T-Mobile’s 5G Home Internet Service Looks Nice … If You Can Get It

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For years, T-Mobile executives have vowed to disrupt cable TV the same way the carrier disrupted the cell phone industry. When he was both managing director and the fiery public face of the company, John Legere took a “we’re coming for you cable guys!” ”Position that promised better service at lower prices.

Still, T-Mobile’s attempts to do so so far have left little ripple in the cable pond. Earlier this month, the company announced a set of 5G initiatives that included opening its home wireless internet service, which had been tested with 4G LTE only to existing mobile customers, to everyone via its 5G network. Could this finally be the disruptive arrow in T-Mobile’s quiver?

The problem is, “everyone”. While LTE service was limited to existing mobile customers, the 5G version does not have such limitation. What’s limited now is where you can get it, which turns out to be a big hurdle. For now, this is what could keep T-Mobile from becoming the aggressive disruptor it has presented itself as.

On paper, T-Mobile’s 5G home internet service looks intriguing. For $ 60 a month, customers get a high-speed wireless connection that promises average speeds of 100 Mbps, maybe more. This price is competitive with promotional offers from many wireline broadband providers and significantly cheaper than when those promotional prices expire. There are no data limits, although T-Mobile says speeds may slow down if the tower you’re connected to becomes congested. More on that later.

When it launched, T-Mobile said the service was available to 30 million people across the United States in hundreds of communities large and small. In a PDF file posted on its website, T-Mobile lists cities as large as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta and as small as Borger, Texas; Heber City, Utah; or Bluefield, W. Va.

But not everyone in all of these regions can get it, and it underscores a reality regarding 5G coverage and the concept of wireless internet in the home in general.

T-Mobile currently has the largest 5G footprint in the United States, as it uses the same spectrum frequencies as its 4G LTE service, as well as a faster mid-band spectrum than it achieved when it merged with Sprint. . But even with extensive coverage, it can still be patchy. And even where 5G signals are available, the physics of wireless service make it less reliable than a copper or fiber wire entering your home.

For example, I am a T-Mobile customer and have a 5G compatible iPhone 12 Pro Max. In my living room, where I would keep the Nokia 5G router used by T-Mobile, I can sometimes get download speeds of between 80 and 130 Mbps per second – and that’s with just two bars, my typical signal strength here. But sometimes, especially during daylight hours, I get a much lower test result than downloads – 30 Mbps or less. Download speeds are even more inconsistent.

Download speeds can be much faster if you are in the right location. Nokia equipment can connect to the higher frequency spectrum that T-Mobile got when it merged with Sprint. This means that download speeds of between 200 and 300 Mbps or more are possible, but frequencies that allow this are not yet widespread.

With this service, T-Mobile introduces another variable. Remember my previous reference to T-Mobile’s practice of slowing down or limiting speeds if a tower is congested? It’s similar to what happens with any wireless carrier on an “unlimited” plan if you exceed a certain threshold in a month. T-Mobile’s threshold is 50 gigabits per month; other carriers may have lower amounts. With T-Mobile’s 5G home service, you are automatically placed each month in the “broadband user” category and marked for possible limitation.

Consistency is very important for a broadband connection at home, more than for the mobile. Imagine watching “Godzilla vs. Kong” streaming in 4K on HBO Max and T-Mobile suddenly decides that the tower you are using is too crowded. Monstrous interruptus!

But Dow Draper, T-Mobile’s executive vice president for emerging markets, said in an interview that should “never happen.”

“The only time a network management policy would go into effect is when a tower is congested, but we are very, very careful not to bring home internet into areas that have even low risk. congestion, ”Draper said. “We are very conservative with this. “

Which helps to explain why the service is not available at the moment. A spokesperson for T-Mobile told me that even in areas where it is available, you may or may not subscribe on a case-by-case basis. I’m not able to get it at my location near downtown Houston, but it’s available at an address a few blocks away. I tried a dozen residential locations in the city in T-Mobile’s uptime tool, and the uptime was hit and miss.

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I then asked people on Twitter and Facebook to check it out, and got responses from all over the United States. About 60% of people were not eligible, although this is a small sample and barely scientific.

Draper said availability really depends on the capacity of a specific tower, and the population density of the area around you may not be a factor.

“We will have 5G home internet available in many urban and suburban areas. You can have a dense area with a lot of people, but because we have such a large spectrum portfolio and what the network team has done with the network there, we can offer a lot, a lot of home internet in very congested areas, ”he said.

T-Mobile will increase capacity over time, and Draper recommends that if your city is on the list where 5G home internet is available, you should check back every two to three months to see if your home becomes eligible.

He said the response to T-Mobile’s supply has resulted in “huge demand” for new Internet access options.

“I think it shows how desperate people are for a choice or what I should say is a really good alternative,” he said.

Do you have questions about home Internet service? I can help.

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