Over the past few weeks, I’ve decided to embrace the future, starting with my internet at home. lfor the overhyped next-generation wireless: 5G. The new service has been touted as a solution to numerous problems, but one of its early successes was to provide competition to companies such as Comcast Xfinity, Charter Spectrum, Altice’s Optimum, AT&T and Verizon Fios.
Through a few weeks of my tryingand solutions, both showed great promise for eventually replacing my home broadband. But neither proved reliable enough to keep today, so for now I’m switching back to a more focused home ISP.
This is what I learned.
How to Compare Verizon and T-Mobile?
While neither provider officially offers 5G home internet services in my building, both providers have very strong 5G coverage in my New York City area.
On Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, I often find download speeds in excess of 200 Mbps (and sometimes over 300 Mbps), an impressive connection that easily handles all of myself and my two roommates’ gaming, streaming, and work needs.
upload,were about 20 Mbps, or comparable to my Spectrum cable connection.
T-Mobile, which has its 5G Ultra capability available where I live, has been hitting similar download speeds in my area lately – something that has become a more recent development and gives me confidence that the carrier is still actively working to bolster its network, even in areas where it has already deployed a lot of 5G.
The T-Mobile connection was also more responsive, often offering lower latency and faster upload speeds that regularly exceed 40 Mbps. That’s double what Verizon’s 5G and my 400Mbps Spectrum plan had to offer.
Both carriers charge $50 for their 5G home internet offering, and those prices include taxes, fees, and a modem/router in the monthly fee. Neither has 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 the most expensive Magenta Max plan. Verizon drops the price to $25 per month if you have the Play More, Do More, or Get More plans.
Compared to traditional broadband options, this can quickly lead to serious monthly savings, even without the wireless bundle discounts.
Setting up either one is also incredibly easy: take the modem/router device out of the box, place it near a window, and plug it in. No technician visit is required.
T-Mobile’s modems have screens so you can immediately see if the area where you’ve placed your device has strong coverage without having to go to apps. Verizon’s box is more minimalistic, relying on an LED bulb instead. If it’s white you’re good, if it’s red you need to move it to a new location in your house.
Personally, I prefer T-Mobile’s functionality over Verizon’s form, even if the former’s gray barrel is a bit of an eyesore. The carrier also offers a black box version of its router/modem that has a screen but doesn’t seem more stylish.
Both providers have enabled me and my roommates to stream 4K content, play online games on Xbox, make Zoom and FaceTime calls, and live our normal lives.
So why switch back to a more traditional connection? inconsistency.
Strong coverage doesn’t always equate to strong performance
While both providers in my area have excellent service, using both systems has left us with random intermittent periods of interrupted internet. My first week with Verizon was excellent, but by week two, speeds and latency got so erratic that I had to switch.
T-Mobile’s offer similarly sparkled more often than not, but it also went out randomly while watching the Grizzlies-Warriors game on a Saturday night on YouTube TV or while attempting to work on Monday or Tuesday morning. A quick reset of the modem and my connected Eero got us up and running again, but the unreliability is an issue.
To be fair to both carriers, I understand that my situation is a bit unique.
Verizon offers Fios in my area and therefore 5G Home Internet is not officially available where I live. If you want internet from Verizon and you have the option for Fios, it will send you there quickly. Because its Ultra Wideband network has improved so dramatically, the company sent me a device to experience its network and its 5G Home Internet product, although the service is technically unavailable in my exact location.
Interestingly, Verizon’s 5G network in my area has been significantly worse in recent weeks for both 5G Home Internet and traditional phone connections. Since then it has started working normally again, with some speed tests of my iPhone 13 Pro Max on Friday showing download speeds over the 5G network in the vicinity of 400 Mbps.
Verizon says it had a “backhaul issue” 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 rising in the area, which could have exacerbated the problem.
The carrier says that the first problem has now been solved.
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 at that location. Although I’ve only moved six blocks since then, my new address isn’t technically listed as an address for T-Mobile Home Internet.
I’m still paying for the modem and it still works and connects to T-Mobile’s faster midband 5G network. This could explain some of the issues I was having with speed. After troubleshooting the carrier, I noticed a solid performance boost with Friday download speeds regularly clocking in between 300-400Mbps. But it doesn’t quite explain why the modem clocked out completely at random intervals.
“Home Internet isn’t available to every home these days, and that’s intentional,” a T-Mobile spokeswoman said in a statement to CNET when contacted about these issues.
“To ensure a great experience for everyone, we allocate access to home internet by sector and by home. And we only offer it in places where we can guarantee that there is enough network capacity to deliver great network performance. for all of our customers — wireless and broadband — both now and in the future with predicted increases in data usage.”
A millimeter wave 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 higher-frequency wireless airwaves that are an option for 5G.
Carriers, notably Verizon and AT&T, heavily touted millimeter wave in their early 5G deployments, and Verizon continues to offer 5G Home broadband over millimeter wave in some markets today.
Fair similarly charges about $50 per month, but since it uses millimeter wave and a dedicated network, it has gigabit-esque upload and download speeds. This is a significant jump compared to the midband 5G networks I’ve experienced with Verizon and T-Mobile’s respective home broadband solutions.
For reference, getting a fixed gigabit connection from Verizon for Fios would cost me $90 per month, while Spectrum would charge me $80 per month.
Other companies like Starry are similarly using millimeter wave to offer home Internet alternatives in cities across the country. However, unlike midband 5G, this version of 5G is much more limited in range and availability and companies like Honest and Starry actually need to install equipment on the specific buildings they serve to make the connections accessible.
My apartment building is one that supports Honest, although the setup and installation was similar to a traditional cable or fiber optic process. We made an appointment through the company’s website and had a technician come over for a few hours to put us through. Since the building is wired for the service, I don’t have a traditional modem and instead just plug my router into an Ethernet port in the wall.
While it took some time to get going, once up and running, performance quickly dominated Verizon and T-Mobile’s options.
Download speeds over my aging Eero network were often comparable to the 100-400 Mbps I saw on Verizon and T-Mobile, but uploads were consistently over 300 Mbps (I tried installing an update for my Eero that affected the “performance” should improve and “stability”, but for some reason it constantly doesn’t last).
Most impressively, the latency measured on Speedtest.net and Fast.com is consistently less than 5 milliseconds, even over Wi-Fi. That’s a more responsive network than the one that even my Spectrum cable connection provided.
Since I’ve had a good experience tracking new installs of all three services, I’m not going to get too far ahead of Honest just yet. But that consistent, super-low latency, even over Wi-Fi, is certainly one of the most encouraging stats I’ve seen yet and makes me optimistic that this flavor of 5G might really beat my traditional wired cable options today.