Separating Fact From Fiction: How Reliable is 5G Home Internet Really?

Long Story Short
  • 5G Home Internet is marketed as a fast alternative to broadband Internet, but it is not yet capable of being as consistent or reliable.
  • 5G Home Internet speed relies on the same cell towers as 5G mobile devices, which means they are essentially competing for capacity with cell phones, and impacted by the same obstructions such as buildings, trees, and inclement weather.
  • The “G” in 5G does not stand for gigabit speeds. Instead, it refers to the fifth generation of wireless networks dating back to the 1990s.
Jump Ahead

5G Home Internet or Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) is an evolving technology that comes with the promise of fast speeds and connectivity for your household. But there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the current state of 5G Home Internet, the differences between it and 5G Mobile, as well as traditional Internet service providers (ISPs) who are expanding their fiber-based networks to reach millions more Americans. While the technology behind 5G is a great choice when it comes to mobile data on your phone and for serving remote areas with limited broadband connectivity choices like DSL, the same cannot be said for powering most home Internet needs.

Sources: T-MobileVerizonOokla.
For specific broadband provider speeds, click here.

5G networks are mobile networks. This means they are inherently less reliable than wired networks due to mobile users in the same area sharing the same capacity, as well as the same signal obstructions like weather, buildings, and trees. This may lead to unwanted speed fluctuations and lagging in response during video calling and gaming — what insiders refer to as latency. 

Learn more about 5G and how it compares to other Internet options below.

What is 5G Home Internet?

In simple terms, the “G” in 5G stands for “generation.” This means that a 5G network is the fifth generation of Internet networks dating back to the 1990s. This does NOT mean a G as in gigabit speed pertaining to how fast 5G Internet is.

More technically, 5G is a set of standards for delivering Internet speeds faster than the prior 4G/LTE standard using cell towers. There are two ways carriers use 5G. The first, 5G Mobile, offers an impressive increase in Internet speeds on mobile phones. It provides a much better on-the-go experience for streaming videos or downloading large files. The second type is called Fixed Wireless Internet (FWA) — often referred to as 5G Internet. 5G Home Internet uses the same mobile network as these phones, but it brings the service into a house using a device that converts the mobile signal into Wi-Fi.  

This can be a nice upgrade for those who are limited to DSL or some forms of satellite Internet service. But when it comes down to a 5G Internet vs cable face-off: 5G is no match for fiber-based broadband services from broadband companies and other ISPs. Not only are those networks dramatically faster, but they are also more reliable, secure, and private. Because all 5G Internet relies on the same cell towers as 5G mobile devices, they are essentially competing for capacity. When many mobile users are using the 5G network at once, the 5G Home Internet users must wait in line behind them for connectivity. And because of the nature of the 5G frequencies, there must be more towers closer together and lower to the ground to deliver optimal service. 

What does this mean when it comes to streaming?
Many 5G Home Internet users are finding it difficult to watch their favorite shows and networks. This is because streaming service providers require knowing where the customer is located to provide the right local channels and verify the customer is in an area authorized to access content. Home Internet services based on mobile networks have trouble with this since they were built for users on the go. Forums like Quora are filling up with users having trouble keeping up with modern streamers' binge-worthy standards.

5G is a powerful option for staying connected when on mobile devices, but how does it measure up for home Internet usage?

The truth is, 5G Internet can be a good solution for people who don’t have other options, like certain rural areas still waiting for the bridge between the digital divide to extend to their locations with cable broadband and other fiber-based services. Otherwise, using 5G for home Internet will result in slower speeds and lagging as it shares space with mobile user traffic. Think of it as a congested interstate highway, with everyone headed for the same exit. 

*When it comes to latency, the lower the better. Latency refers to real-time data and the prevention of lagging, something that is especially important to gamers, and remote students and professionals joining video calls. Learn more about latency below.

(Sources: T-Mobile; Verizon; Ookla)

Unless you and your family are planning to adopt a “nocturnal” lifestyle to get the kind of connectivity you need for work, school, gaming, and more, 5G Home Internet is probably not the right fit. 

If you are among the majority of Internet users who are lucky enough to have access to wired broadband Internet, you will experience faster, more reliable, secure and private service with those ISPs. Click here to find a fast connection from a wired broadband provider near you.

Is 5G Worth It? Your 5G Questions, Answered.

How Fast is 5G Internet?

So how fast is 5G Internet, really? As mentioned earlier, 5G stands for fifth generation – and NOT 5 gigabits per second of service. 5G Home Internet users will experience speeds at a fraction of what wired broadband services can provide.

Is 5 GHz the Same as 5G Home Internet?

Oftentimes, people will see 5 GHz on their WiFi router and assume they have 5G Internet access at home. These are two different things. When it comes to Wi-Fi routers, 5 GHz refers to the 5 gigahertz radio frequency the router uses to transmit your Internet signal to the devices in your home – think of how different radio stations have different frequency slots they broadcast in. Most modern routers have both a 2.4 and 5 GHz channel. The 5G in 5G Home Internet just refers to the fifth generation of mobile data. It uses a number of different “channels” or frequency bands to deliver the service, all of which are prone to the same interference issues that traditional cellular service faces. 

Is 5G Available in my Area?

You’ve probably heard cell phone and Internet companies speak of “nationwide” 5G coverage. While there is service in places all over the country, consumers can expect to have vastly different experiences for 5G Internet depending on where they are located — i.e. rural and urban areas, close to busy highways or places where people gather like sports stadiums or office complexes.

What is Latency?

When it comes to latency, the lower the better. 5G wireless networks have higher latency than cable broadband and other kinds of fiber-based wired connects for two reasons:

  1. 5G Home Internet users have to wait in line behind all the 5G mobile users on that network who always have priority. So, while the you are on a Zoom call or trying to advance in a video game, your Zoom presentation or your next virtual move is put into a queue behind mobile users’ leading to poor quality, delayed speeds, and fuzzy imagery and audio.
  2. Another reason latency is higher for 5G networks is they were designed and built with wireless devices in mind. The signals move through the air and navigate around obstructions in order to keep devices connected while on-the-go – and they do this really well for mobile devices, which are their number one priority. Wired broadband networks, on the other hand, are inherently more stable because the fiber and other hard-wired parts of these higher capacity networks are connecting to fixed end points like homes and businesses. This makes them more stable and easier to optimize for things like gaming and Zooming.

Experts Weigh In on The Future of 5G

"For those that have experienced extended outages, been fed untruths by T-Mobile employees, or have been sent multiple hardware replacements in vain in hopes of solving the issues, the positive potential [of 5G Home Internet] doesn't matter." 

― Brandon Hill, Tom's Hardware 

"While the [5G] technology is there, there are still issues to be addressed, and key amongst these is resilience. Utility networks are used to reliability, and mobile networks aren't there yet. Power autonomy within the communications network is essential and must be improved."

― James Irvine, University of Strathclyde

"As 5G is an emerging technology, it needs to reach a certain level of both adoption and maturity before comparative performance claims can be made in new markets... This well-intended desire of operators to show off new capabilities has led to dubious claims being made in the market." 

― Brian Connelly, Ookla ® 

"Wireless providers are still in the early stages of building their 5G Fixed Wireless networks, and oftentimes customers end up surfing the web on a slower, 4G LTE network instead of the 5G network they expected"

― Charter Communications Team