During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone in my family was living and working from home, we hit the internet and consistently exceeded the allotted internet data usage limit of our service provider, Cox. It was a real turning point in terms of considering what we want and need from our domestic ISPs.
There are a lot of extra charges due to remote learning, remote teaching, streaming shows and more. Coming into 2022, I decided to double down and upgrade my Cox Internet service, but new issues as well as unfulfilled promised speeds made the experience worse than annoying. So finally tired of 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 out T-Mobile’s wireless Internet service in 2021, when it first launched in my area. It performed well, but I only had an LTE modem on loan as a review unit. This time, I disconnected my cable modem completely 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 so unreliable that I was only hoping that T-Mobile’s 5G wireless home Internet could deliver at least 150 Mbps of download speeds. If it did, it would be better than the inconsistent speed of Cox I was looking for. So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
There should be a big disclaimer that with cellular networks, location is everything—so you can have different results. This ongoing review reflects my experience with T-Mobile home Internet service in a suburb of Southern California.
- Speeds fast enough for multiple concurrent video streams
- Capable of handling multiple Wi-Fi devices on the network
- Slower 5G speed than my phone gets in the same place
- The mobile app for the service is very basic and limited
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T-Mobile Home Internet Speed
People have some major concerns, myself included, when considering switching to a cellular network for their home internet. My two main questions were, will it be fast enough, and will it be consistently reliable, even with heavy use?
In terms of speed, the 5G modem T-Mobile provided as part of the service regularly outperformed T-Mobile four times out of five, and I regularly saw download speeds of around 250 Mbps. I often check the network speed the moment anything seems slow. The slowest speed I saw was around 50 Mbps, but that was only once out of hundreds of times I checked. At least 90 percent of the times 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 home. I’ve never noticed this on my home network, but maybe I can see this kind of speed in the future. This is in stark contrast to Cox’s firm understanding of not allowing for faster speeds than your plan tier.
The upload speed averaged around 31 Mbps. In my experience, the upload speed stayed at least 30 Mbps, almost every time I checked. Upload speed seemed very consistent.
Another advantage for me has been the ability to install a 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 that far away as well. Mesh networking has eased a lot of Wi-Fi headaches, but now with a cellular modem, I tend to put the router in the best location for signal strength or wherever it’s most central in the home. I am free
heavy network usage
At last check, I had about 65 devices on my Wi-Fi network. There are plenty of connected speakers, TVs, computers, and tablets, as well as a number of streaming security cameras. If our family wasn’t moving past Cox’s 1.5 TB data usage limit each month, we were getting closer. Only four years ago it seemed absurd, but these days streaming video comes in higher resolutions, music streams in lossless audio formats, and more devices are doing more internet of things to increase data consumption.
It’s easy to point to video streaming, but mobile apps are another example of increased data consumption. The Google mobile apps, Facebook, Uber, Instagram, Snapchat and more, hover over 200MB in size and consume so much data every time they update—sometimes weekly. If you update 20 apps a week on your phone that are 200MB or larger in size, that’s at least 16GB of internet data a month that you’re using to do that alone. Apple’s GarageBand app is 1.6 GB in size. Needless to say, I was looking forward to T-Mobile’s advertised unlimited data usage.
In the first month, relying exclusively on T-Mobile’s home Internet service, I’ve only had one instance when there was a momentary hiccup with our Internet. A streaming show stopped, and a web page reported unavailable, and then about 45 seconds later things started flowing again.
During that first month, I pursued the service as hard as any normal family, but maybe a little more. There have been times when three people are streaming three different shows at the same time. Music is streaming continuously as I’m testing the speaker and headphones. Video meetings take place regularly. External security cameras stream video when someone approaches the house. Through this, 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 gaps in meetings. I connected my robot vacuum’s camera and streamed video from it cleaning the kitchen at the same speed as when using Cox’s service.
I worried that 5G internet service for the home would be unreliable under the weight of kids coming home from school during the summer, but that hasn’t happened. Admittedly, I’d love to download files—like a Netflix show or large product images on my iPad—faster, but that may come with time.
- I used a different Wi-Fi router than the Wi-Fi router with the built in 5G modem. I plugged my own mesh Wi-Fi system into the back of the modem and didn’t rely on a black box to reach 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 limited. For example, devices can be scheduled to block the Internet on kids’ devices after bedtime, but that’s about it. There isn’t even a guest Wi-Fi network feature that I could find.
- You can’t view data usage through the mobile app, but you can on T-Mobile’s website.
- The $50 per month fee occurs when you have activated Autopay for your monthly bill. The price is a bit high 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 lightly. And it felt like Cox was treating me as an Internet customer. I spoke to a rep this year and mentioned that I was not getting the speed I was paying for. Despite seeing the same thing on the company’s end, I was told I’d have to pay someone to come out to see it.
My frustration with one of the two ISP options in my area isn’t due to a single point of failure, but a constant drizzle of little things. I suspect I’m not alone here, and many people are unhappy with their ISP. Consumers must rely on AT&T, Spectrum, Cox, Comcast, Charter or Verizon for their Internet service, yet often there is no choice between more than two providers.
Let me be clear that T-Mobile’s 5G wireless home Internet isn’t a savior in the vacuum of home Internet services, but it is at least a breeze of fresh air coming from the window. This is a sign of competition in metropolitan areas.
(I’ve heard from many people in the past that this T-Mobile service is more important for them in rural areas, where internet service is hard to come by. In that case, going from zero to one is a big deal.)
For my location, the service has been reliable and the speeds have proven to be good-enough. Perhaps in some regions this third ISP option puts a bit more pressure on incumbents to reliably deliver fast speeds at a reasonable cost, but it seems to be overkill.
For now, my next step is just to see how the service fares over the long term. My more realistic hope is that I can forget about dealing with home Internet service altogether: In October, I can 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.
Sign up T-Mobile from $50 per month,
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