It’s not quite the same as plugging in a traditional broadband router
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After a long early life in a pilot program, T-Mobile’s 5G home internet service has finally arrived. The bar for decent, reasonably priced internet service in the US is embarrassingly low, so T-Mobile’s terms might sound like a dream: $60 per month, no contract, no installation appointment, no equipment rental fees, and no data caps. It’s a service that’s very much in its early days, and reviews so far note some inconsistencies in performance among other quirks.
Even taking all this into consideration, it may still sound well worth the potential risks if you’re shelling out close to twice that to Big Cable every month. But before you drop-kick your Comcast router into the river, there are a few things to be aware of if you’re thinking about switching.
First, and most obviously, is that you may not be eligible for the service. Home Internet isn’t offered everywhere that has T-Mobile cellular phone service; the company is introducing it as local network capacity allows. And even where it’s offered, you might not necessarily be able to get it. To make sure that it can handle the added demands of home internet users, T-Mobile may limit the number of signups they’ll allow in your neighborhood or condo building, for example.
Take a look at PCMag’s map for an easy visual of the areas where home internet is currently offered, but for the most precise information, you’ll of course want to check your home address with T-Mobile.
Setting up wireless internet isn’t quite the plug-and-play experience you get with traditional wired service. You’ll be looking for the best spot in your home to place the Internet Gateway, as T-Mobile calls it. Signal strength may vary from room to room, and even within the same room you might find better signal near a particular window. An accompanying app takes you through the setup steps and lets you self-evaluate your tech comfort level at the beginning to provide an appropriate amount of guidance through the process.
Reviewers and early testers have noticed that signal strength can also vary throughout the day, so keep an eye on your internet speeds. Be prepared to try moving the Gateway to other locations if you’re not getting performance you’re happy with when you need it — unlike traditional broadband, you might find that a different spot in your home gives you better service.
Home internet service is subject to the same “data prioritization” policies as most of the company’s cellular data plans, meaning customers might see their speeds temporarily drop during busy times for the network. On some plans, this is applied only after a certain data threshold is met, but that’s not the case for Home Internet — users are always subject to this kind of slowdown.
That sounds like a dealbreaker, but T-Mobile executives that I spoke to said that customers are “unlikely” to experience this thanks to how the company is expanding the service. They say that Home Internet is only offered in places with adequate network capacity, and that signups in a particular area or building may be capped to avoid congestion. That’s reassuring but still something to take into account as a potential drawback if you need guaranteed speeds at all times.
Tucked away in Home Internet’s fine print is a statement that it’s “not compatible with some live TV streaming services.” T-Mobile clarified this for us, saying that while YouTube TV and Netflix will work, Hulu’s live TV service doesn’t work right now due to a technical requirement. The company says it’s working with Hulu to resolve the problem. If Hulu is your main source for live TV, then it’s a good idea to wait until that’s squared away.
It might sound appealing to take your internet with you when you stay somewhere else, like a vacation home, but that’s not allowed according to the service’s terms. T-Mobile says that’s to make sure that the service is being used in areas with adequate network capacity. Similarly, you can’t take the SIM card out of your modem and pop it in your phone when you leave the house. T-Mobile’s not going to let you quit your cellphone plan that easily.
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