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What is 5G home internet? Here's what to know before you sign up

Whether you're looking for an alternative to your current provider or interested in the tech, you've probably heard of 5G home internet. We unpack if it's the right option for you.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Residential buildings and communication network concept. Smart house. - stock photo
Metamorworks via iStock/Getty Images

Choosing the best home internet solution is more important than ever, as reliable connectivity has become necessary with all the devices requiring an internet connection at home. If you've had issues with the same internet provider you've had for years, you've probably explored other options -- like 5G home internet. 

Traditional home internet companies are notorious for clinging to outdated business models, many still offering cable TV services with their internet subscription. Don't get me wrong, offering cable services isn't inherently a bad thing -- the problem comes when the companies behind the old-school service still struggle to offer customers consistent internet connectivity, with service outages, restrictive contracts, and low speeds that can't keep up with many home's broadband needs.

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As the technology grows and consumers become aware of its availability, many wonder if a switch to 5G home internet is worth it. We'll cover what 5G home internet entails, how it differs from 5G mobile networks, the advantages and disadvantages of having 5G home internet, and who should have it. 

What is 5G home internet?

Exploration into 5G home internet technology preceded the use of 5G in mobile devices. However, Verizon spearheaded the venture as an official business model in 2018, when it made 5G home internet commercially available to limited customers. Since then, Internet service providers (ISPs) like T-Mobile and Starry have begun offering 5G home internet, and the service's availability has expanded to many regions nationwide. 

The term 5G refers to "fifth generation," denoting the latest generation of wireless networking technology and the same technology we use on our phones in many regions worldwide. The first generation of wireless networking technology, known as 1G, became available in the 1980s, followed by 2G, 3G, 4G, and now 5G.

Service providers use the same technology we use for our smartphones and tablets in fixed services. This is a successful attempt to replace wired broadband household Internet that other providers offer, like cable or optic fiber.

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According to a consumer satisfaction report conducted by BroadbandNow, 30% of Americans have 5G on their mobile devices, and only 12% use the technology at home, even though about 62% have high-speed 5G coverage in their area. 

When someone sets up 5G home internet with an available ISP, they must set up a 5G SIM card slot router. The router will connect to the nearest cell tower, provided that the router is positioned with the strongest signal reception. This replaces the need for a wired connection for the router to gain internet access. 

As expected, this technology's recent proliferation has some advantages and drawbacks, as is normal for any new technology. 

What are the advantages of 5G home internet?

Adopting a technology like 5G home internet can benefit some, but not all, users. It's a fairly new technology quickly gaining popularity as it becomes more available. Here are some pros to using 5G home internet. 

Higher speeds

One of the biggest pros of 5G home internet is that the service can be significantly faster than many other ISPs, with some 5G providers offering speeds up to 1,000 Mbps. "I opted for 5G because I was frustrated with lagging video calls and sluggish downloads on my traditional cable setup," said Kris Lippi, a real estate broker and owner of ISoldMyHouse.com. "The promise of ultra-fast connectivity tempted me to give 5G a try."

Also: Mesh routers vs. Wi-Fi routers: What is best for your home office?


Easy setup 

Since 5G home internet adds a 5G cellular service connection to your household, it's surprisingly easy to set up. Customers don't need to wait for a tech to come to their homes and set up a service -- simply getting a router and SIM from their 5G ISP after activating an account and setting up a contract will do.

Affordability

Many providers are using different offers to entice new customers to add 5G home internet to their homes, including offering lower prices than other ISPs. T-Mobile's prices start as low as $30 monthly if you're already a phone customer and $50 for home internet alone. Verizon's plans start at $35, and Starry's plans range from $15 to $80 a month. 

Fewer contractual limits

As part of the same offers to gain new customers, 5G home internet providers also offer unlimited data plans, which means no data caps and often no long-term contracts. This means customers never have to worry about throttling after consuming a certain amount of data.

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In my case, I decided to switch to 5G home internet after an unfortunate landscaping accident where a pickaxe met the network cable in our yard. The months-long struggle with outages and losing internet connection for a week until a tech could patch the cables led me to switch from a cable company's internet service to the over-the-air service that is 5G. 

What are some of the drawbacks to using 5G home internet?

As mentioned above, 5G home internet isn't the best choice for many households worldwide, especially because it's still limited to certain regions. Here are the cons of 5G home internet:

Limited availability 

Like optic fiber, 5G home internet is still unavailable in many areas of the US and worldwide. This is the biggest drawback to this technology; only some people who want to add the service can do so. Because of this, it's important to check if your home address is in an area with 5G home internet available before making decisions. 

Impact on signal strength

Because 5G requires a wireless connection, if a signal isn't strong enough where the router is placed, then the signal strength of the home internet connection will be weak. Structures like buildings and walls that form physical barriers inhibiting the wireless connection will affect the signal strength.

Another point to consider is the differences from one ISP to another. 

"The technology varies across providers, and not all of them deliver the same quality of service," explained Leo Smigel, founder of Analyzing Alpha. "For instance, while millimeter-wave technology offers remarkable speeds, its coverage can be limited, particularly relevant for users in rural areas. Additionally, it's important to remember that while 5G home internet aims to provide faster data speeds, this is not always guaranteed due to the different technologies employed."

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Is 5G dangerous?

Since its deployment for mobile devices, 5G technology has gained an unfounded reputation for being dangerous—specifically, the impacts of 5G electromagnetic radiation (EMR) with 28GHz on human health. Though no evidence has corroborated these concerns, the proliferation of the rumors has caused resistance in some populations to adopt 5G technology.

Also: 5G and edge computing: What they are and why you should care

According to the BroadbandNow report, 86% of Americans still have concerns about 5G technology negatively impacting health and air travel, even though there's no proof that it does. 

Who should get 5G home internet, and is it worth it?

Because it still has a very limited availability, 5G home internet is best suited for people living in areas with strong cell service and 5G coverage. In these situations, it can offer reliable connectivity with few outages (depending on the ISP) and robust speeds at a low price.

"For real estate professionals like myself, the pros outweigh the cons," said Lippi. "The blazing speeds allow me to easily work remotely, conduct crisp video calls, swiftly download large files, and seamlessly stream data. While 5G has some coverage limitations, the rapid connectivity provides a major competitive edge. The few quirks are a small price to pay."

From personal experience, I've found 5G home internet to be faster and to offer more consistent service than our previous ISP (the cable company). Before switching, we were plagued with constant service outages that interrupted our work since my husband and I had remote jobs. Though I would never return to the cable company's internet service for our household, I would switch to optic fiber since 5G home internet isn't without cons. 

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"My experience suggests that it could be an excellent alternative if you demand speed and flexibility and are tired of the traditional ISPs' service. Nonetheless, your location and specific connectivity needs should guide your decision," said Smigel.

We opted for T-Mobile as our ISP for 5G home internet and have experienced about three or four outages since starting our service about nine months ago. These outages have resulted from work on their cell towers. Unfortunately, our phones also use the T-Mobile network, so we've found ourselves without home internet and the ability to use our mobile hotspot for work. 

My experience should be taken with a grain of salt, as I am but one customer, and who's to say this doesn't happen with traditional ISPs? Either way, we see far fewer internet outages now than when we had the cable company.

How is 5G home internet for work?

Adopting 5G home internet has become a great decision overall for my household's remote workers, and we're not alone. 5G offers the stability and high speeds a remote worker needs and is even useful in office settings. 

"With my role in overseeing a successful publication and advising individuals and organizations across various fields, I needed a reliable and high-speed internet connection to enhance my productivity," explained Mark Blakey, CEO of Autism Parent Magazine. "Since trying 5G home internet, it has proven to be a game-changer, empowering me to accomplish tasks efficiently and stay connected in today's fast-paced digital world."

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Blakey switched to 5G internet in his office, lured by claims of seamless video conferences, faster file uploads, and smoother browsing experiences, and wasn't disappointed. 

But not everyone had the same experiences.

"The coverage of 5G can be inconsistent, causing sporadic connectivity in some areas," explained William Manning, owner of Pole Barn Kits. "The intensity of the signal may also be impacted by the environment and physical obstructions. There may occasionally be service interruptions and compatibility problems because technology is still developing."

What is the future of 5G home internet?

Right now, 5G home internet use isn't as popular as service providers like T-Mobile, Starry, and Verizon would hope. The BroadbandNow report states that 58% of Americans aren't even sure if the internet service they have at home is 5G, suggesting they're unfamiliar with the technology. Meanwhile, 20% state their ISP doesn't offer the service. 84% are either somewhat familiar or not familiar with 5G technology. 

As the 5G coverage area expands to contain more regions, so will the availability of 5G home internet in rural and remote areas. Right now, it's more common to find 5G coverage in urban and densely populated areas, as 53% of all counties with high-speed 5G are in metro areas. These areas only represent 37% of all counties in the US, leaving rural regions, which are often poorer areas, without access to it.

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The proliferation of 5G coverage will likely take years to expand to all areas of the US, but the ISPs behind the technology are working to do this rapidly.

The fact that so many companies are offering affordable prices with appealing contract terms is a certain benefit in their favor that will help them get there quicker. 

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