I switched to T-Mobile Home Internet to get away from my local ISP

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when all my family members were living and working from home, we hammered the internet and constantly exceeded internet data usage limits assigned to our service provider, Cox. It was a real turning point in terms of thinking about what we wanted and needed from our home ISP.

Distance learning, remote learning, streaming shows, and more have all generated many additional overage fees. In 2022, I decided to double down and upgrade our Cox internet service, but new issues, along with unfulfilled promised speeds, turned the experience from boring to bad. Finally tired of traditional cable internet, I switched to T-Mobile’s internet service to see if it could live up to its hype.

I first tried T-Mobile’s wireless internet service in 2021 when it first rolled out in my area. It worked well, but I only borrowed the LTE modem as a test device. This time I completely disconnected my cable modem and then completely canceled our Cox Internet service.

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T-Mobile touts unlimited data usage and 5G speeds, whatever that means. My service through Cox was so unreliable that I only hoped T-Mobile’s 5G wireless internet could deliver download speeds of at least 150Mbps at home. If that happened it would be better than the inconsistent speeds I saw from Cox. So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

There should be a big disclaimer that when it comes to cellular networks, location is everything so you might get different results. This recent review reflects my experience with T-Mobile Home’s Internet service in suburban Southern California.

TL;DR

advantages:

  • Speeds fast enough for multiple simultaneous video streams
  • Can manage many Wi-Fi devices on the network

The inconveniences:

  • Slower 5G speeds than my phone in the same place
  • The mobile app for the service is very basic and restrictive

Sign up for T Mobile.

T-Mobile Home Internet Speeds

There are a few major concerns people have when considering moving to cellular for their home internet, myself included. My two main questions were: Will it be fast enough and consistently reliable even under heavy use?

In terms of speed, the 5G modem provided by T-Mobile as part of the service consistently displayed four out of five bars, and I regularly saw download speeds of around 250Mbps. I check network speeds regularly if anything seems slow. The slowest speed I saw was around 50Mbps, but that was just one out of hundreds of checks. At least 90% of the time I had download speeds between 150 and 250 Mbps.

On my T-Mobile iPhone 13 Pro 5G, I sometimes see network download speeds of up to 500Mbps at home. I’ve never noticed this on my home network, but maybe I’ll see speeds like this in the future. This is in stark contrast to Cox’s firm determination never to allow speeds higher than your plan level.

Download speeds averaged around 31 Mbps. In my experience, the download speed stayed at least 30Mbps on almost every review. Download speeds seemed very consistent.

Another benefit for me was the ability to place the 5G modem where I need it in my home. The coaxial cable that Cox uses for his modem was in the corner of a room on one side of my house. This meant that my router had to start broadcasting on that other side as well. Mesh networking has alleviated many Wi-Fi headaches, but now with a cellular modem, I can put the router in the best spot for signal strength, or the most central spot in the house.

Heavy network load

T-Mobile aggregates phone and internet data usage at home in a subscriber’s account and can then be analyzed individually. This graph gives an idea of ​​the amount of internet data consumed at home compared to a mobile phone.
Tyler Hayes

Last time I checked I had about 65 devices on my Wi-Fi network. There are plenty of smart speakers, TVs, computers and tablets, and multiple streaming security cameras. If our household doesn’t exceed Cox’s 1.5TB monthly data usage limit, we’re getting close. Just four years ago it seemed absurd, but now there’s video streaming in higher resolutions, music streaming in lossless audio formats, and more and more devices are doing more things on the internet to increase data usage.

Video streaming is easy to spot, but mobile apps are another example of increased data usage. Google Mobile App, Facebook, Uber, Instagram, Snapchat and many more are around 200MB and consume that much data with every update, sometimes weekly. If you update 20 apps a week on your phone that are 200MB or larger, that’s at least 16GB of internet data a month you’re using for that alone. Apple’s GarageBand app is a whopping 1.6GB, so of course I was looking forward to the unlimited data usage announced by T-Mobile.

While I relied solely on T-Mobile’s home internet service for the first month, I only had one instance where there was a temporary hiccup with our internet. A streaming show paused and a website was declared unavailable, then resumed about 45 seconds later.

In that first month I pushed the ministry as hard as any normal family, but probably a little more. There were times when three people streamed three different shows at the same time. Music keeps playing while I test speakers and headphones. Video conferences take place regularly. External security cameras transmit video when someone approaches the home. Everything went according to plan.

So far I haven’t noticed any difference in the speed at which video streaming services load and play. I didn’t notice any lag in the sessions. I connected to my robot vacuum’s camera and streamed a video cleaning the kitchen at the same speed as when I used Cox’s service.

I was concerned that 5G home internet service might not be reliable under the weight of kids coming home from school in the summer, but it is not. Of course I would have liked to have downloaded files, like Netflix ads on my iPad or huge product images – would have been faster, but maybe that will come with time.

Additional Comments

  • I used a different wireless router than the one built into the 5G modem. I connected my own mesh WiFi to the back of the modem and didn’t rely solely on the black box to reach every corner of my house.
  • T-Mobile Internet’s mobile internet app is useful for setting up the service, but its functionality is very basic and limited. For example, devices can be programmed to block the internet on children’s devices after bedtime, but that’s about it. There isn’t even a guest Wi-Fi networking feature that I could find.
  • You can’t see data usage through the mobile app, but you can do so on the T-Mobile website.
  • The $50 per month fee is to enable automatic payment 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 I felt like Cox took me for granted as an internet customer. Sometime this year I spoke to a rep and mentioned that I’m not getting the speeds I paid for. Even though the company saw the same thing on his site, I was told that I would have to pay to have someone come to him.

My disappointment with either of the two ISP options in my area isn’t down to a single point of failure, it’s down to a constant drip of small things. I guess I’m not alone here and a lot of people have been unhappy with their ISPs. Consumers must rely on AT&T, Spectrum, Cox, Comcast, Charter, or Verizon for their Internet service, but often have 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 home internet service vacuum, but it is at least a breath of fresh air coming in through the window. It’s a touch of competition in metropolitan areas.

(I’ve heard many people say 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 this case, going from zero to one is a big deal. )

For my location, the service was reliable and had adequate speeds. Perhaps this third ISP option puts a little more pressure on incumbents in some areas to reliably deliver faster speeds at a reasonable cost, but that seems like too much to wish for.

For now, my next step is to see how the service performs over the long term. My most realistic hope is that I’ll just forget to take care of internet service at home: In October, I could be streaming a postseason MLB game and not worry about how much data it’s using or running out. It needs to be buffered a few minutes each day.

Sign up with T-Mobile from $50 a month.

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