I decided to embrace the future over the past few weeks, starting with the internet in my home. meFor the next generation of wireless: 5G. The new technology was touted as a solution to many problems, but one of its early successes was providing competition for the likes of Comcast Xfinity, Charter Spectrum, Altice’s Optimum, AT&T and Verizon Fios.
Within a few weeks of my experienceAnd services, both showed a lot of hope to eventually replace home broadband. But neither has been proven reliable enough to hold today, so for now, I’m back to my more focused home internet provider.
This is what I learned.
How does Verizon compare to T-Mobile
Although no carriers officially offer 5G home internet services in my building, both providers have particularly strong 5G coverage in my NYC area.
On Verizon’s 5G ultra-wideband network, I can often find download speeds in excess of 200Mbps (and sometimes over 300Mbps), a great connection that can easily handle all of my and roommates’ gaming, streaming, and work needs.
downloads,It was about 20Mbps, or on par with my Spectrum cable connection.
T-Mobile, which has superb 5G capacity available where I live, has achieved similar download speeds in my area recently – a more recent development that gives me confidence that the carrier is still actively boosting its network even in areas where I’ve already deployed Lots of 5G.
T-Mobile’s connection was also more responsive, often offering lower latency and regularly higher upload speeds of over 40Mbps. That’s double what the Verizon 5G and 400Mbps Spectrum plan offers.
Both carriers charge $50 for 5G home internet offerings, and those rates include taxes, fees, and a modem/router in the monthly cost. There is no data cap and both offer discounts on the monthly service if you also have certain wireless plans. T-Mobile drops the price to $30 per month if you have the most expensive Magenta Max plan. Verizon drops the price to $25 per month if you have Play More, Do More, or Get More Wireless plans.
Compared to traditional broadband options, this can quickly add up to serious monthly savings even without wireless package discounts.
Setting up either is very simple: take your modem/router out of the case, place it near the window and plug it in. No visits from any technician are required.
T-Mobile modems have screens on them so you can instantly see if the area you’ve placed your device in has strong coverage without going into any apps. The Verizon box is much simpler and instead relies on LED light. If it is white, then you are good; If it is red, then you need to move it to a new place in your home.
Personally, I prefer the T-Mobile job over Verizon even if the previous gray cylinder was a bit sloppy. The carrier also offers a black box version of its router/modem that has a screen but doesn’t look the most elegant.
Both providers were able to let me and my roommates stream 4K content, play online games on Xbox, make Zoom and FaceTime calls, and otherwise live our lives as normal.
So why go back to a more traditional connection? contradiction.
Strong coverage doesn’t always mean strong performance
While both providers have excellent service in my area, using either system left us with random intermittent periods of internet outage. My first week with Verizon was excellent, but in a week my speeds and response time became so erratic that I had to switch away.
Likewise, the T-Mobile show has starred more often, but it’s also randomly going off while watching the Grizzlies-Warriors game on Saturday night on YouTube TV or while trying to do work on a Monday or Tuesday morning. A quick reset of the modem and the attached Eero got us working again, but the lack of reliability is an issue.
In fairness to both carriers, I understand that my situation is a bit unique.
Verizon offers Fios in my area, and for this reason, 5G Home Internet is not officially available where I live. If you want Verizon internet and have the Fios option, it will quickly direct you there. Because their ultra-wide network has improved dramatically, the company sent me a device to try out their network and a 5G Home Internet product, although the service is technically not available in my specific location.
Interestingly enough, Verizon’s 5G network in my area for parts of the past few weeks has been much worse for both 5G Home Internet and traditional phone connections. It’s since started back to working normally, with some speed tests from the iPhone 13 Pro Max on Friday showing download speeds over the 5G network near 400Mbps.
Verizon says it had a “connection problem” in the cell tower that was closest to my apartment which may have caused some problems the second week. A second cell tower near a building may have been blocked due to construction work erected in the area, which could exacerbate the problem.
The carrier says the previous issue has since been resolved.
The 5G home internet device from T-Mobile is in a similar boat. I signed up for the product back when I lived a few blocks away and it was available at this location. Although I’ve only moved about six blocks since then, my new address is technically not listed as a T-Mobile Home Internet address.
I still pay for the modem and it still works and connects to T-Mobile which is faster than the 5G mid-range. This might explain some of the issues you ran into quickly. After troubleshooting with my carrier, I noticed a solid increase in performance with Friday download speeds regularly between 300-400Mbps. But it does not fully explain why the modem stops completely at random intervals.
“Home internet is not available to every home today, and that is intentional,” a T-Mobile spokeswoman said in a statement to CNET when contacted about these issues.
“To ensure a great experience for everyone, we customize home Internet access on a sector-by-sector, household-by-home basis. We only offer it where we can ensure we have enough network capacity to deliver a great performing network to all our customers – wireless and broadband – now and in the future with expected increases in data usage.”
Millimeter wave solution
My new provider is a company called Honest Networks, a startup founded in 2018 that ironically delivers broadband directly to buildings across the New York area using millimeter waves or high-frequency radio waves which are an option for 5G networks.
Carriers, specifically Verizon and AT&T, heavily touted millimeter wave in early 5G deployments, and Verizon continues to offer millimeter wave 5G Home broadband in some markets today.
Likewise, The Honest Company charges around $50 per month, but because it uses millimeter wave and a dedicated network, it touts gigabit-like upload and download speeds. That’s a huge jump over the mid-range 5G networks I’ve tried with Verizon and T-Mobile’s home broadband solutions.
Getting a wired gigabit connection from Verizon for Fios, for reference, will cost me $90 a month, while the Spectrum will cost me $80 a month.
Similarly, other companies like Starry are using millimeter wave to offer alternatives to home internet in cities across the country. Unlike mid-range 5G, however, this version of 5G is very limited in scope and availability, and companies like Honest and Starry need to install equipment in the specific buildings they service so that connections can be accessed.
My apartment building happened to be one that Honest Program supports, although the setup and installation were similar to the traditional cable or fiber process. We arranged an appointment through the company’s website and a technician came out for a few hours to call us. Since the building is serviced, I don’t have a traditional modem and instead just plug my router into an Ethernet port in the wall.
While it took a while to get started, once up and running, performance quickly took over Verizon and T-Mobile options.
Download speeds over the old Eero network were often similar to the 100-400Mbps I was seeing on Verizon and T-Mobile, but uploads were consistently above 300Mbps (I was trying to install an update on my Eero that would Fix “performance” and “stability” but, for some reason, it doesn’t always require).
Most impressively, the latency measured on Speedtest.net and Fast.com is consistently under 5ms even over Wi-Fi. This is a more responsive network than even the spectrum cable connection provided.
Since I had such a good experience after the fresh installs of all three services, I won’t get much ahead of Honest just yet. But this consistent, ultra-low latency even over Wi-Fi is certainly among the most encouraging metrics I’ve seen so far, and it has me optimistic that this flavor of 5G can truly outperform today’s traditional wired cable options.