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Cellular Home Internet: Who's Got It and What It Could Mean for You

Mobile carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile are expanding access to cellular home internet, including plans with 5G. Here's what to know before signing up.

A cellular tower against a sunny, blue sky
Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Access to a reliable home internet connection is vital for most households, yet the US still faces a digital divide. A growing number of cellular providers are responding to that need by introducing residential internet plans. 

Cellular internet works by using a router or hotspot to connect to a provider's cellular network, just like your mobile phone. The speed you receive depends on how close you are to a network tower, network congestion, how many connected devices you have and other factors. Most of the time, those speeds will be a lot slower than what a faster fiber or cable connection could achieve -- but if your location lacks those alternatives, then a cellular internet setup might be just what you need.

Since many big telecommunication companies offer these plans -- and 5G technology promises to make some of them even better -- let's see how they compare in price, speed and other aspects.

A display showing Verizon's services

Verizon continues to expand its LTE and 5G home internet services.

Screenshot by Eli Blumenthal/CNET

Verizon LTE Home Internet

Verizon LTE is intended for households that don't have access to the provider's other home internet services, like Verizon Fios. You'll connect to Verizon's 4G LTE network, with download speeds of 25-50 megabits per second and upload speeds up to 4Mbps. That's roughly on par with DSL speeds and fast enough for basic web usage, HD streaming and light online gaming. Like the rest of Verizon's home internet offerings, Verizon LTE comes with no data caps.

Pricing for Verizon's LTE service depends on whether you already have cellular service with Verizon or not. If you have eligible Verizon mobile plans (and enroll in autopay and paperless billing), then LTE residential internet service will cost you $25 per month. That goes up to $50 per month if you don't have an existing Verizon mobile plan, which places Verizon LTE on par with what cable internet providers charge for service. If providers like that are available in your area, then the odds are good that they can offer you a faster connection for the price than Verizon's LTE network.

Verizon LTE is available in nearly 200 markets across 48 states, but you'll need to check with Verizon to see if coverage is available at your address.

Verizon 5G Home Internet

Verizon 5G Home is the company's latest home internet offering, and it promises a dramatic speed boost thanks to Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband technology. After just starting in 2021, Verizon 5G Home has expanded to over 900 markets thus far. Verizon has announced that its 5G Home service is already available to over 30 million households and aims to reach 50 million by 2025.

As for speeds, 5G Home downloads top out at 1Gbps, or 1,000Mbps, with average speeds at around 300Mbps. Uploads remain more modest, topping out at 50Mbps. 5G Home is $50 per month (with a two-year price guarantee), or $70 per month for 5G Home Plus, which carries a three-year price guarantee and additional plan perks. Customers can get 50% off either tier if they also subscribe to select 5G mobile plans. No annual contract is required, all equipment is included in the monthly price, and there are no data caps.

A T-Mobile Home Internet gateway sits on a windowsill

T-Mobile's Home Internet gateway serves as modem and router, though you can also plug in an existing router or mesh network.

Rick Broida/CNET

T-Mobile Home Internet

T-Mobile touts simplicity as a benefit of its home internet service. For $50 per month with AutoPay, you receive access to the fastest cellular speeds available at your address. Speeds will vary based on location, but most customers see download speeds ranging from 33-182Mbps and upload speeds around 6-23Mbps. 

One of the best aspects of the service is that everything is included in the price. Your Wi-Fi equipment comes with no rental fees, data caps or annual service contracts, and you don't even need to pick a plan. 

T-Mobile has aggressively expanded to serve more rural communities, and its home internet service is available to over 40 million households using the company's 5G and 4G LTE networks. All told, the service is still pretty new, and T-Mobile aims to keep pushing its expansion in varied ways. CNET's own Eli Blumenthal tried T-Mobile Home Internet out for himself. The company is even encouraging such trials with its Worry-free Test Drive program, which allows customers 15 days to try it out without penalty.

AT&T Fixed Wireless 

Though some routers and hotspots can tap into AT&T's cellular network to translate the signal into a Wi-Fi network you can connect to, AT&T doesn't currently offer dedicated 5G home internet like Verizon and T-Mobile -- at least not yet.

That said, in addition to fiber and DSL internet plans, AT&T offers fixed wireless internet service to rural communities. You set it up by installing an antenna outside your home with a clear view of the sky. It'll connect over the air with an AT&T access point somewhere near you and pipe the signal to your router, allowing you to receive download speeds of 10-25Mbps, with upload speeds around 1Mbps. 

There are a few limitations to consider with AT&T's fixed wireless service. First, know that AT&T caps data at 350GB per month. That's unlike T-Mobile Home Internet and Verizon 5G Home, which feature unlimited data. Such a data cap might also prove tight for some, as the average US home uses over 500GB per month. The company will charge $10 for every 50GB of data you use over the cap, up to $200 in additional fees. 

As for 5G, AT&T's executive vice president of technology operations, Chris Samba, told CNET in March that the company plans to roll out its own AT&T cellular broadband offering later in 2022 using a combination of LTE and 5G technology. We'll update this space when we learn more.

US Cellular

If you live in US Cellular's 4G LTE coverage area, you could sign up for fixed wireless service with hardware that connects your router with the nearest cell tower to bring your home network online. The provider offers a variety of high-speed internet plans starting at $55 per month (for a data cap of 25GB) to $70 monthly (for unlimited data). With download speeds ranging from 25-150Mbps, it has more plans and faster speeds than other fixed wireless carriers like AT&T. 

Also, US Cellular doesn't impose data overage charges. That said, the company can throttle your connection to 2G speeds once you use up your data allotment, which varies by plan. That means your network speeds could come crashing down in the middle of your billing cycle if your web activity consumes too much bandwidth.

Optimizing your cellular internet connection

No matter which carrier you choose, your router placement can be crucial in optimizing speeds. You want to place it in a clear area, away from obstacles like bookcases, furniture and walls. If you have a home with multiple stories, you could also buy Wi-Fi extenders. These strengthen the signal in slower areas of your home. 

It's also important to take your regular internet usage into account. Understanding how much speed you should be paying for and how much data you need allows you to choose the most appropriate plan and avoid additional fees.