T-Mobile 5G Home Internet Review - Rural

T-Mobile 5G Home Internet Review - Rural

meadowlark

It is exactly what I feared...

T-Mobile home internet gateway
The current gen T-Mobile 5G home internet black box

Review Agenda:

  • Gateway specs
  • Tested speeds
  • Router features
  • Rules
  • Use cases
  • Wrap-up

Gateway Specs:

So, the monolithic black device they sent looks pretty slick. It is a lot like the new Verizon and Comcast Wi-Fi 6 all-in-one's
It is a trendy modern mysterious black box that is here to solve all your internet needs.

On paper it is rock solid. (Well, their paper, it is a like in-house design so I cannot find actual specs like wattage, antenna gain, power consumption, etc.)

It has Wi-Fi 6, along with normal 2.4GHz and 5GHz transceivers. It also behaves like most recent APs; you do not need to pick what radio you connect to. It just presents 1 SSID and then, once connected, it will move you around the frequency spectrum depending on the client capabilities and signal strength.

In case you do not know, 2.4GHz is slower than 5GHz but 5GHz is not as good at distance or around/ through obstacles. Wi-Fi 6 is a little foreign to me. Right now, it is very expensive. It is also in its infancy, there are not a lot of rugged systems that use it. (Kind of like 5G) It will be here in a few years, just not as of today.

Ports:
  • 2 USB type-c, 1 for power delivery and 1 for ethernet over USB-C
  • 2 RJ45 1Gbps LAN ports
  • 1 Micro-sim slot

Tested Speeds:

Ok this is what I was afraid of.

I live in the woods, only 4 miles from the small town of Plumsted PA. I have horrible cell service, like 3 bars on a perfect day standing on the roof of my house.

I was kind of shocked when T-Mobile said my address was eligible for this device. I assumed (like Elon's Starlink) I was too far out for this cutting-edge tech.

So, to be fair, I went into this thinking it was not going to be good. I am still shocked at how bad it really was. Now keep in mind, I am a certified HAM radio technician. I know a thing or two about radios and wave propagation. So please do not say this was user error. All tests were done next to a window, top floor, device with line of sight to the closest tower that is 5 miles away.

Rainy day: 20Mbps down, 3-5Mbps up.

Horrible, unusable for anything but sending a few emails and watching video at 720p. 20 down is not that bad, but the 3-5 up is just unacceptable. Totally rules out the possibility of multiple users being able to do anything.

Perfect clear day: 50Mbps down, 10Mbps up

Now we are getting somewhere. That is enough to do some HD streaming or a family of 4 use social media with only a little resolution reduction and buffering. However, still only speeds that would be good if this was 2005.


Router Features:

So, this is another unacceptable thing about T-Mobile "home internet" regardless of the speeds you get. Actually, it is nice that the speeds are unusable, otherwise the lack of software features would be really just annoying.

So, the device is just a hotspot. All it does is DHCP all the connected clients and NAT them to the internet. That is, it, you cannot control the address range, DNS servers, anything at all.

You can disable auto band negotiation. That is legit, the only setting you can touch. You cannot even totally disable Wi-Fi to use this device as a pure Ethernet device. 0/10 for that one.

So, for router features: it is a router, that is it, the most basic router you will ever see. Honestly, I think rooted android hotspots provide far more configurability.


T-Mobile Rules:

As of now. You get unlimited data. That is nice, but at these speeds you could saturate it 24/7 and pull like 100GB a month so it is not much to T-Mobile

Now the big rule that really killed me. You are not allowed to move the unit from your address! Now that makes sense, but it also does not. Like I get it, I am being billed for service that includes internet at my address. But on the other hand, this device lends itself well to, for example, taking to the cabin for the weekend, or a friend's house that has horrible internet. Or even in the car when you want to set up base camp for a while. Or a client's site, when you need to kill the internet but still need connectivity for downloads and documentation.

I wanted to test the device from right underneath the tower, to see what its full potential is. However, I do not want to risk some hideous bill or a ban from T-Mobile. So, I do not have those numbers. They claim under perfect conditions you can get symmetrical gigabit. I do not doubt that, it has Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, on paper you could get 1Gbps.

But I just do not know, and am not allowed to test. I would ask if I was keeping the unit but due to its horrible speeds at my home, where it would be used the most, I am just going to send it back. It does not work for me.


Use Cases:

There is a TON of use cases for this device. That is why I jumped on getting it. It could be a very low-cost internet service for someone who does not use that much bandwidth.

It could be a failover for the hard-wired ISP link

It could be portable internet for your cabin or secondary residence because you do not want to pay for 2 separate ISP links.

It could be portable internet for a full team at a site where the internet is down. It deploys in less than 5 minutes.

It really could be an amazing tool for the IT guy and normal internet user alike.


Wrap-up

"It could be" that sums up the service and device. It really has great potential. Unfortunately, it just fails to be useful.

It's total lack of router configurability, even just being able to change the internal address range. No static mappings, no custom DNS servers. Forget port forwarding. T-Mobile uses a proprietary transition layer for their 100% IPv6 network, this means even if there was port forwarding on the device it would not work with IPv4 addresses. You could hack something together but that is another story.

The speeds are just too low to be of any use. This is not "home internet" It is cell phone internet that most people will find easy to saturate just using normal applications. Desktop applications are designed to have stronger connections then cell phone applications.

Now a word on EMF/ EMI:

Dawn your tinfoil hats people, this thing is cooking out every extremely short wavelength waves you can think of. 5G, Wi-Fi 6, etc. They are using very powerful radios. Because this is a hard-wired device there are no power restrictions. Again, I cannot find official specs but I would bet it is right on the limit of the maximum allowed power by the FCC.

5G transceivers are still very expensive. The cheapest ones I can find are $500 USD. That is just for the transceiver, forget the modem and router. So, I am assuming if you were to buy this unit it would be well over $1000 USD.

That means it likely has all the high-power radios you can have, because why not, if the customer is leasing it, they might as well have the full power.


TLDR:

It is a great idea at a great price ($50 a month, no contract, no equipment fee). Unfortunately, it does not replace home internet, because of speeds and features.

If you are one person, in an urban location, then it might be perfect. However, if you are a power-user whatsoever then it is going to annoy you and make you feel like it is meant for people who do not know what an IP address even is.

Sorry T-Mobile, I really wanted to like it.

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