T-Mobile's 5G home internet is finally ready to compete with Comcast, AT&T

T-Mobile’s 5G home internet is finally ready to compete with Comcast, AT&T

When T-Mobile first offered mobile broadband service based on its 5G network last year, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it for a review. For me, 5G-based home internet service is the best chance of competition for AT&T, Comcast and other wireline providers.

But when I finally got to try out T-Mobile’s first version of its 5G home internet, my bubble of optimism burst. In a review I wrote for Forbes in July 2021 (see houstonchronicle.com/forbesreview), I found the service often unreliable and significantly slower than my Xfinity connection. Back then, the folks at Comcast didn’t have to worry.

What a difference a year makes. Since that initial review, T-Mobile has significantly improved its network, building it with the fast, mid-band 5G radio spectrum it got when it merged with Sprint across Houston. When I noticed I was getting download speeds in the range of 300-500 megabits per second on my T-Mobile connected iPhone back home a few miles west of downtown, I realized it was time to revisit the company’s offer.

While not perfect, T-Mobile’s product is now a traditional broadband alternative worth considering – if it’s available at your location. Comcast executives may now start to worry.

This is actually the third iteration of a T-Mobile home internet service. The first version, launched in 2020, was based on the 4G LTE service. The following year, 5G was added. And in 2022, Telecom is activating the 2.5 GHz midband acquired from Sprint in more markets, and expanding the availability of these frequencies in areas where they have already launched.

Houston was one of the first cities to get Sprint’s midrange service before the merger in 2019. I was on hand for a press briefing, sitting in a 5G hotspot-equipped bus that got speeds of downloading over 700 Mbps as we tooled through downtown. I was skeptical that I would see speeds close to my smartphone’s in the real world.

But more than three years later, I’m a believer. My iPhone 14 Pro Max got download speeds over 600 Mbps in parts of Houston. At home, I see the 300-500 Mbps test results mentioned earlier when I have a two to three bar signal on my phone.

After learning that T-Mobile’s 5G wireless gateways — devices that convert 5G cellular signals to Wi-Fi in your home — can tap midband spectrum, I asked telecom to give me another glance.

In my first review, I used the initial hardware T-Mobile provided to the first 5G Home customers, a round Nokia Gateway that looks like a miniature version of the 2013 “trash” Mac Pro desktop computer. Since then, T -Mobile has added two more gateway models, one made by Sagemcom and the other by Arcadyan. I was sent the latter, a black tower 7.5 inches tall and 4.5 inches square. There’s a small screen on the front with three buttons below it that shows connection status and other system information.

Setup is simple. Download a T-Mobile Home internet app, connect the gateway to power, and launch the app to follow the process. T-Mobile recommends trying different locations around your home to find the best signal, and strongly recommends placing the Gateway in a window. I wasn’t able to do that, but I could put it between a window and a door with lots of glass. I consistently get four signal bars.

Last year, the Nokia Gateway was getting between 140 and 200 Mbps downloads, with lows of 35 Mbps and highs of 300 Mbps. Now the average range starts at 200 and increases to 350 Mbps. I got peak download speeds above 500 Mbps and below 30 Mbps, but both are rare.

T-Mobile says smartphone users get priority on the network, so while the gateway drops 250 Mbps, my iPhone pulls 350-500 Mbps and up. But the reverse is true for downloads which are faster on the home service. The gateway averages between 20 and 40 Mbps, while the phone stays in the 10 to 20 Mbps range.

The 2022 version of the service is also more reliable. Last year there were frequent drops in service, which T-Mobile said was due to my house being between two cell towers; the catwalk swung between them. This year I saw an occasional notification from my phone or Mac that I had lost internet access, but it came back after a few seconds.

Last weekend, however, my download speeds dropped to under 100 Mbps and stayed there until Sunday evening, when they were back to normal. A T-Mobile rep speculated that maybe there was heavy mobile traffic in my area, which deprioritized my home service, but that seems unlikely. There were no events around me and street traffic was normal for a weekend.

I used T-Mobile service for everything I did – web access, email, a few Zoom sessions, connecting smart home devices, and streaming HD and 4K video to my phone and 55-inch TV . I haven’t used it for gaming, but one of my adult children uses the Nokia gateway in an East Side house shared with a friend, and they say it’s never a problem with games on line.

While speeds have increased for the 2022 release of T-Mobile 5G Home Internet, prices have come down. When I wrote my original review, it was $65 per month or $60 with autopay. Now it’s $55 and $50. T-Mobile customers who have the company’s Magenta Max mobile service — including the 55+ plan for seniors — pay $30 with autopay. The company also claims that the price is locked in, with no price increase. Time will tell us. . .

And as was the case last year, there’s no data cap, although as I said speeds can temporarily slow if there’s high mobile 5G demand near you. .

It’s worth noting that Verizon also has 5G home broadband service available in Houston, with prices starting at $25 per month if you’re a Verizon mobile customer, and download speeds between 85 Mbps and 1 gigabit per second. .

I considered testing it in the past, but Verizon’s 5G was built around millimeter waves, or mmWave, frequencies that can’t penetrate buildings or foliage. A two-stage crepe myrtle thwarted my plans, but Verizon’s service now includes mid-band frequencies. Worth trying again.


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