During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when all of my family members were living and working from home, we were hammering the internet and constantly exceeding the internet data usage limits assigned to our service provider, Cox. It was a real turning point in terms of thinking about what we wanted and needed from our home ISP.
Distance learning, distance education, streaming shows and more have caused many additional overage charges. In 2022, I decided to double down and upgrade our Cox internet service, but new issues, along with unfulfilled promised speeds, made the experience go from boring to bad. So finally exhausted by traditional cable internet, I switched to T-Mobile’s home internet service to see if it could deliver and live up to its hype.
I first tried T-Mobile’s wireless internet service in 2021 when it first launched in my area. It worked well, but I had only loaned the LTE modem as a review unit. This time I completely disconnected my cable modem and then completely canceled our Cox internet service.
T-Mobile advertises unlimited data usage and 5G speeds, whatever that means. My service through Cox was unreliable enough that I was just hoping T-Mobile’s 5G wireless home internet could deliver download speeds of at least 150 Mbps. If that happened, it would be better than the inconsistent speeds I was seeing from Cox. So far I have been pleasantly surprised.
There should be a big disclaimer that location is everything with cellular networks, so you may have different results. This current review reflects my experience with T-Mobile Home Internet service in a Southern California suburb.
- Speeds fast enough for multiple simultaneous video streams
- Capable of managing many Wi-Fi devices on the network
- Slower 5G speeds than my phone in the same place
- The mobile app for the service is very basic and limiting
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T-Mobile Home Internet Speeds
There are a few big concerns people have when considering switching to a cellular network for their home internet, myself included. My two main questions were: Will it be fast enough and consistently reliable, even under heavy use?
In terms of speed, the 5G modem provided by T-Mobile as part of the service consistently showed four out of five bars, and I regularly saw download speeds of around 250 Mbps. I check network speeds frequently, whenever something seems slow. The slowest speed I saw was around 50 Mbps, but that was only once out of hundreds of checks. At least 90% of the time I got download speeds between 150 and 250 Mbps.
On my T-Mobile iPhone 13 Pro 5G, I sometimes see network download speeds of up to 500 Mbps at home. I’ve never noticed this on my home network, but maybe I’ll see those kinds of speeds in the future. This is in stark contrast to Cox’s firm resolve to never allow speeds faster than your plan level.
Download speeds were around 31 Mbps, on average. In my experience, the download speed stayed at least 30 Mbps almost every time I checked. Download speeds seemed very consistent.
Another benefit for me was the ability to place the 5G modem wherever I need it in my home. The coaxial cable that Cox uses for his modem was located in the corner of a room on one side of my house. This meant that my router had to start broadcasting on that far side as well. Mesh networking has relieved a lot of Wi-Fi headaches, but now with a cellular modem I’m free to place the router in the best location for signal strength or where it’s most central in the house .
Heavy network usage
When I last checked, I had about 65 devices on my Wi-Fi network. There are plenty of smart speakers, TVs, computers, and tablets along with multiple streaming security cameras. If our household didn’t exceed Cox’s 1.5TB data usage limit each month, we were getting closer. Just four years ago it seemed absurd, but nowadays video streaming is available in higher resolutions, music streams in lossless audio formats, and more and more devices do more things. on the Internet to increase data consumption.
Video streaming is easy to identify, but mobile apps are another example of increased data consumption. Google, Facebook, Uber, Instagram, Snapchat and many more mobile apps are around 200MB in size and consume that much data with every update, sometimes weekly. If you update 20 apps a week on your phone that is 200MB or more in size, that’s at least 16GB a month of internet data that you use to do it alone. Apple’s GarageBand app is a whopping 1.6GB in size. Needless to say, I was looking forward to the unlimited data usage announced by T-Mobile.
In the first month, while relying exclusively on T-Mobile’s home internet service, I only had one instance where there was a momentary hiccup with our internet. A streaming show paused and a web page was declared unavailable, then about 45 seconds later things started up again.
In that first month, I pushed the service as hard as any normal family, but probably a little more. There have been times when three people were streaming three different shows at the same time. Music plays constantly while I test speakers and headphones. Videoconferences take place regularly. External security cameras broadcast video when someone approaches the house. Through it all, everything went according to plan.
So far, I haven’t noticed any difference in the speed at which video streaming services load and start playing. I haven’t noticed any lag in the meetings. I connected to my robot vacuum’s camera and streamed video cleaning the kitchen at the same speed when using Cox’s service.
I was worried that under the weight of kids coming home from school during the summer, 5G internet service for the home might not be reliable, but it’s not. Of course, I wish downloading files – like Netflix shows on my iPad or huge product images – would have been faster, but maybe that will come with time.
- I used a different Wi-Fi router than the one built into the 5G modem. I plugged my own mesh Wi-Fi into the back of the modem and didn’t rely on the black box alone to reach every corner of my house.
- The T-Mobile Internet mobile app is useful for setting up the service, but its feature set is very basic and limited. Devices can be programmed to block internet on kids’ devices after bedtime, for example, but that’s about it. There isn’t even a guest Wi-Fi networking feature that I could find.
- You can’t see data usage through the mobile app, but you can on the T-Mobile website.
- The $50 per month fee is for enabling autopay for your monthly bill. The price is slightly higher if you don’t use autopay.
Should you sign up for T-Mobile’s home internet service?
One of the most frustrating things as a consumer is being taken for granted. And I felt like Cox was taking me for granted as an Internet customer. I spoke to a rep at some point this year and mentioned that I wasn’t getting the speeds I was paying for. Although the company saw the same on his end, I was told that I would have to pay to have someone come see him.
My disappointment with either of the two ISP choices in my area isn’t due to a single point of failure, but a constant drip of little things. I suspect I’m not alone here, and a lot of people have been unhappy with their ISPs. Consumers must rely on AT&T, Spectrum, Cox, Comcast, Charter or Verizon for their Internet service, but often have no choice between more than two providers.
Let me clarify that T-Mobile’s 5G Wireless Home Internet isn’t a savior in the vacuum of home internet services, but it’s at least a breeze of fresh air coming in through the window. It’s a hint of competition in metropolitan areas.
(I’ve heard many people in the past say that this T-Mobile service is more important to them in rural areas, where internet service is harder to come by. In that case, going from zero to one is a big deal huge.)
For my location, the service was reliable and found to have sufficient speeds. Perhaps this third ISP option in some areas puts a little more pressure on incumbents to reliably deliver faster speeds at reasonable costs, but that seems too much to wish for.
For now, my next step is just to see how the service performs over the long term. My most realistic hope is that I might just forget about dealing with home internet service: come October I could stream a postseason MLB game and not worry about how much data it’s consuming or whether it will need to be buffered every few minutes.
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