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Could 5G Home Internet Be the Solution to Your Broadband Needs?

Mobile carriers rave about its potential, but 5G also offers appealing speeds and straightforward pricing for household internet connections.

It's no secret that many of us are tired of being tied to internet service providers with cumbersome contracts, low speeds, restrictive terms and rising fees. Indeed, a customer survey released in June showed that ISPs are currently the country's lowest-rated industry. All too often, though, we have few options and fewer alternatives

Could 5G be the answer? The technology powering the newest phones also wants to tackle our home broadband needs. The earliest 5G home internet plans, available from names like Starry, T-Mobile and Verizon, offer respectable speeds at a straightforward price -- but availability is limited to select cities and regions. Let's dig in and see how it works, how fast it gets, what it costs and where it's available.

What is 5G home internet? 

Simply put, 5G stands for fifth generation. Fifth generation of what, you ask? The fifth generation of wireless data networks. You're probably most familiar with hearing 5G used to describe better mobile communications and speedier phones. You're not wrong: 5G networks, which use different radio frequencies than previous generations, aim to provide faster data speeds with much less lag or delay than we had with 4G.

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My CNET colleague Eli Blumenthal does a great job of breaking down the basics of 5G. Millimeter-wave technology uses much higher frequencies than previous generations and provides much faster speeds and connections. But those higher, gigabit speeds come with a price -- the data doesn't travel the same distance as 4G and has more trouble with obstructions. To combat that, midband technology, which offers speeds averaging between 300 and 400 megabits per second, increases the coverage area provided by millimeter-wave. Finally, low-band 5G offers a range similar to 4G but speeds between 100 and 200Mbps.

Is 5GHz the same thing as 5G home internet?

Nope. One common mistake is to see the "5GHz" setting on your Wi-Fi router and assume you have access to 5G. Wi-Fi routers also use short-range radio frequencies -- typically either 2.4GHz or 5GHz -- to transmit your internet signal to connected devices within your home. So 5GHz is one of the band options for your home's Wi-Fi system, but it's not the same as 5G, a cellular technology that uses higher-frequency waves.

Coaxial cable with connector

Cable, fiber and DSL home internet plans require wires that connect your home to the provider's grid. With a fixed wireless service like 5G, your home connects to the provider's network over the air.

Taylor Martin/CNET

How is 5G home internet different from fiber or cable internet?

Most ISPs deliver internet service via phone lines or cables connecting your home to a more extensive network. That includes common internet connection types, like digital subscriber line, coaxial cable and fiber-optic internet. Those are all wired connections from your provider to your home.

5G home internet, on the other hand, is a type of fixed wireless internet service, which means that the connection between your provider and your home is not a wired one. With 5G, your provider will need to install an indoor or outdoor 5G receiver at your house to pick up the signal. It's similar to satellite internet, but instead of beaming in a signal from satellites orbiting in the night sky, it's relaying information from a much closer wireless hub. Even though you're using the same 5G network as your mobile phone, the gateway is specific to your location and cannot be used elsewhere.

Which ISPs can provide 5G home internet?

As stated already, 5G is still being deployed across the country. Due to that, the number of providers currently offering any 5G home internet plan is relatively limited. For example, AT&T provides a 5G mobile service, but its fixed wireless solution does not currently utilize its 5G network. So, right now, your main options for 5G home internet are Starry, T-Mobile and Verizon. Let's explore what each offers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Starry is a relatively new player on the ISP field. The company, which started in 2016, does not lean into the 5G connection. It does not use 5G NR radio technology, which is a focus of mobile providers, but it does use millimeter-wave technology as a critical aspect of delivering fixed wireless home internet to customers. "We operate in 24GHz and 37GHz spectrum bands and our network technology is the same across all our markets," a Starry spokesperson said.

The monthly price includes unlimited data, free equipment and installation, and no contracts. It's also the only 5G home internet provider listed here that features symmetrical or near-symmetrical download and upload speeds, similar to what you'd find with a fiber internet service.

Lastly, Starry also offers a "30-Day Happy Interneting Guarantee" that features a full refund if you aren't satisfied with the service and cancel within the first 30 days. 

Read our Starry home internet review.

 

Starry Internet plans and pricing

Plan Max speeds Monthly price Equipment fee Data cap Contract
Starry Connect 30Mbps download, 30Mbps upload $15 None None None
Starry Basic 50Mbps download, 50Mbps upload $30 None None None
Starry Select 100Mbps download, 50Mbps upload $30 None None None
Starry Plus 200Mbps download, 100Mbps upload $50 None None None
Starry Pro 500Mbps download, 250Mbps upload $65 None None None
Starry Gigabit 1,000Mbps download, 500Mbps upload $80 None None None
T Mobile

T-Mobile Home Internet features the lowest broadband speeds among our listed providers. That's because it wavers between 4G LTE and 5G. It's not exclusively 5G. T-Mobile "anticipates" that most customers will average between 33 and 182Mbps download speeds. CNET tested T-Mobile's home internet service, and we hit a max of 132Mbps on the service.

T-Mobile's home internet service includes all setup fees and taxes. There is no annual contract or data cap. It also includes a Price Lock guarantee that shields you from any price increases for as long as you remain a customer. Its current deal features Paramount Plus free for one year ($5 a month version with limited ads) and, for eligible Magenta MAX customers, savings of $20 off the monthly price.

Read our T-Mobile Home Internet overview.

 

T-Mobile Home Internet plans and pricing

Plan Max speeds Monthly price Equipment fee Data cap Contract Price guarantee
T-Mobile Home Internet 35-182Mbps download, 6-23Mbps upload $50 ($30 for eligible Magenta MAX mobile customers) None None None Yes
Sarah Tew/CNET

Verizon's 5G internet service, which uses Ultra Wideband 5G technology, boasts max download speeds of up to 1 gigabit and average speeds of around 300Mbps. However, upload speeds are not symmetrical and will plateau at 50Mbps or less because Verizon does not exclusively use the millimeter-wave technology but a mix of low-band, midband and millimeter-wave.

Verizon 5G Home Internet pricing is $50 a month for a two-year price guarantee or $70 a month to lock in the price for three years, plus some extra perks. Either way, it's an all-in price that includes equipment, setup fees and taxes, and like all other Verizon plans, it requires no contracts or data caps.

Verizon also offers many promos and deals to sweeten the pot for potential customers. First, it provides an early termination fee credit offer to give qualifying customers a bill credit of up to $500 if they switch from their current ISP and are charged an ETF. Second, 5G Home Plus customers get an eight-piece SimpliSafe Smart Home Security Bundle. Lastly, customers with qualifying Verizon Unlimited mobile plans will get 50% off the monthly cost of either plan.

Read our Verizon 5G Home Internet review.

 

Verizon 5G Home Internet plans and prices

Plan Max speeds Monthly price Equipment fee Data cap Contract Price guarantee
Verizon 5G Home 85-300Mbps download, 50Mbps upload $50 ($25 for qualifying Verizon Unlimited mobile customers) None None None 2 years
Verizon 5G Home Plus 300-1,000Mbps download, 50Mbps upload $70 ($35 for qualifying Verizon Unlimited mobile customers) None None None 3 years
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Where is 5G home internet service available?

Let's not sugarcoat this: 5G home internet service is not yet available everywhere. While the list of cities seems to expand nearly every month, most are larger US cities. 

T-Mobile Home Internet is the most widely available service among the three providers we've highlighted. While Verizon said earlier this year that its 5G home internet service is now available to 30 million homes, T-Mobile has leapfrogged that by expanding the service availability of its fixed wireless service to over 40 million households. Yet T-Mobile acknowledges it does not have unlimited availability across those locations due to network capacity and a limited inventory of its router. You can check out this T-Mobile Home Internet PDF to see the expansive list of metro areas.

Verizon's 5G Home Internet is currently offered in approximately 900 markets. That means that although the total number of households in which it is available is less than T-Mobile, it does cover more cities.

Starry Internet is available in Boston; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Los Angeles; New York City and Washington, DC. Its future expansion roadmap includes approximately 40 million households in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Memphis, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle.

Does 5G home internet make sense for you?

The first thing to be said is what we always say regarding ISPs. No matter how good the service, it's all moot if unavailable at your address. 5G technology is still being rolled out across the country, so we should expect to see some bumps in the road as that effort continues.

Still, 5G home internet availability is increasing at a pretty rapid pace. The affordable, straightforward pricing is vastly appealing -- and what jumps off the page for me. Time will tell if that trend holds as availability continues to expand. Still, it would be a real step forward if 5G could emerge as a viable broadband option for traditionally underserved parts of rural America. As CNET alum Rick Broida put it after he tested T-Mobile's service, "imperfection is a lot more tolerable when you're paying less than half what you were before."

5G home internet FAQs

What does the 'G' stand for in 5G?

It simply means generation. In other words, 5G is the fifth generation of cellular technology.

What's the difference between 5G home internet and cable internet?

Cable internet -- whether coaxial cable, fiber-optic cable or a hybrid of the two -- relies on wires to transmit data from a central hub into your home. But 5G home internet is a fixed wireless solution that uses an internet gateway to connect your home using radio frequencies to connect to a cell tower or data hub nearby. 

How much does 5G home internet cost?

5G home internet is one of the more affordable options available considering the decent download speeds that current plans average -- T-Mobile averages just over 100Mbps, Starry chimes in at 200Mbps and Verizon's median speed is 300Mbps. The lowest monthly cost among the three main providers is $25 (Verizon 5G Home with the Verizon Unlimited discount) and the highest is $70 (Verizon 5G Home Plus without the Verizon Unlimited discount). But each of the providers' monthly costs includes all fees, taxes, equipment fees and installation charges. So the monthly charge you see is the monthly charge you pay. Lastly, none require term contracts, so you won't have to fear any early termination fees.

How fast is 5G home internet?

In theory, 5G should enable a speedy connection that will match or better what you get with cable or fiber internet. But regarding the reality of 5G home internet, that's simply not the case. To increase the reliability and coverage of the 5G internet service, most providers rely on a mix of millimeter-wave, low-band and midband technology -- as well as 4G LTE in some cases -- and this means home internet customers won't see the real high-end capabilities of 5G at present.

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