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When T-Mobile first offered a mobile broadband service built on its 5G network last year, I couldn’t wait to check it out. For me, a 5G-based home internet service is the best chance to compete with AT&T, Comcast and other cable providers.
But when I finally tried T-Mobile’s oldest version of 5G home internet, my bubble of optimism burst. In a review I wrote for Forbes in 2021 July. (see houstonchronicle.com/forbesreview), I found the service to be often unreliable and definitely slower than my Xfinity connection. Comcast employees didn’t have much to worry about then.
What a difference a year makes. Since that initial preview, T-Mobile has been aggressively improving its network by rolling out the high-speed, mid-band 5G radio spectrum it got from its merger with Sprint across Houston. When I noticed that my T-Mobile-connected iPhone was getting 300-500 megabits per second download speeds at my home a few miles west of downtown, I knew it was time to take another look at the company’s offering.
While it’s not perfect, T-Mobile’s product is now an alternative to traditional broadband worth considering — if it’s available in your area. Comcast executives may be starting to worry now.
This is actually the third iteration of T-Mobile’s home internet service. The first version, released in 2020, was built with 4G LTE service. 5G was added the following year. And in 2022 the telco will turn on the 2.5GHz midband it acquired from Sprint in more markets, and is expanding the availability of those frequencies in areas where it has already begun operating.
Houston was one of the first cities where in 2019 prior to the merger, Sprint’s mid-band service was provided. I was at a press conference sitting on a bus with a 5G hotspot that was over 700Mbps download speed. tools through the city center. I was skeptical that I would ever see close to that speed in the real world on a smartphone.
But after more than three years, I believe. My iPhone 14 Pro Max has download speeds over 600Mbps in some areas of Houston. At home, I’m seeing the above test results of 300-500 Mbps with a dual-to-tri-band signal on the phone.
After learning that T-Mobile’s 5G wireless gateways—devices that convert 5G cellular signals into Wi-Fi in your home—can access midband spectrum, I asked the telco to take another look.
In my first review, I used the initial hardware that T-Mobile provided to early 5G home customers, round Nokia gateways that resemble a miniature 2013 phone. A “trash” version of the Mac Pro desktop. Since then, T-Mobile has added two more gateway models, one made by Sagemcom and one made by Arcadyan. I was sent the latter, a black tower that measures 7.5″ tall and 4.5″ square. There is a small screen on the front with three buttons that show connection status and other system information.
Setup is easy. Download the T-Mobile Home Internet app, plug the gateway into a power source, and launch the app to walk you through the process. T-Mobile recommends testing different locations around your home to find the best signal, and strongly recommends placing the gateway in a window. I couldn’t do it, but I could put it between the window and the door, which has a lot of glass. I keep getting four signal bars.
Last year, the Nokia gateway had download speeds between 140 and 200 Mbps, with a minimum of 35 Mbps and a maximum of 300 Mbps. Now the average range starts from 200 and goes up to 350 Mbps. I’ve had download speeds as high as 500Mbps and as low as 30Mbps, but both are rare.
T-Mobile claims that smartphone users have priority on the network, so the gateway drops to 250 Mbps, while my iPhone runs between 350 and 500 Mbps. However, the reverse is true for uploads that are faster with the home service. The average gateway is 20-40 Mbps and the phone stays in the 10-20 Mbps range.
in 2022 the service version is also more reliable. Last year I experienced frequent service outages and T-Mobile told me that because my home was between two cell towers; the gate would switch between the two. This year, I’ve seen a message from my phone or Mac saying that I’ve lost internet access, but after a few seconds it’s back.
But last weekend my download speed dropped to less than 100mbps and stayed there until Sunday night when it went back to normal. The T-Mobile representative speculated that the cell traffic in my area may have been heavy and service at my home was not prioritized, but that is unlikely. There were no incidents around me and the traffic on the streets was normal for the weekend.
I used T-Mobile service for everything I did – web access, email. for mail, multiple zoom sessions, connecting smart home devices and streaming HD and 4K video to your phone and 55-inch TV. I haven’t used it for gaming, but one of my grown kids uses a Nokia Gateway in the East Side home they share with a friend, and they say there’s no problem with online gaming.
Although in 2022 version T-Mobile 5G home Internet speed increased, prices decreased. When I wrote my original review, it was $65/month or $60 with autopay. Now it’s $55 and $50. T-Mobile customers with the company’s Magenta Max cell service, including the 55+ plan for seniors, pay $30 with autopay. The company also says that the price is fixed, with no price increases. Time will tell. . .
As with last year, there are no data caps, although as I said, speeds may be temporarily slowed if mobile 5G demand is high near your home.
It’s worth noting that Verizon also has a 5G home broadband service available in Houston. Prices start at $25 per month if you’re a Verizon mobile customer, and download speeds range from 85 Mbps to 1 gigabit per second.
I’ve looked into trying it before, but Verizon’s 5G is built around millimeter waves, or mmWave, frequencies that can’t penetrate buildings or greenery. A two-story crepe myrtle ruined my plans, but Verizon service now includes midband frequencies. It’s worth trying again.