5G continues its national rollout, offering millimeter-wave cellular speeds at higher, faster frequencies than 4G LTE. That's a big deal for our phones and for other mobile gadgets that connect over cellular airwaves -- and it could be a game-changer for home networking too. With the potential for near-gigabit speeds over the air that rival what cable and fiber internet service providers offer -- plus the added appeal of straightforward, consumer-friendly terms that ditch data caps, equipment fees and the like -- 5G is shaping up as one of the most exciting things to happen in residential internet in years.
All of that depends on whether or not 5G home internet service is even an option at your address. 5G signals aren't available everywhere, but the two providers doing the most to expand the technology's availability for home internet use are Verizon and T-Mobile. (Note: For now, AT&T is sticking with fiber and DSL to bring homes online.) Both providers offer dedicated 5G home internet plans that promise fast speeds and simple terms at an affordable rate, and in some areas, you might even find that your home is serviceable by each of them.
Time will tell how much 5G stands to disrupt the ISP category, if at all. For now, let's take a close look at how these two top providers currently compare.
Verizon 5G Home Internet uses ultrawideband 5G technology to deliver max download speeds close to 1 gigabit and average download speeds of 300 megabits per second. That's the fastest average download speed delivered by a major fixed wireless provider. What it sacrifices is coverage, as it's currently available to about 30 million households nationwide. That said, the provider aims to continually increase that number, with a goal of reaching 50 million by 2025.
Read our Verizon 5G Home Internet review.See at Verizon
T-Mobile Home Internet is only a year old -- CNET took an early look at the service in February and it descended upon the country in full back in April -- but it's got the widest reach of any fixed wireless internet provider. By making use of its 4G LTE network in addition to the expanding 5G grid, T-Mobile has been able to aggressively expand its coverage map and offer its service to more households than Verizon's 5G solution. While the average download speed sits around 100Mbps, that might be plenty of pep for some customers, especially those in rural areas where satellite and DSL might have previously been the best options.
Read our T-Mobile 5G Home Internet review.See at T-Mobile
Neither provider offers a detailed coverage map specifically for its 5G home internet solution. Nor are they yet included in the Federal Communication Commission's database of broadband providers. But taking into account the total list of cities they claim to cover, as well as the total number of households, T-Mobile is pretty clearly in the lead here, but Verizon recently closed the gap when it unveiled its 5G Ultra Wideband network in mid-January.
While Verizon 5G Home Internet is available to approximately 30 million homes across the country, T-Mobile Home Internet reaches over 30 million households in just over 600 cities nationwide. In contrast, Verizon's service is available in parts of 900 cities, but fewer homes.
To save your eyeballs (and our word count), we won't list the 600-plus T-Mobile cities here, but if you'd like to scan them for yourself, you can peruse this T-Mobile Home Internet PDF. Verizon has not yet made available a list of the 900 cities in which its 5G Home Internet service can be found, but you can use its Check Availability tool here.
Tired of trying to decipher which broadband package to choose out of seemingly countless options? Wary of signing up for a long-term contract with penalties looming if you don't fulfill it? Sick of sweating it out every month with a stingy data cap? No worries! Both Verizon and T-Mobile lean into the idea of providing a no-strings-attached broadband experience. Each offers only one 5G home internet plan and that plan requires no term agreement and features no data caps.
One small difference you'll notice is there are two choices for Verizon: Verizon 5G Home and Verizon 5G Plus. Verizon 5G Home comes with a two-year price guarantee, while Verizon 5G Plus locks in your price for three years, plus some perks (see the deals and promos section below).
While 5G is capable of gigabit download speeds, don't expect those top-end numbers from either provider's home internet product. T-Mobile, for example, says on its site that customers can expect to see "average download speeds in excess of 100Mbps," and experience typical ranges from 35-115Mbps. Why so relatively low? To expedite its availability, T-Mobile Home Internet relies on its growing 5G grid and its existing 4G LTE network. So don't expect a pure 5G experience.
"During congestion, Home Internet customers may notice speeds lower than other customers due to data prioritization," reads the very first sentence of T-Mobile Home Internet's full terms. "Service may be slowed, suspended, terminated, or restricted for misuse, abnormal use, interference with our network or ability to provide quality service to other users."
On the other hand, Verizon tells its subscribers to expect average download speeds of around 300Mbps. The main reason for the faster speeds here is Verizon's exclusive dependence on its Ultra Wideband 5G network. It uses low-band, midband and millimeter-wave technology to provide customers with speeds that could potentially get as high as 940Mbps.
While a cursory glance at the chart above might lead you to believe that T-Mobile is the better buy -- $50 a month versus Verizon's top plan at $70 a month -- it's essential to look at the cost per Mbps to understand the actual value better. When you take into account the average download speed of 100Mbps for that $50 a month fee, T-Mobile rings in at 50 cents per Mbps, which is comparable to what you might pay for a midrange cable internet plan.
Verizon, which averages 300Mbps, shaves that amount down to a cost per Mbps of just under 17 cents. Also, if you choose to go with the Verizon 5G Plus plan, your monthly bill is $70 per month, and that cost per Mbps goes up to just under 24 cents. But you get additional perks that might make up for it, depending on how you feel about the worth of Disney Plus. Finally, customers with qualifying Verizon Unlimited mobile plans will get 50% off the monthly cost of either plan. If you're able to make use of that additional discount, it makes Verizon 5G Home -- either plan -- one of the most affordable out there, compared to any cable and fiber internet plans by competitors.
Let's revisit that idea of the no-strings-attached internet experience. Verizon and T-Mobile are eager to get customers to try their 5G home internet offerings, so no hidden fees or taxes are added to the monthly cost. We mentioned before that there's no contract and no data cap. There's also no additional equipment rental fee, no installation or activation cost and no other trap fees.
Still not convinced by the straightforward terms both T-Mobile and Verizon put forward? They'll try to sway you with their promotional offers -- though Verizon clearly has the edge here.
For example, T-Mobile currently offers its new Home Internet customers a free Paramount Plus subscription for one year. That's a decent value of $60 (especially for Star Trek fans).
But Verizon has a much more aggressive offer. New Verizon 5G Home Plus customers will receive 12 months of Disney Plus for free ($96) and two months of Sling TV for free ($70 value). You'll also get one month of service for free as well. Verizon 5G Home subscribers will get six months of Disney Plus and a free month of service. Lastly, and significantly, subscribers to either Verizon plan can get 50% off the monthly cost if they have an eligible Verizon Unlimited wireless plan.
Two of the top customer satisfaction surveys we refer to on our ISP reviews -- J.D. Power and the American Customer Satisfaction Index -- place Verizon right at the top of their rankings. But those residential internet surveys are focused on Verizon Fios, which is a fiber internet service, not specifically the Verizon 5G Home Internet option.
Finding feedback on T-Mobile Home Internet -- which has been out in the market for less than a year -- is even more difficult. One of our CNET writers tested T-Mobile during its pilot program last year and preferred it over his previous provider, Comcast Xfinity.
Similarly, PCMag's most recent Readers' Choice awards tagged T-Mobile Home Internet with the highest overall ratings among wireless providers with a 7.7 score on a scale from 0-10. That's well above the survey's average ISP score of 7.1 and puts T-Mobile in the top 10 of all ISPs for overall customer satisfaction.
Both T-Mobile and Verizon are still aggressively building out their 5G networks, so we're much nearer the beginning of this story than the middle or end, especially as it relates to 5G fixed wireless internet overall.
As it specifically relates to these two providers, T-Mobile Home Internet has a slight edge in availability. By adding its 4G LTE network to 5G, it makes itself a much more viable pick, particularly in rural and underserved areas of the country, where it's a compelling alternative to options like satellite or DSL. But Verizon 5G Home Internet takes the lead in performance, featuring nearly triple the current download speeds of T-Mobile Home Internet. With the recent introduction of a new Verizon Router, which supports next-gen connections in the ultrawide 6GHz band, Verizon seems poised to provide higher upside in the immediate future in cities where the two overlap.Modernize your home with the latest news on smart home products and trends. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays.5G Wi-Fi T-Mobile VerizonNotification on Notification off Broadband