The premise is simple: You’re already paying your wireless carrier for mobile data, so why not use the same company for your home internet, too, and potentially get a discount?
If, like many other people, you’re dissatisfied with the value or service you get from your current internet service provider (ISP), switching to 5G home internet service—also known as fixed wireless internet service or fixed wireless access (FWA)—could be an improvement.
With fixed wireless internet service, you get a modem and router that all your devices at home, such as TVs and computers, can connect to over WiFi or through an ethernet cable. It’s the same as getting internet through a cable, satellite, or fiber-optic service. The difference is that with 5G home internet service, the modem gets the data over the air from a cell phone tower (like how your phone gets its connection), rather than from a wire coming to your home.
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This means you don’t have to schedule a professional installation, figure out where to drill holes for the wire, or take off work to wait for the cable guy. (AT&T’s service is an exception. More on that below.)
I recently tried out T-Mobile’s 5G Home Internet offering. After signing up online, I received the gateway (a router combined with modem) from T-Mobile in the mail three days later. I plugged it in, downloaded the required app on my phone, scanned the QR code on the back of the device, and completed the setup process in about 15 minutes. My phone, tablet, and laptop, and my family’s other devices, were able to connect to the gateway over WiFi immediately.
Fast self-installation is one of the main selling points of fixed wireless access. Generally speaking, other hassles you don’t have to deal with are annual contracts, installation and monthly equipment charges, and data overages that some traditional broadband customers are familiar with. You pay one fixed rate, typically $50 per month (lower than what you might pay for a different type of service)—sometimes with a 50 percent discount if you also have cellular service with the company.
It might also be convenient to be able to quickly move the gateway to another room in your home or even to your deck or patio for better reception, wherever your tablets or laptops may stroll. And if you move, you can easily transfer your home internet connection to a new address if it’s within the provider’s service area. (You have to inform the company of your move, though, so you can’t really just take the gateway to your vacation home or another location and expect the internet service to work.)
5G home internet service is relatively new, and the cell phone companies are obviously going after cable providers. Verizon launched its 5G Home Internet Service in 2018, but most of its 1 million customers for the home internet service were added in 2022. (By comparison, the company’s more mature fiber-optic service, FiOS, has 7 million subscribers.) Verizon says its 5G Home Internet Service offers “the ultra-powerful network performance and speed you need with none of the hassles of cable.”Meanwhile, T-Mobile launched its home internet service in 2021 and now has over 1.5 million customers. The company advertises its service as being “fast and reliable without all the traditional Big Internet BS.”
Analysts see fixed wireless access as a big disrupter in the broadband industry, in large part because of the low price—with cable companies suffering as a result. The analysts estimate that 60 percent of new home internet service subscribers through 2024 will be using FWA.
So should you join the growing crowd of 5G home internet service customers and save on your internet bill? There may be a few catches.
First, there’s reception. The closer you live to a cellular tower, the stronger and more reliable your signal will be—and vice versa. (But you may be able to get coverage even if you’re in a rural or remote area.) There’s also placement of the router/modem within your home: When I set up the T-Mobile gateway, the app advised me to place the device near a window and on a top floor if possible. I did that, and the gateway showed very good to excellent signal strength at various times of the day. However, the signal dropped, at midday, once during the two days I tested the service. Your mileage may vary.
Also, depending on where you live and what broadband connections are available to you, the data speeds you get from your cell phone service provider may be much lower than what you could get with a fiber-optic or cable connection. Data speeds can vary “depending on your location, signal strength and availability, time of day, and other factors,” according to T-Mobile’s Home Internet FAQ.
Advertised speeds across the providers range from around 20 to 300 megabytes per second (Mbps) download and 1 to 23 Mbps upload. By contrast, the mean download speeds for all U.S. fixed broadband providers is 249 Mbps down and 92 Mbps up, as measured by network intelligence company Ookla. (The data includes speeds for cable, satellite, and fiber-optic connections—as well as fixed 5G networks.)
The 5G home internet service providers don’t offer guaranteed speeds, and there are no speed tiers to choose from, unlike other broadband providers which may offer high-tier plans with speeds of up to 1 gigabyte per second or more.
But if you know your family’s needs, you can decide whether or not 5G home internet would be a fit for you. The more devices you have connected to your home network, the more speed and bandwidth you might need. CR’s internet speed calculator can help.
Here’s more information on the home internet offerings from the wireless carriers.
AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet
AT&T’s Fixed Wireless service is an option only for certain rural households and small businesses. Unlike T-Mobile and Verizon, AT&T requires a technician to install an outdoor antenna and requires cell phone service with AT&T. The home internet service costs $60 per month, not including taxes and fees, and has a 350-gigabyte monthly data cap (overage fees apply). That might not be enough for some; the average household uses 536GB of broadband data per month, according to industry analytics company OpenVault.
Advertised speeds are relatively low, too, at 25 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads. The FCC defines high-speed broadband as having a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.
So AT&T’s fixed wireless offering is the least attractive of the Big Three cell phone service providers and probably best only if you don’t have other broadband options.
AT&T offers a faster fiber-optic internet service, available in select areas in 21 states, which starts at $55 per month (if you use autopay) and with advertised speeds of up to 5 Gbps (gigabytes per second). An AT&T representative told us via email that the company is "considering ways [their] fixed wireless services can fill in pockets and hard-to-reach areas for some customers, but fiber remains [the company’s] focus."
T-Mobile 5G Home Internet
Unlike the other internet service providers, T-Mobile offers a 15-day test drive, so you can see if it’s a good fit for you. If you cancel within 15 days of activating the home internet service and return the equipment within 45 days of cancelation, the trial won’t cost you anything.
T-Mobile’s home internet service costs $50 per month with autopay ($55 per month without autopay), taxes and fees included—just like Verizon’s 5G home internet service. If you also have at least two cell phone lines on the Magenta Max plan, the price for T-Mobile’s home internet service drops to $30 per month with autopay. These rates are locked for as long as you maintain service.
According to T-Mobile, you can expect speeds anywhere between 33 and 182 Mbps for downloads, and 6 to 23 Mbps for uploads—that’s a huge range, and your actual speed can depend on a number of factors. I’m a data point of one, but in my Long Island, N.Y., home (in a small suburb with probably few people also on the same home internet service), I got between 91 Mbps down and 28 Mbps up on my MacBook Air with the gateway a few feet away from me.
T-Mobile is also starting to offer fiber-optic internet service of up to 940 Mbps, starting in New York City.
Verizon 5G Home Internet
Like T-Mobile, Verizon offers unlimited data on its 5G home internet service for $50 with autopay ($60 without autopay), taxes and fees included. If you have Verizon Wireless cell phone service (the Do More, Get More, Play More plan or the One Unlimited for iPhone plan), that rate drops to $25 per month with autopay ($35 without autopay). These rates are locked for at least a decade.
Advertised speeds are 85 to 300 Mbps for downloads, 10 Mbps for uploads. Verizon also offers a Home Plus plan for $10 more with 300 to 1,000 Mbps download, 50 Mbps upload, and a few perks, such as a gift card for DoorDash or Grubhub.
Verizon has a fiber-optic service, FiOS, with faster download and upload speeds with tiers of 300 Mbps, 500 Mbps, or 1 Gb, so it might be worth checking to see whether Verizon FiOS is available at your address.
Verizon FiOS’s 300-Mbps download and 300-Mbps upload plan starts at $50 per month with autopay and without the select Verizon cellular plans. The rate drops to $25 per month if you have the select mobile plan and autopay. A customer service representative told me that if FiOS is available at my address, it’ll be faster and more reliable than the home internet option.
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Straight Talk, which runs on Verizon’s network, offers an unlimited 5G/LTE home internet service for $45 per 30 days (the pay date will move if the month has 31 days in it). Download speeds are 20 to 100 Mbps, and upload speeds are 3 to 10 Mbps. The router costs $100.
US Cellular also offers fixed wireless internet service, but it’s 4G rather than 5G service, and it’s available in only a few select areas in the country. Pricing is similar to T-Mobile and Verizon’s—$50 per month with autopay or $60 per month without autopay for unlimited data—but taxes and fees aren’t included, and customers must purchase the router/modem up front and have it for at least 36 months in order to get the equipment for free via monthly bill credits.
As a service journalist, my goal is to help people get the most out of their technology and other tools. Prior to joining CR, my work appeared online and in print for publications including The New York Times, Wirecutter, Lifehacker, Popular Mechanics, and PCWorld. When I'm not researching or writing, I'm playing video games with my family, testing new recipes, or chasing the puppy.Feel free to reach me on Twitter (@melaniepinola).