Cord cutting is coming to home internet access, not just pay TV – but not every embittered broadband customer will be able to fire their current provider and switch to residential wireless from T-Mobile and Verizon.
Both carriers offer connectivity at speeds that may not match those of cable internet but should be fast enough for many home uses. They also don’t inflict cable’s data caps or modem-rental fees. What they can’t do yet: match the vast service footprints of incumbent cable providers.
T-Mobile says the $60 5G home internet service it announced April 7 covers “more than 30 million households” across some 1.6 million square miles (the total U.S. land area is 3.5 million). It hasn’t posted a coverage map, so would-be customers must plug in their home addresses at its site to check for service.
A FAQ page touts download speeds of 50 megabits per second, with “most new subscribers” exceeding 100 Mbps. A separate disclosures page cites upload speeds of 13 to 28 Mbps, well above cable uploads that often start at 3 Mbps.
Verizon launched its 4G LTE home internet service last June; with its most recent expansion, announced Oct. 1, it now reaches “parts of 189 markets across 48 states.” Here, too, there’s no coverage map, so you’ll have to check your own address at its site. This $60 service ($40 if you already get Verizon smartphone service) offers downloads of 25 to 50 Mbps and uploads of 3 to 6 Mbps.
In 30 cities, Verizon also offers a much faster 5G Home service – $70, or $50 with a Verizon phone plan – with advertised downloads of 300 Mbps and uploads of 50 Mbps. But its reliance on Verizon’s fragile, short-range millimeter-wave 5G leaves it with excruciatingly limited coverage that PCMag.com found fell short of even that carrier’s millimeter-wave 5G smartphone service.
Either T-Mobile 5G or Verizon LTE should represent a serious upgrade over aging, slow DSL connections, said Avi Greengart, president and lead analyst at Techsponential.
“Realistically, even today’s 4G speeds are often orders of magnitude faster than DSL, never mind mid-band 5G,” he wrote in an email. “In other areas, a local cable monopoly will win on speed, but adding an alternative should spur the incumbent to offer a better value proposition.”
T-Mobile’s 5G, built on mid-band 5G spectrum unmatched at Verizon (or AT&T), has better odds of competing with cable.
Will Townsend, senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, pronounced himself “very confident” in T-Mobile and its competitive position in rural markets because of that spectrum advantage.
He was less optimistic about Verizon’s prospects even after that carrier puts its own mid-band 5G into service (expect that at the end of this year). Noting the $45 billion Verizon spent to buy that spectrum, Townsend warned that this and other deployment costs “will likely result in higher subscriber prices.”
T-Mobile, for its part, has warned that the chip shortage may limit how many Wi-Fi gateways it can ship and therefore how many people can sign up. Maisie Heine, a publicist for the company, said it expects to have more than 500,000 subscribers by year-end and 7 million to 8 million total in five years.
That would leave many Americans with subpar connectivity, but any upgrade on the current situation should be welcomed.
Said Greengart: “I don’t think that fixed wireless will solve all suburban and rural broadband access problems, but I’m optimistic that it will have a significant impact.”
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The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.