May 23, 2024


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I signed up for T-Mobile’s $50 unlimited home internet service. Here’s what happened


T-Mobile’s Home Internet gateway serves as modem and router, though you can also plug in an existing router or mesh network.

Rick Broida/CNET

I don’t know what you’re paying for home internet service, but I’ll wager it’s more than you’d like it to be — and probably inching up all the time. For example, Comcast charges me $106 a month just for internet (I ditched TV about a year ago), a rate that seems to increase a few bucks every couple months.

So when I learned that T-Mobile Home Internet was available in my area, promising unlimited high-speed service for a flat $50 monthly — equipment, taxes and fees included — I jumped at the chance to try it. (Note that availability is limited for the time being; the service is slowly rolling out to cities across the US and is technically in a pilot phase right now. That means things could change when there’s an official rollout.)

Obviously, I had concerns. Would it be fast enough for everyday computing? Could it handle 4K streaming video? Would it work with my mesh network and support the many, many connected devices in my house? Perhaps most important, was it truly unlimited, or would T-Mobile throttle data at a certain point?

Because there’s no contract required, it would cost me just $50 to find out. It would also give me a bargaining chip, a way to potentially negotiate a lower rate from Comcast. That’s something worth considering if T-Mobile Home Internet is available in your area but you’re not necessarily looking to make a change.

Read more: The best internet providers for 2021: Cable vs. DSL vs. satellite and more

Setting up T-Mobile Home Internet

After using T-Mobile’s online tool to check availability, I agreed to let a customer service representative call me — and that call arrived about a minute later. I spent just over 10 minutes on the phone with a pleasant operator who answered my questions, approved my credit and told me modem delivery would likely take two to three weeks due to a backorder. Total up-front cost: $0.

Sure enough, it took about three weeks to get the Nokia-made T-Mobile Home Internet Gateway — a silver, cylindrical tower that’s both modem and router. It creates 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi networks in your home, though it also has a pair of Ethernet ports.

The T-Mobile Home Internet app guides you through the setup process, which includes scanning a QR code on the bottom of the gateway, choosing a network name (aka SSID) and password and even changing the administrator password if you’re so inclined — all pretty standard router-setup stuff, all pretty simple and straightforward.

Previously I used my own cable modem (connected to Comcast) and an Eero mesh network. For my initial testing I decided to leave the latter out of the equation, as I wanted to see how the gateway performed on its own.

Read more: Millions of Americans can’t get broadband because of a faulty FCC map. There’s a fix

Using T-Mobile Home Internet

After the initial setup, everything seemed to be working. My phone had successfully connected, so my next stop was my Asus laptop. Curiously, the T-Mobile gateway didn’t appear in the list of available networks. Suspecting a Windows hiccup, I rebooted; same result. Then I pulled out an Amazon Fire tablet; it found the network just fine. So did an upstairs Roku TV and an old basement laptop running Windows 7. Huh.

In the Home Internet app, there’s a Support tab with a link to a T-Mobile FAQ page — but that just took me to T-Mobile’s home page, which added to my frustration. A link to the T-Mobile Community Forum stonewalled me as well, because I didn’t have a working T-Mobile sign-in (which didn’t arrive via email until two days after I received and set up the gateway).

Then I tried restarting the gateway, which proved a huge mistake: It seemed to lose all my previous setup settings, as though I’d done a hard reset. (This despite it having a battery backup; more on that later.) The app forced me to repeat the entire setup process, including choosing passwords. When I tried using the same ones as the first time, it wouldn’t accept them. When I tweaked them slightly, I got a cryptic “installation failed” message.

Eventually everything seemed to sort itself out, though I never could get that laptop directly connected to the gateway. Even an upper-level T-Mobile support tech couldn’t solve the problem. Fortunately, once I plugged my Eero base station into the gateway, the issue effectively disappeared — and I was ready for full-bore, whole-house testing.

How T-Mobile Home Internet performs

Although it’s not stated on T-Mobile’s promotion page, the carrier’s Home Internet service does support 5G where available and 4G LTE where not. There are so many variables involved — local congestion, your home’s proximity to towers and so on — that my experiences can’t be considered typical. They’re simply my experiences. Your mileage absolutely may vary.

Here’s the good news: After more than a week of business as usual — working online during the day, streaming video at night, FaceTime calls to parents and so on — I’ve encountered scarcely a blip in connectivity.

However, the numbers from Speedtest — the service I’ve long used to gauge internet performance — revealed that T-Mobile Home Internet is all over the place. For example, early in my testing, I recorded download/upload speeds as high as 145Mbps/80Mbps. In subsequent days they dropped as low as 15Mbps/8Mbps. This was despite the gateway’s little touchscreen display showing four or five bars and the app reporting “very good” or “excellent” connection quality.

These were my (very encouraging) Speedtest results in the first few days of testing. But in the days that followed, speeds seemed to drop considerably, for reasons I can’t explain. Fortunately, it didn’t affect real-world usability.

Rick Broida/CNET

During that initial week, I averaged download speeds in the mid-30s and uploads of around 8-10Mbps. And you know what? That proved sufficient for my household of three. I’ve streamed hours of 4K video, participated in Zoom meetings, downloaded big games to install and so on, all without a hiccup to report. (Unfortunately, I can’t speak to multiplayer gaming performance, as it’s not my wheelhouse. I don’t play online and therefore can’t make before-and-after comparisons. Anecdotally, a perusal of T-Mobile’s community forums reveals that many users have encountered significant lag during online games.)

In week two, I experimented with moving the gateway to different areas of the house. To my surprise, relocating it to a second-story window yielded a huge performance bump: Download speeds in the mid-60s and uploads that were as high or higher. But there was direct sun in that window, so I needed to keep looking — it’s not good for sensitive electronics to bake in the heat. But the upshot of the experiment was clear: Gateway placement can make a big difference.

I also did a quick bit of side-testing at my mother-in-law’s farmhouse (about seven miles due west of where I live), where cable internet isn’t available. In fact, her only option until now has been a slow, expensive, data-capped satellite service.

After plugging in the gateway, I was chagrined to discover it showed only two bars — “weak” connectivity, according to the Home Internet app. But then I ran Speedtest: Download performance was hitting 126Mbps, which seemed amazing, while uploads were only about 9Mbps.

Why the disparities? Is it possible the farmhouse was able to connect a 5G tower, which allowed for faster throughput despite a weaker signal? I’m not sure. Honestly, the only way to know how well T-Mobile Home Internet will work at your house is to try it.

T-Mobile Home Internet issues 

In addition to the aforementioned laptop problem, I encountered one oddity during my testing: My RemoBell S hard-wired smart doorbell no longer worked correctly. Video became highly pixelated and pretty much unusable. I can’t say why, as the “front end” (meaning connectivity to the Eero-powered Wi-Fi network) was fundamentally unchanged. As of this writing I’m still troubleshooting that issue. (For the record, I have a Wyze Cam Outdoor installed about 15 feet from the doorbell, and it’s still working normally.)

I also learned that although the gateway includes a battery backup, it disables both Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity while running on battery power. That means it’s of no use during a power outage. According to a T-Mobile representative, the battery is there so you can move the gateway around your house and see where it picks up the best signal.

Meanwhile, my first bill arrived in the amount of $55, not $50. Turns out you need to activate auto-pay to get the lower rate — easy enough to do online, but I was certain I’d already set this up when I first signed up for service.

Is T-Mobile Home Internet ready for prime time?

So after more than a week with T-Mobile Home Internet, what’s the verdict? I’m keeping it, at least for now. There’s no contract, so I can always go back to Comcast if things don’t work out. And even if it’s not perfect 100{8c54160eed80eb00ac4f5d74c8785e95142d89daf570f201b81dc7fdc31059f3} of the time, well, neither is Comcast — and imperfection is a lot more tolerable when you’re paying less than half what you were before.

If this service is available in your area, I’d say it’s definitely worth a try. If nothing else, as noted above, the presence of a new competitor gives you a bargaining chip; you might be able to negotiate a lower rate from your current provider.

Your thoughts?

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