Over the last five to ten years, mobile networks have made significant improvements in the data speeds they offer. For many of us, our mobile phones have already become a backup for our home broadband. We use tethering or mobile hotspotting techniques to connect to the internet whenever our home broadband is down. As a result, we have tested our mobile phones not only for essential voice and data services but also high-speed internet services. As we gradually transition from 3G/4G networks to 4G/5G networks, we expect to see an overall improvement in the average data speeds we get from mobile networks. But do you sometimes wonder what life would be like if we used 5G mobile broadband as our primary network for home internet?
Can you get 5G internet at home?
eMBB or Enhanced Mobile Broadband is one of the three pillars of 5G, which means that 5G enables high-speed data services that can offer considerably higher speeds than the earlier 4G LTE networks. In the UK, 5G was initially launched in 2019, and since then, the 5G network coverage has seen good penetration nationwide. All the UK’s key Mobile Network Operators (MNO), including Vodafone, O2, EE and Three, already have 5G networks. 5G has existed for a few years in the US also, with operators like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile leading the way. If you live in a country where 5G is currently limited or yet to come, don’t worry, it is just a matter of time. Irrespective of who is offering 5G in your country, if you want to use it for home internet, you need to do your research to ensure you get the right service and the right set of devices to enjoy super-fast internet.
What speeds should I expect from 5G?
5G mobile networks are still evolving at the time of writing (Sept 2021), and therefore the speeds can vary considerably depending on your location and the type of 5G service. One key reason for this variation is that the current 5G networks have a dependency on 4G LTE networks which means that, on average, we are yet to see the full potential of 5G networks. Generally, the network speed depends on your geographical location and if you have a 5G base station nearby. In the UK (Berkshire/Reading), at this point, the average download speed of around 60-100 Mbps seems common when using 5G home internet in an indoor environment with multiple users. The download speeds of about 100-150 Mbps are also not uncommon, especially in the off-peak hours. When using a 5G device outdoors, e.g. your 5G mobile phone, the download speeds of 200-450 Mbps are also achievable as long as you are in an area with decent 5G coverage. It is worth noting that if you live in an apartment building, the indoor coverage may be more challenging because of the thickness of the external walls and other nearby buildings, which may obstruct the mobile signals. Please check out our dedicated post on 5G speeds which shows the results of some 5G speed tests we carried out in Reading, UK.
Will 5G replace home broadband?
While the potential of 5G New Radio (NR) networks is significantly higher than the earlier 4G LTE networks, it is yet to be seen what an end-to-end 5G network can deliver to an average customer. A lot of this depends on how mobile operators within a country deploy the 5G networks. For example, if a mobile operator makes a limited investment in 5G network deployment, then it is likely that a large part of their network may consist of non-stand-alone (NSA) 5G, which is not an end-to-end 5G network. With an NSA 5G network, a customer may get better download and upload speeds than a 4G network, but the difference may not be revolutionary. On the other hand, if 5G is a key part of an operator’s business strategy, then a fully end-to-end 5G network (stand-alone 5G) can consistently offer speeds that can provide customers with a viable alternative for home broadband. If you live in an area where home broadband/fibre speeds are generally lower, e.g. less than 100 Mbps, you may benefit from evaluating the mobile broadband option. However, if fixed broadband providers in your area already offer reliable internet service with well over 100 Mbps on average, then at this point, it may be more realistic and practical to go with the fixed broadband option.
How do I set up a 5G home network?
There are three key steps involved in setting up your home 5G network, and if either one of them is not done correctly, you may struggle with the results. The first step is determining whether you have good enough 5G coverage in your area and, more importantly, inside your home. Without good coverage, your connectivity may switch between 5G and 4G or even 3G, in which case the network speeds won’t justify your investment in the 5G service. The second key step is to get a good 5G router from a renowned manufacturer, one that is capable of delivering 5G services in line with the 3GPP specifications. The third and final step is to ensure that you have the right plan and equipment to extend the network coverage generated by the router to each corner of your home. The picture below visualizes this concept.
How exactly is 5G installed in your home?
Let us now dive a bit deeper into each of the steps mentioned above.
Network Coverage – 5G mobile subscription
The first and the most important step is determining whether your home is covered by a mobile network operator that offers 5G cellular services. You can do that by checking the network coverage map of every mobile network operator (MNO) in your country. We have more details in this dedicated post on MNOs, but basically, an MNO is a mobile operator that owns a mobile network. Not every mobile service provider is a mobile network operator. There are many virtual network operators (MVNOs) who offer SIM cards but rely on someone else’s mobile network to get you connected. For example, in the UK, MNOs are Vodafone UK, Three, O2 and EE, and then there is a range of MVNOs including Asda Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile etc. When you check the network coverage, go to each MNO’s website and find out if they offer indoor 5G coverage in your area. Once you have found the MNO that offers 5G in your area, you can then decide whether you want to buy from them directly (i.e. SIM from an MNO) or indirectly (e.g. SIM from an MVNO).
5G Device – Broadband Router
The second key step is to find a good 5G broadband router that you can use with your 5G SIM. You need a 5G SIM and a 5G router to get your 5G home internet to work. If you look for a 5G broadband router online, you may come across a misconception where some router manufacturers use the term “5G” for 5 GHz, which is inaccurate, misleading and confusing. Today, most WiFi routers operate on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands, but that has nothing to do with the 5G cellular technology. 5 GHz is just a frequency band that a broadband router can employ to connect your devices to the router over WiFi. When you find a 5G router, make sure to check the technical specifications properly. Specifically, what you’re looking for is 5G NR or 5G NR NSA or 5G NSA in addition to 4G LTE. The router you select will obviously also have WiFi capability, which means that it may use the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands for enabling WiFi. It essentially means that the router will use 5G cellular technology to bring internet to the router and WiFi to connect your devices to the router. That way, 5G cellular service acts as a backhaul instead of a fibre/DSL backhaul.
Other equipment for extended Coverage
When you insert your 5G SIM into your 5G broadband router and plug it in, it will start offering the primary internet coverage inside your home. But if you live in a large apartment or a multi-storey house, the coverage may not reach every part of your house. There are multiple options to address that. The simplest option is to get a couple of WiFi extenders, but that can create various networks (SSIDs) inside your home and can be confusing. It may also keep switching between different SSIDs, which may turn out to be counterproductive. The best option, especially if you have multiple internet users in the house, is to get a good mesh system that can create a single network that everyone can connect to. Generally, for a mesh system, you need to connect your 5G router to the main unit of the mesh system through an ethernet cable. The main unit then connects to other access points that come with the mesh system. You can then place the other access points in different parts of your home to enjoy high-speed broadband in every part of your house.
Here are some helpful downloads
Thank you for reading this post, I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need some extra support especially when preparing for a new job, or studying a new topic, or maybe just buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:
Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy which explains the network nodes e.g. BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.
Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and the challenges considering how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on product overview and product roadmap.