5G's promises are super exciting: the next-gen cellular networks are going to make phones way faster, letting you do things like stream AAA video games without latency, or download entire series in HD in a matter of seconds. So Verizon's proposed 5G home internet should be just as exciting - but from what we saw at a preview event, 5G home internet struggles in the same ways as mobile 5G.
We had a chance to check out an apartment running on Verizon's 5G Home in Chicago, one of the biggest 5G battlegrounds in the US. We already saw Verizon deploy the first 5G mobile network in that city, so we were eager to see how the carrier-telecom could bring the same next-gen network to home internet.
The big takeaway is that 5G is just another way to get your data from point A to point B, and there's less to get excited about than you'd hope, though it leaves the door open for more rapid improvements down the line. And thankfully, Verizon is making it easy for early adopters to try the new service out - read on for what we found.
What is 5G home internet?
There are many parts in the infrastructure of the internet, but the one most of us care about is that last stretch that delivers it to our house - the so-called 'last mile'.
Some of us get our internet through phone lines in the form of DSL, some get it beamed down from satellites, and many of us get it through the copper cable lines coming into our homes. A lucky few get it routed through high-speed fiber optic cables, but that rollout has been slow-going.
5G home has been proposed as a higher-speed alternative by beaming signal into the home. In the case of Verizon's 5G Home service, a high frequency radio wave (mmWave) wirelessly sends data back and forth between a nearby cell tower and a receiver set up within a customer's home.
So, instead of having a physical cable connecting your home or apartment to the network, you've got a wireless signal carrying data over that last stretch.
Once that 5G signal hits Verizon's 5G Home receiver, it's carried over a typical Ethernet cable to a standard Verizon router, which broadcasts Wi-Fi signal within your home. From there, every device connecting to that internet signal is doing so over Wi-Fi or a wired Ethernet connection. None of them are connecting directly to that 5G signal.
So, it's really just normal internet?
The short answer: yes. While the window receiver will pick up a 5G signal, that receiver is the only piece of the whole setup that actually interacts with the 5G towers outside.
You don't plug your computer into the coaxial cable with cable internet, and you won't be connecting your device to the 5G network with Verizon 5G Home. You'll still just being using Wi-Fi or Ethernet to create your home network, albeit on the new, speedier Wi-Fi 6 protocol.
We tested that connection the apartment Verizon had set up for an event. Running a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G on the Wi-Fi 6 connection, we downloaded the 1.8GB PUBG Mobile game in one minute and 38 seconds.
That translates to a download speed of 18.4MB/s (or 147.2 Mbps). That's fast, but it's not mind-blowing compared to 5G mobile speeds we've seen - or the claims of top-tier home interent providers. For instance, Comcast Xfinity offers plans from 25Mbps to 1,000Mbps.
What's it cost me?
Verizon's 5G Home plan costs $70 month with auto-pay and paperless billing, but Verizon customers with a mobile plan of $30/month of more can get the 5G Home service for a discounted $50 a month. Verizon's plan doesn't have any extra taxes or fees on top of that price though, and the hardware needed for the service is included in the price.
Early adopters get a bit of a break with an introductory trial that offers three months free alongside a year of Disney+, a month of YouTube TV, and a streaming device thrown in for free (pick between an Amazon Fire Stick, Amazon Fire Cube, or Stream TV).
Are there advantages to 5G home internet?
Truth be told, the price is one advantage. Verizon's 5G Home appears to have a fair price compared to other plans. It's not forcing you to sign a year-long contract to get a special rate, and it's not stacking equipment rental fees on top of the cost of service. For current Verizon mobile customers, it's an even better deal. But, that may be where the advantages end, at least for now.
We saw the service offer decently, but not dazzlingly, fast internet - and that was in fairly ideal conditions. The 5G receiver was stuck to an upper-story window directly across the street from a 5G-broadcasting tower. All that stood in the way between the two devices was a barren tree and maybe 30 feet of open air.
We've seen in past mmWave tests, like what's used in the Sprint 5G network, that the 5G signal is easier to lose than it is to find. The mmWave frequencies often have difficulty passing through obstacles, and the space between the 5G tower and home receiver is not necessarily a controlled environment.
Street-level customers could have vehicles, pedestrians, or even trees block the line-of-sight between their receiver and nearest tower, and that could impact their fast internet speeds, let alone baseline connectivity.
There are some theoretical advantages of 5G home internet, though. For one, upgrades could be easier. Since there are no cables running along poles or underground, the network could simply be upgraded with new towers or even software updates over time.
That means no digging up wires to replace them with fiber and no needing to lay new cable in areas that are still waiting on high-speed internet (though it may still be some time before 5G home internet reaches those locations).
There's also a slight bonus for radio interference. Since mmWave has trouble penetrating buildings, the radio waves used to beam 5G internet won't be permeating every building in the vicinity.
In summary, Verizon's 5G home internet is promising but not speedy enough to recommend without caution, especially with so many unanswered questions about how the service will perform in real-world conditions. But should it live up to Verizon’s claims and avoid mmWave's signal shortfalls, 5G internet could change how data gets into our homes.
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