During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when everyone in my family was living and working from home, we hammered the internet and constantly went over the allotted internet data usage limits of our service provider, Cox. It was a real turning point in terms of considering what we wanted and needed out of our home ISP.
Remote learning, remote teaching, streaming shows and more caused plenty of additional overage fees. Coming into 2022, I decided to double down and upgrade our Cox internet service, but new issues, along with unfulfilled promised speeds, made the experience range from annoying 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 initially tried T-Mobile’s wireless internet service in 2021, when it first launched in my area. It performed fine, but I only had the LTE modem on loan as a review unit. This time around, I disconnected my cable modem completely and then canceled our Cox internet service altogether.
T-Mobile advertises unlimited data usage and 5G speeds—whatever that means. My service through Cox had been unreliable enough that I was merely hoping T-Mobile’s 5G wireless home internet could deliver at least 150 Mbps download speeds. If that happened, it would be better than the inconsistent speeds I was seeing from Cox. So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
There should be a big disclaimer that location is everything with cellular networks—so you may have different results. This ongoing review reflects my experience with T-Mobile Home Internet service in a suburb of Southern California.
- Fast enough speeds for multiple concurrent video streams
- Able to handle lots of Wi-Fi devices on the network
- Slower 5G speeds than my phone gets in the same location
- Mobile app for 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 will it be constantly reliable, even with heavy usage?
In terms of speed, the 5G modem T-Mobile provided as part of the service regularly displayed four out of five bars, and I routinely saw download speeds around 250 Mbps. I check network speeds frequently, the moment anything feels slow. The slowest speed I saw was around 50 Mbps, but that was only once out of hundreds of times checking. At least 90-percent of the time I got download speeds between 150 and 250 Mbps.
On my 5G T-Mobile iPhone 13 Pro, I sometimes see network download speeds of up to 500 Mbps in my house. I never noticed that on my home network, but maybe I will see those kinds of speeds in the future. That’s in stark contrast to Cox’s firm grasp on never allowing faster speeds than your plan tier.
Upload speeds were around 31 Mbps, on average. In my experience, the upload speed remained at least 30 Mbps nearly every time I checked. The upload speeds seemed very consistent.
Another benefit for me has been the ability to place the 5G modem wherever I need to in my home. The coaxial cable that Cox uses for its modem was situated in the corner of a room on one side of my house. This meant my router had to start broadcasting from that far side, as well. Mesh networking has alleviated 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 wherever it’s most central in the house.
Heavy Network Usage
At last check, I had about 65 devices on my Wi-Fi network. There are a lot of connected speakers, TVs, computers and tablets as well as multiple streaming security cameras. If our household wasn’t going over Cox’s 1.5 TB data usage limit each month, we were getting close. Only four years ago that seemed absurd, but these days streaming video comes in higher resolutions, music streams in lossless audio formats, and more devices are doing more internet things to increase data consumption.
Video streaming is easy to point at, but mobile apps are another example of increased data consumption. Google mobile apps, Facebook, Uber, Instagram, Snapchat and plenty more all hover around 200 MB in size and consume that much data each time they are updated—sometimes weekly. If you update 20 apps a week on your phone that are 200 MB or larger in size, that’s at least 16 GB a month of internet data you’re using to do that alone. Apple’s GarageBand app is a whopping 1.6 GB in size. Needless to say, I was looking forward to T-Mobile’s advertised unlimited data usage.
Over the first month, while exclusively relying on T-Mobile’s Home Internet service, I only had one instance when there was a momentary hiccup with our internet. A streaming show paused, and a web page said unavailable, and then about 45 seconds later things were flowing again.
During 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 are streaming three different shows at the same time. Music is constantly streaming as I test speakers and headphones. Video meetings happen regularly. External security cameras stream video when someone approaches the house. Through it all, everything performed as expected.
So far I haven’t noticed any difference in how fast streaming video services load and start playing. I didn’t notice lags in meetings. I connected to my robot vacuum’s camera and streamed video from it cleaning the kitchen at the same speed when using Cox’s service.
I was worried that under the weight of kids being home from school during the summer that a 5G internet service for the home would be unreliable, but it hasn’t been. I would, of course, have liked downloading files—like Netflix shows to my iPad or huge product images—to 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 system into the back of the modem and didn’t rely on the single black box for reaching all corners of my house.
- The T-Mobile Internet mobile app is helpful for setting up the service, but its feature set is very basic and limiting. Devices can be scheduled to block internet to kids’ devices after bedtime, for example, but that’s about it. There’s not even a guest Wi-Fi network feature that I could find.
- You can’t see data usage through the mobile app, but you can on T-Mobile’s website.
- The $50 per month fee is when you have autopay activated 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 it felt like Cox was taking me for granted as an internet customer. I talked to a representative at one point this year and mentioned that I wasn’t getting the speeds I was paying for. Despite the company seeing the same thing on their end, I was told I would need to pay to have someone come out to look at it.
My disappointment with one of two ISP choices in my area is not because of any 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 ISP. Consumers must rely on AT&T, Spectrum, Cox, Comcast, Charter or Verizon for their internet service yet often do not have a choice between more than two providers.
Let me be clear that T-Mobile’s 5G wireless Home Internet is not a savior in the vacuum of home internet services, but it is at least a breeze of fresh air coming in through the window. It’s a hint of competition in metropolitan areas.
(I have heard from plenty of people in the past 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 huge deal.)
For my location, the service has been reliable and proved to have good-enough speeds. Perhaps this third ISP option in certain areas puts a tiny bit more pressure on incumbents to deliver faster speeds at reasonable costs in a reliable manner, but that seems like too much to wish for.
For now, my next step is to simply see how the service fares over the long term. My more realistic hope is that I could simply forget about dealing with home internet service altogether: that 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 buffer every few minutes.
Sign up at T-Mobile from $50 a month.
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