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T-Mobile 5G home Internet service: A hands-on report

T-Mobile’s new 5G dwelling broadband gateway/wi-fi router issues for one large motive: It’s an alternative choice to the cable monopolies that dominate most main markets within the United States. Whether it’s a higher possibility than cable is, sadly, a query we will’t objectively reply, for 2 causes.

First, what T-Mobile formally calls its T-Mobile High Speed Internet Gateway (5G21-12W-A) is “5G”—and the standard and bandwidth of the wi-fi sign you obtain in your house can be depending on any variety of elements, essentially the most vital of which would be the gateway’s distance out of your nearest 5G cell tower. You’ll additionally have to stability what we discovered in opposition to what your individual, competing broadband ISP delivers. Fortunately, T-Mobile’s plan providing is versatile sufficient which you can in all probability create your individual one-month trial.

In my case, cable nonetheless regrettably provides the best choice for my household of 4, residing in a home full of streaming media units and gaming laptops. T-Mobile’s 5G router provided sufficient bandwidth for about half of my household, however not fairly sufficient for all 4 of us and our many units. 

To be honest, although, we by no means skilled all that the T-Mobile High Speed Internet Gateway has to supply. While T-Mobile labels my home as ”covered” by its 5G services, the truth wasn’t fairly as easy. 

T-Mobile High Speed Internet Gateway (5G21-12W-A) primary 4 Mark Hachman / IDG

My son’s room merely occurred to supply the strongest 5G sign, in order that’s the place T-Mobile’s router ended up.

Specifications and setup

T-Mobile’s router plan is all-inclusive: after confirming your eligibility, for $50 monthly, T-Mobile will send you a pre-configured router with an activated SIM inserted. (The $50/mo really features a $10/mo AutoPay credit score, so the precise worth is $60/mo.) There’s no annual contract, both. If you resolve the service isn’t for you, you’ll be able to merely name T-Mobile, cancel, and the corporate will ship you a pay as you go label to field up and return the 5G21-12W-A {hardware}.

T-Mobile’s pricing is already on par or decrease than even the most cost effective cable contracts, and T-Mobile guarantees limitless web with no knowledge caps or throttling in addition. Still, T-Mobile says that the service is “not intended for unattended use,” so don’t plan to obtain Linux distributions through BitTorrent. 

Because of its protection map, T-Mobile is aware of if your property can be shut sufficient to a cell tower to obtain a passable sign. If you’re feeling actually nerdy, nevertheless, you’ll be able to go to a web site like CellMapper.net and uncover simply how shut the closest cell tower is, and what wi-fi bands these towers use. 

Physically, T-Mobile’s router jogs my memory of the Harman Kardon Invoke, a now-discontinued cylindrical sensible speaker, that, like T-Mobile’s router, included a coloration show on the high. It measures 8.5 inches excessive by 4.75 inches in diameter, and is powered by a wall-wart-like plug with a conveniently prolonged six-foot twine. That’s useful, as you’ll wish to place the gateway as near an outdoor wall or window as doable to obtain the utmost sign accessible. Inside is a Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) radio with 4 antennas to create the wi-fi community your consumer units will hook up with. You also can faucet its twin gigabit ethernet ports for wired community connections.

T-Mobile High Speed Internet Gateway (5G21-12W-A) back panel Mark Hachman / IDG

The two gigabit ethernet ports and the barrel connector for the facility provide are the one useful ports on T-Mobile’s 5G gateway.

T-Mobile’s gateway does have some quirks: There’s a USB-C port, a UPS port for an unterruptible energy provide, and an RJ-11 phone jack on the again of the router. however none of them are useful—at the very least so far as I may inform. I attempted plugging a USB energy provide in, however that didn’t work. I didn’t have a appropriate UPS to check.

The 5G21-12W-A does have an inside battery, which permits the gateway for use cable free—effectively, form of. Setting up the router requires first turning it on, letting it boot up, after which strolling it round the home or condo to seek out the most effective sign. The LCD display screen on high communicates this sign data in actual time, although it is going to flip off after a number of seconds except you faucet it awake. You also can “swipe” by way of a number of screens, which let you know the variety of units linked, any service messages from T-Mobile, and extra.

Here’s one other quirk: While on battery, neither the ethernet nor the Wi-Fi connections can be utilized. That’s odd, since as I drove round my neighborhood with the 5G21-12W-A gateway to examine sign power, the battery degree solely dropped by a share level or two, which means that it ought to realistically supply web connectivity in case of an influence outage. That’s merely not the case. 

You may also assume {that a} “wireless” gateway could possibly be arrange wherever, in contrast to a wired cable gateway that may solely be arrange close to the coaxial cable’s entry to the home. Unfortunately not. Typically, the best location can be close to a window, one which isn’t partially blocked by a mesh display screen. And location does matter, greater than you would possibly assume: your wi-fi community should even be organized to take the gateway’s location into consideration. 

While the 5G21-12W-A gateway reported that my home is bathed in a “weak” (2 out of 5 bars) sign all through, I used to be solely capable of set up a “good” (3 out of 5 bars) sign in a nook of my son’s room, subsequent to his window. And that, proper in the course of his Legos, grew to become my new wi-fi gateway location! 

T-Mobile High Speed Internet Gateway (5G21-12W-A) top display Mark Hachman / IDG

Setting T-Mobile’s 5G gateway up means strolling the router round your area, looking for the most effective sign.

Setup took only a minute or two, overseen by T-Mobile’s smartphone app. Once the  typical niceties had been accomplished—selecting an administrator password, setting an SSID, and so forth—the gateway was up and operating. T-Mobile’s app provides a fast and simple dashboard displaying present sign power, which units are linked, and so forth. The net interface (which, by default, will be accessed through http://192.168.12.1 whereas the gateway is linked) provides much more element, albeit with out a lot in the way in which of rationalization for individuals much less aware of 5G and networking tech generally.

Performance and on a regular basis use

I used T-Mobile’s 5G21-12W-A gateway for about three weeks, wirelessly connecting leisure units just like the Xbox recreation console, plus my sons’ pill and PC. Given how a lot they’re in use throughout summer season trip, I figured that they’d be a wonderful check of whether or not the T-Mobile sign remained fixed. The sign dropped 3 times in that interval, in accordance with my children—normally just some seconds, however as soon as for a bit longer. 

T-Mobile home Internet mobile app Mark Hachman / IDG

T-Mobile cellular app permits you to preserve tabs in your router always, however the performance is considerably missing.

I additionally examined the velocity, after all. With all units disconnected, speeds ranged from a most of 180Mbps to about 120Mbps downstream—once more, on what T-Mobile’s app thought-about to be a “good” sign, or three out of 5 bars. Upstream speeds, which matter in case you’re importing video to YouTube or backing up information or pictures to the cloud, reached slightly below 50Mbps, which continues to be a lot, a lot sooner than the 14Mbps my cable supplier, Comcast, provides, with its 400Mbps service plan. These exams had been carried out with a wi-fi consumer near the router, with no different units linked to the gateway.

My children actually didn’t report any points whereas gaming or chatting with their buddies through Zoom or Facebook Messenger, they usually had been capable of obtain recreation updates usually. I additionally streamed 4K/60fps video from YouTube with out issues. Finally, I re-ran my video-stream check whereas concurrently performing a velocity check and noticed obtain speeds of 111Mbps, this whereas Windows updates had been wirelessly downloaded to a distinct PC. The video stream dropped 102 frames out of 18,000—nothing noticeable. Google’s Stadia gaming service additionally reported a connection of 59Mbps (once more, whereas streaming video) and accredited the connection as a candidate for the service, although I didn’t attempt it.

It’s price noting that my T-Mobile gateway was not linked to 5G. The T-Mobile app’s “More” tab will present you which ones frequency band your gadget connects to, which was usually Band 4 (defined by T-Mobile as a 4G LTE band). A mobile sign app on my 5G-capable T-Mobile telephone additionally confirmed that the telephone (not the router) often linked to bands 2, 66, or 71—once more, all 4G LTE bands. T-Mobile does function 5G providers on cell towers aligned alongside Bay Area interstates, however that tower was on the opposite aspect of city, and I doubt that the router ever linked to it. There’s no means of forcing the router to make use of a specific LTE or 5G band, both.

The router facet of T-Mobile’s gateway works effectively, inside motive. In my home, a split-level tucked right into a hill, Wi-Fi alerts are likely to get misplaced within the maze of partitions, flooring, and ceilings. My conventional ISP gateway constructed into the basement struggles to push sign all through the house with out repeaters. I used to be considerably stunned to see my telephone’s sign app report a 65Mbps Wi-Fi hyperlink from the router alone, however my pocket book PC struggled to attach.

I had much better luck connecting T-Mobile’s gateway to a discrete mesh router. Coincidentally, I additionally obtained Vilo’s ultra-low-cost mesh networking system for analysis, so I merely linked the tiny little mesh nodes round my home. That was an efficient, cheap complement to what T-Mobile provided, blanketing my dwelling with Wi-Fi protection.

T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi providers and administration instruments, nevertheless, are decidedly missing. While T-Mobile does a pleasant job of telling you which ones units are linked, you’ll end up searching by way of the app’s UI to both disconnect every gadget individually, or else schedule a time to show them off. I additionally couldn’t discover any choices both within the app or net interface to create a visitor community, which is just desk stakes for dwelling networking nowadays.

t mobile 5g isp web view edited Mark Hachman / IDG

Finally, I couldn’t hook up with my workplace VPN, GlobalProtect, through the T-Mobile router. This bug, at the very least, is well documented and attributed to an IPv6 configuration challenge. While I used to be capable of join by adjusting some networking parameters on my PC, a longer-term repair includes rolling again the router’s firmware. The router additionally doesn’t appear to work with Hulu + LiveTV, in accordance with T-Mobile’s customer-support boards.

Who ought to join T-Mobile’s dwelling web service? 

I approached my hands-on with the T-Mobile High Speed Internet Gateway (5G21-12W-A) from what now’s a really well timed perspective—breaking the stranglehold cable suppliers have on American customers. The Biden administration is already taking aim at broadband monopolies, however it will likely be as much as the FCC to enact change. 

From my expertise, I can’t say what the complete potential of T-Mobile gateway could also be. I think about there are few locations the place 5G is on the market, however cable isn’t. For now, the efficiency benefit in all probability lies with cable broadband (or the even harder-to-get fiber broadband service). Folks residing in rural areas, in the meantime, in all probability gained’t have any extra of an opportunity to get 5G broadband than they do cable broadband or fiber, leaving them to the mercy of DSL or satellite tv for pc service suppliers or—in the event that they’re fortunate—an inexpensive, high-performing WISP (Wireless Internet Service Provider).

Still, not everybody wants ultrafast broadband. If you’re a small family that streams video, checks e-mail, and downloads Windows updates within the background, T-Mobile’s router is totally price testing. Most broadband connections can already accommodate these wants, and high-speed broadband (better than 200Mbps) is extra of a requirement for bigger households with a number of lively streaming units or laptops in use.

And then there’s pricing, after all. Here, issues change dramatically. A worth of $50 monthly is sort of enticing, particularly in comparison with cable payments that may simply high $100 monthly (together with TV service). Add knowledge caps and doable overage charges, and prices additionally rapidly climb there, too.

Remember, T-Mobile isn’t asking you to cancel your cable, and even change broadband suppliers. For $50, you’ll be able to merely call or contact T-Mobile and sign up for a month’s price. A T-Mobile consultant stated that after a month’s time, in case you select to cancel, T-Mobile will ship you a pay as you go label to return the T-Mobile High Speed Internet Gateway (5G21-12W-A), and credit score your invoice accordingly. Even with T-Mobile’s present limitations, that’s an attractive supply.

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