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

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

First, what T-Cellular formally calls its T-Cellular Excessive Velocity Web 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 must steadiness what we discovered in opposition to what your personal, competing broadband ISP delivers. Thankfully, T-Cellular’s plan providing is versatile sufficient that you would be able to in all probability create your personal one-month trial.

In my case, cable nonetheless regrettably gives the most suitable choice for my household of 4, residing in a home full of streaming media gadgets and gaming laptops. T-Cellular’s 5G router supplied sufficient bandwidth for about half of my household, however not fairly sufficient for all 4 of us and our many gadgets. 

To be truthful, although, we by no means skilled all that the T-Cellular Excessive Velocity Web Gateway has to supply. Whereas T-Cellular 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-Cellular’s router ended up.

Specs and setup

T-Cellular’s router plan is all-inclusive: after confirming your eligibility, for $50 per 30 days, T-Cellular 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 value is $60/mo.) There’s no annual contract, both. Should you determine the service isn’t for you, you’ll be able to merely name T-Cellular, cancel, and the corporate will ship you a pay as you go label to field up and return the 5G21-12W-A hardware.

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

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

Bodily, T-Cellular’s router jogs my memory of the Harman Kardon Invoke, a now-discontinued cylindrical good speaker, that, like T-Cellular’s router, included a coloration show on the prime. It measures eight.5 inches excessive by four.75 inches in diameter, and is powered by a wall-wart-like plug with a conveniently prolonged six-foot wire. That’s helpful, as you’ll need to place the gateway as near an out of doors wall or window as potential 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 shopper gadgets will connect with. You may also 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 2 gigabit ethernet ports and the barrel connector for the ability provide are the one useful ports on T-Cellular’s 5G gateway.

T-Cellular’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—no less than so far as I might inform. I attempted plugging a USB energy provide in, however that didn’t work. I didn’t have a suitable UPS to check.

The 5G21-12W-A does have an inner battery, which permits the gateway for use cable free—effectively, kind of. Organising the router requires first turning it on, letting it boot up, after which strolling it round the home or residence to seek out the perfect sign. The LCD display on prime communicates this sign data in actual time, although it can flip off after a number of seconds until you faucet it awake. You may also “swipe” by means of a number of screens, which let you know the variety of gadgets linked, any service messages from T-Cellular, and extra.

Right here’s one other quirk: Whereas 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 verify sign power, the battery stage solely dropped by a share level or two, which means that it ought to realistically provide web connectivity in case of an influence outage. That’s merely not the case. 

You may additionally suppose that a “wi-fi” gateway might be arrange anyplace, not like a wired cable gateway that may solely be arrange close to the coaxial cable’s entry to the home. Sadly not. Sometimes, the perfect location can be close to a window, one which isn’t partially blocked by a mesh display. And site does matter, greater than you would possibly suppose: your wi-fi community should even be organized to take the gateway’s location under consideration. 

Whereas 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” (three out of 5 bars) sign in a nook of my son’s room, subsequent to his window. And that, proper in the midst of his Legos, turned my new wi-fi gateway location! 

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

Setting T-Cellular’s 5G gateway up means strolling the router round your house, trying to find the perfect sign.

Setup took only a minute or two, overseen by T-Cellular’s smartphone app. As soon as the  typical niceties had been accomplished—choosing an administrator password, setting an SSID, and so forth—the gateway was up and working. T-Cellular’s app gives a fast and straightforward dashboard displaying present sign power, which gadgets are linked, and so forth. The net interface (which, by default, might be accessed through whereas the gateway is linked) gives much more element, albeit with out a lot in the way in which of clarification for folks much less aware of 5G and networking tech usually.

Efficiency and on a regular basis use

I used T-Cellular’s 5G21-12W-A gateway for about three weeks, wirelessly connecting leisure gadgets just like the Xbox recreation console, plus my sons’ pill and PC. Given how a lot they’re in use throughout summer time trip, I figured that they’d be a wonderful check of whether or not the T-Cellular sign remained fixed. The sign dropped thrice in that interval, in keeping 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-Cellular cellular app means that you can preserve tabs in your router always, however the performance is considerably missing.

I additionally examined the pace, in fact. With all gadgets disconnected, speeds ranged from a most of 180Mbps to about 120Mbps downstream—once more, on what T-Cellular’s app thought of 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 images to the cloud, reached just below 50Mbps, which continues to be a lot, a lot quicker than the 14Mbps my cable supplier, Comcast, gives, with its 400Mbps service plan. These checks had been carried out with a wi-fi shopper near the router, with no different gadgets linked to the gateway.

My children actually didn’t report any points whereas gaming or chatting with their associates through Zoom or Fb Messenger, and so they had been capable of obtain recreation updates usually. I additionally streamed 4K/60fps video from YouTube with out issues. Lastly, I re-ran my video-stream check whereas concurrently performing a pace check and noticed obtain speeds of 111Mbps, this whereas Home 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 permitted the connection as a candidate for the service, although I didn’t attempt it.

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

The router side of T-Cellular’s gateway works effectively, inside motive. In my home, a split-level tucked right into a hill, Wi-Fi alerts are inclined 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 shocked 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-Cellular’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-Cellular supplied, blanketing my house with Wi-Fi protection.

T-Cellular’s Wi-Fi companies and administration instruments, nevertheless, are decidedly missing. Whereas T-Cellular does a pleasant job of telling you which ones gadgets are linked, you’ll end up looking by means 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 house networking lately.

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

Lastly, I couldn’t connect with my workplace VPN, GlobalProtect, through the T-Cellular router. This bug, no less than, is well documented and attributed to an IPv6 configuration difficulty. Whereas I used to be capable of join by adjusting some networking parameters on my PC, a longer-term repair entails rolling again the router’s firmware. The router additionally doesn’t appear to work with Hulu + LiveTV, in keeping with T-Cellular’s customer-support boards.

Who ought to join T-Cellular’s house web service? 

I approached my hands-on with the T-Cellular Excessive Velocity Web Gateway (5G21-12W-A) from what now’s a really well timed perspective—breaking the stranglehold cable suppliers have on American shoppers. 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 total potential of T-Cellular gateway could also be. I think about there are few locations the place 5G is out there, 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). People residing in rural areas, in the meantime, in all probability received’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 reasonably priced, high-performing WISP (Wi-fi Web Service Supplier).

Nonetheless, not everybody wants ultrafast broadband. Should you’re a small family that streams video, checks e mail, and downloads Home windows updates within the background, T-Cellular’s router is completely price trying out. Most broadband connections can already accommodate these wants, and high-speed broadband (larger than 200Mbps) is extra of a requirement for bigger households with a number of energetic streaming gadgets or laptops in use.

After which there’s pricing, in fact. Right here, issues change dramatically. A value of $50 per 30 days is kind of enticing, particularly in comparison with cable payments that may simply prime $100 per 30 days (together with TV service). Add knowledge caps and potential overage charges, and prices additionally shortly climb there, too.

Bear in mind, T-Cellular 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-Cellular consultant mentioned that after a month’s time, in case you select to cancel, T-Cellular will ship you a pay as you go label to return the T-Cellular Excessive Velocity Web Gateway (5G21-12W-A), and credit score your invoice accordingly. Even with T-Cellular’s present limitations, that’s an attractive provide.

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