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5G home broadband: what is it and how much do deals cost?

5 broadband
Image credit: Shutterstock (Image credit: Shutterstock)

5G broadband - EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 have all now switched on their 5G networks meaning the big four are ready to allow you to step up your internet with new speeds and latency.

5G broadband promises incredible speeds that are even better than wired connections. It means networks that can stream 8K video to your phone or just download an HD movie in a few seconds. It means smoother streaming, a goodbye to buffering and latency so low that players of mobile multiplayer will be even more murderous. It means connected cars, the internet of things and incredibly fast pings.

But what is 5G broadband? Will 5G broadband come to your street any time soon? What speeds can you expect from your no doubt pricey 5G broadband connection? And what 5G broadband deals are available? Let’s find out.

What is 5G home broadband?

5G is the fifth generation of mobile phone technology. The first generation was analogue mobiles, followed by digital; 3G and 4G made mobile data better and faster.

5G really amps up the speed, but it’s also about boosting capacity and reliability to handle the many millions of different devices that want to get online, including the devices we don’t have yet – augmented reality glasses, super-smart self-driving cars, killer robots from the future and so on.

Will 5G replace home broadband?

For most of us in the short term, no. It’s a companion to fixed line broadband: chances are you’ll have fibre broadband at home and 5G when you’re out and about. That’s partly about convenience and reliability, but also about price.

At the start, it’s probably going to work out much like the current split between wired broadband and 4G. Chances are you have unlimited data at home but have a monthly data limit on your mobile.

But we wouldn't be surprised if 5G will eventually become the de facto connection for both your mobile phone and home broadband. We're some way off that eventuality, but it makes sense as 5G speeds are likely to be even faster than what fibre can offer.

What companies will have 5G first?

As we mentioned above, all four networks have now switched on their 5G networks. Obviously, these switch-ons were slightly limited and you will only actually be able to connect in certain cities across the country.

While those are the main networks, Sky Mobile, Tesco and BT have all also turned on their 5G connections and we imagine many more will follow shortly. If you want to be an early adopter of 5G, then be sure to check out TechRadar's guide to the best 5G phone deals.

Who has the best 5G home broadband deals?

Three Home Broadband with Huawei AI Cube | 12-month contract | £42 upfront | Unlimited data | £32 a month
Three currently has the best offer for anyone wanting a 5G connected home broadband. Why...? It's also a speaker! Okay, while that is true, it is not the reason to buy this. Three's tempting features are its lower than average price and unlimited data cap on offer.View Deal

EE Mobile Broadband with 5GEE Home Router | 24-month contract | 100GB data | £35 a month | £100 upfront
EE will be the choice many gravitate to first. After being the UK's fastest 4G network, it is the network we would expect to perform best in the world of 5G. However, it is by no means the cheapest option. Prices start at £50 and only get higher if you want more data.View Deal

Vodafone GigaCube | 18 month contract | £50 upfront | Unlimited data | £50 a month
With a dramatic name like 'GigaCube' you would expect a lot from Vodafone's home broadband and luckily, it delivers. Firstly, with 5G capabilities at no extra cost, if you live in a 5G area, this package is perfect. But with 5G not widely available, 4G is also available with Vodafone. For £50 a month you're getting unlimited data on this package. Or, if 18 months is too long, you can pay a larger upfront fee to drop to a 30-day rolling contract instead.
View Deal

When will 5G home broadband be available?

Good news - 5G home broadband is here! Three got the jump on the rest by launching its 5G home broadband in August 2019. It has started things off with Central London in 5G enabled areas but in due time it will expand to other locations. We're told that those other places include Birmingham, Bolton, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Reading, Rotherham, Sheffield, Slough, Sunderland and Wolverhampton.

As with every other broadband and mobile broadband technology, generally it’s going to the cities first and will reach remote areas much later. The initial roll-out of 5G is going to be based on higher frequency bands that deliver lots of capacity over short distances, which isn’t much use in rural areas where there are fewer people spread over much larger areas.

EE launched its 5G service in May in six cities: London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff. It promises to add Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham, Coventry, Leicester, Sheffield, Glasgow, Liverpool, Hull and Newcastle before the end of 2019.

Vodafone turned on its 5G service in July 2019 in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and London. Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Newbury, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton will follow later this year.

The final of the four main networks to launch 5G, you can get O2 5G connections in: Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Eastbourne, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Lisburn, Liverpool, London, Luton, Manchester, Newcastle, Northampton, Norwich, Nottingham, Sheffield, Slough and Stoke-on-Trent.

broadband speed test

Image credit: Shutterstock (Image credit: Shutterstock)

What is 5G speed? Is it faster than regular broadband?

It’s quite a lot faster than many broadband connections, although as ever you should take headline figures with a pinch of salt.

Quoted speeds are theoretical, as you’ll know if you’ve ever struggled to do anything on a one-bar 4G connection. 4G is technically capable of up to 150Mb (twice that with LTE-Advanced), but in reality you’re more likely achieve around 20Mb – for example we’ve just ran a speed test on our big-city 4G connection and we’re getting 25.8Mb.

For 5G, predicted speeds are somewhere in the gigabit range. Vodafone currently promises peak speeds of 1Gbps; like most operators Deutsche Telekom, EE’s parent company, predicts eventual real-world speeds of up to 10Gb – “under ideal conditions”. That qualifier is important, because mobile data speeds are affected by signal strength, interference and congestion. Even in lab conditions the speeds are lower, so for example in late 2017 EE achieved a consistent 2.8Gb - still impressive, but a clear indication that 10Gb isn’t going to be happening for anyone in the UK anytime soon.

But it’s not just about straight line speed. Latency matters too. Latency is the gap between asking for something and getting it: a song, perhaps, or throwing a grenade at someone in a game. The longer the lag the worse the performance. On 4G latency hovers somewhere between 50ish milliseconds and 100ish; on 5G that could drop into single figures.

Can I get 5G mobile broadband?

Want something more portable? Something to take out into the big wide world? Well there's always the option of mobile broadband. Of all of the networks that do these portable internet plans, EE will be the best option.

It offers a HTC 5G Hub. While not the cheapest option around, it will get you some insanely fast speeds on the go if you're in a 5G compatible area.

What are the best home broadband deals currently available?

This is probably the easiest question of all to answer, thanks to our dedicated guide to the best broadband deals - you can also see our favoruites in the potted broadband comparison below. If you're dead set on the fastest speeds, then be sure to get over to our fibre broadband deals page instead.