. Verizon’s box is more minimalistic and relies on an LED light instead. If it’s white, it’s good; if it’s red, you need to move it to a new location in your home.
Personally, I prefer T-Mobile’s functionality over Verizon’s form, although the former’s gray cylinder is a bit of an eyesore. The operator also offers a black box version of its router/modem which has a screen but doesn’t look any sleeker.
Both providers were able to allow me and my housemates to stream 4K content, play online games on Xbox, make Zoom and FaceTime calls, and live our lives as normal.
So why go back to a more traditional connection? Inconsistency.
Good coverage doesn’t always equal good performance
Although both providers had excellent service in my area, using either system left us with random intermittent periods of internet interruption. My first week with Verizon was great, but during the second week the speeds and latency got so erratic that I had to give up.
T-Mobile’s offer also shone most often, but it also came out randomly watching the Grizzlies-Warriors game on a Saturday night on YouTube TV or trying to work Monday or Tuesday mornings. A quick reset of the modem and my connected Eero got us back up and running, but unreliability is a problem.
To be fair to both carriers, I understand my situation is a bit unique.
Verizon offers Fios in my area and because of that 5G home internet is not officially available where I live. If you want Verizon’s Internet and have the option for Fios, this will get you there quickly. Because its Ultra Wideband network has improved dramatically, the company sent me a device so I could experience its 5G home internet network and product, even though the service is technically not available in my exact location.
Interestingly enough, Verizon’s 5G network in my area for parts of the past few weeks has been significantly worse for 5G home internet and traditional phone connections. It has since started working normally again, with some speed tests of my iPhone 13 Pro Max on Friday showing download speeds on the 5G network close to 400 Mbps.
Verizon says there was a “link problem” on the cell tower closest to my apartment, which may have caused some of my second-week issues. A second cell tower near my building may have been blocked by construction in the area, which could have made the problem worse.
The carrier says the old issue has since been resolved.
T-Mobile’s 5G home internet device is in a similar boat. I signed up for the product when I lived a few blocks away and it was available there. Even though I’ve only moved about six blocks since then, my new address is technically not listed as an address for T-Mobile Home Internet.
I still pay for the modem and it still works and connects to T-Mobile’s faster midband 5G network. This might explain some of the issues I had with the speed. After troubleshooting with the carrier, I noticed a solid performance boost with Friday download speeds steadily between 300 and 400 Mbps. But that doesn’t fully explain why the modem turned off completely at random intervals.
“Home Internet is not available to every home today, and that’s intentional,” a T-Mobile spokeswoman said in a statement to CNET when contacted about these issues. problems.
“To ensure a great experience for everyone, we assign home internet access on a sector-by-sector, house-by-house basis. And we only offer it in places where we can make sure there’s enough capacity. network to deliver excellent network performance to all of our customers – wireless and broadband – both now and in the future with expected increases in data usage.”
A millimetric solution
My new provider is a company called Honest Networks, a startup founded in 2018 that ironically delivers broadband directly to buildings in the New York area using millimeter wave or high frequency wireless radio waves which are an option for 5G.
Carriers, particularly Verizon and AT&T, heavily touted mmWave in their early 5G deployments, and Verizon continues to offer 5G Home broadband over mmWave in select markets today.
Honest also charges around $50 per month, but since it uses millimeter wave and a dedicated network, it touts gigabit-like upload and download speeds. This is a significant leap from the mid-band 5G networks I’ve experienced with Verizon and T-Mobile’s respective home broadband solutions.
Getting a wired gigabit connection from Verizon for Fios, for reference, would cost me $90 per month, while Spectrum would charge me $80 per month.
Other companies like Starry have also used millimeter waves to provide home internet alternatives in cities across the country. Unlike midband 5G, however, this version of 5G is much more limited in terms of range and availability and companies like Honest and Starry actually have to install equipment on the specific buildings they serve in order for connections are accessible.
My apartment building happens to be supported by Honest, although the setup and installation was similar to a traditional cable or fiber process. We made an appointment through the company’s website and had a technician come in for a few hours to hook up. Since the building is wired for service, I don’t have a traditional modem and just plug my router into an ethernet port in the wall.
Although it took a while to get started, once up and running the performance quickly topped options from Verizon and T-Mobile.
Download speeds on my aging Eero network were often similar to the 100-400 Mbps I saw on Verizon and T-Mobile, but downloads consistently exceeded 300 Mbps (I tried installing an update on my Eero that should fix “performance” and “stability” but for some reason it doesn’t always take).
Even more impressively, the latency measured on Speedtest.net and Fast.com is consistently under 5 milliseconds, even over Wi-Fi. It’s a more responsive network than even my Spectrum cable connection provides.
Since I had a good experience after fresh installs of all three services, I’m not going to go too far on Honest yet. But that consistent, ultra-low latency, even over Wi-Fi, is definitely one of the most encouraging metrics I’ve ever seen and makes me believe that maybe this flavor of 5G could really beat my options. wired cable today.