Today, our home internet is not limited to fixed fibre connections as mobile networks play an essential role in providing high-speed internet. The fifth generation of mobile networks, commonly known as 5G, can deliver average download speeds of over 150 Mbps through enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB).
5G networks enable Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) to provide high-speed broadband internet service with average download speeds of 150 Mbps to 200 Mbps. The average upload speeds are in the multiples of 10 Mbps, usually around 30-50 Mbps, with a latency of as low as one millisecond.
Over the last five to ten years, mobile networks have made significant improvements in the data speeds they offer. As a result, our mobile phones have already become a backup for our home broadband for many of us.
We use tethering and mobile hotspots to connect to cellular internet whenever our home broadband is down. 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.
How is mobile internet relevant for your home internet?
Mobile internet technology has come quite far since the introduction of GPRS or General Packet Radio Service during the second generation of mobile networks. The GSM-based GPRS networks could only enable a maximum download speed of 171.2 kbps.
But then came 3G, which marked the beginning of high-speed mobile broadband services through cellular networks. The technologies like HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access) in GSM/UMTS networks and EVDO (EVolution Data Optimised) in CDMA2000 networks played a vital role during the 3G era.
With HSPA and its enhanced version HSPA+, you are likely to get an average download speed of 5-15 Mbps which is good enough for general browsing and video streaming. However, the first cellular technology that arguably started diminishing the gap between mobile broadband and regular home broadband was 4G LTE.
4G LTE networks can support average download speeds of 60-100 Mbps through LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro enhancements. I have written a dedicated post on average 4G LTE download and upload speeds to give you an idea of what to expect.
How is 5G mobile internet different from 3G and 4G?
While 5G can enable a range of different use cases, mobile internet or mobile broadband is one of the key use case categories for 5G. In 5G, Mobile broadband is called Enhanced Mobile Broadband or eMBB, which delivers considerably higher data rates than the earlier 3G UMTS and 4G LTE networks.
The latest generation of mobile networks, 5G (fifth-generation), is enabled by New Radio (NR) technology. 5G can deliver high-speed mobile internet with average download speeds of 150 to 200 Mbps. The maximum theoretical download speed of 5G is over 10 Gbps.
5G was initially launched in the UK in 2019, and 5G coverage has seen good penetration nationwide since then. All the UK’s key Mobile Network Operators (MNO), including Vodafone, O2, EE and Three, already have introduced 5G networks. 5G has also existed for a few years in the US, 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 a truly cable-free super-fast internet.
How Fast Is 5G Internet In Mbps?
5G mobile networks are still evolving, 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 we are yet to see the full potential of 5G as a standalone network.
5G NR networks can achieve average download speeds of about 150 Mbps, especially during the off-peak hours. The average upload speeds of 5G are in the multiples of 10 Mbps, usually around 30-50 Mbps. In outdoor environments, download speeds of 200-450 Mbps are possible in areas with decent 5G coverage.
Please check out our dedicated post on average 5G speeds based on the results of 5G speed tests carried out in the UK over a period of six months. In addition, some screenshots below can give you an idea of the speeds you can expect from 5G.
There are a few fundamental factors that can negatively impact the 5G speeds you get on your devices.
First, you need to ensure that you have a 5G base station close to your geographical location. Then, you can check your mobile operator’s 5G coverage map to make sure your area is covered. If you live in an apartment building, the indoor coverage may be more challenging due to the thickness of the external walls and other nearby buildings, which may obstruct the mobile signals.
You also need to find a future-proof 5G device (phone or router) compliant with at least 3GPP release 15 that supports 5G NSA (non-standalone) and SA (standalone). If you have a 5G router, make sure it offers at least decent 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels as part of Wi-Fi 5 and, ideally, the 6GHz band for Wi-Fi 6.
Can you use 5G for your home internet?
As a general rule, 5G New Radio can deliver reliable mobile broadband service with average download speeds of over 150 Mbps allowing you to use 5G for your home internet. It can facilitate multiple simultaneous users and works just like your regular fixed broadband if you use a dedicated 5G router.
However, if you are considering 5G cellular broadband as an option for your home internet, you want to make sure your mobile operator offers a decent indoor 5G coverage in your area and that you are using a dedicated 5G mobile broadband router that can enable Wi-Fi connectivity for your entire household.
Since all cellular technologies, including 5G, are backwards compatible, a 5G router can also allow you to connect to the 4G LTE technology in instances when the 5G network is busy or if you have a patchy 5G coverage in your home.
5G networks are still relatively new, and they are yet to reach a penetration level similar to that of 4G LTE, which is the primary cellular technology in most parts of the world. However, once the 5G network deployments reach a level of maturity, 5G will be more widely available for everyone to use.
5G network deployments at the moment are primarily non-standalone. A non-standalone 5G deployment or 5G NSA is a deployment where a mobile operator uses some part of the 4G LTE network to deliver 5G services. The complete 5G network is called standalone 5G or 5G SA, which is the future of 5G.
With 5G NSA 5G, the customers get better average download and upload speeds than 4G LTE, but the difference is not revolutionary. I have written a dedicated post on buying 5G for your home internet to help you do all the necessary checks before investing in 5G.
It is important to be mindful that a cellular network is a shared resource. Since it is designed for people on the move (mobile), any unplanned influx of new users in your area can negatively impact your download and upload speeds.
For example, suppose you live close to a train station which is usually crowded during rush hours. In that case, your mobile operator would (or should) know that they need to offer higher capacity during those hours to minimise any negative impact that a sudden increase in the number of mobile users can have on your network speeds.
You can find out more about your country’s average mobile broadband speeds on speedtest.net. They have a global index page that shows the fixed and mobile broadband speeds from around the world on a monthly basis. Here is a direct link to the global index page.
How do I set up a 5G home network?
Follow a three-step approach to buy and set up your 5G home internet. First, you need a 5G SIM card from a mobile operator that offers a good indoor 5G coverage in your area; then you need to ensure your mobile tariff is 5G ready with no speed caps; finally, you need a 5G NSA/SA mobile broadband router.
Step 1: Buy the SIM from an operator that has good 5G coverage
The first step is to find a mobile operator that offers reliable indoor 5G coverage in your area. Without good coverage, your 5G connectivity may be inconsistent, and it may intermittently switch between 5G and 4G leading to lower speeds that may not justify your investment in the 5G subscription.
The first and the most critical step is determining whether your home is covered by a mobile network operator that offers a good 5G cellular coverage. You can do that by checking the network coverage map for every mobile network operator (MNO) whose services are available to you.
You only need to check network coverage for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and not Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs). That is because only an MNO owns a radio network that provides cellular coverage. Conversely, an MVNO piggybacks on the radio network of an MNO.
So, for example, if you want to check 5G coverage in the UK, you need to see the coverage maps for all the MNOs, including Vodafone UK, EE, O2 and Three. If you want to check the 5G coverage for an MVNO, e.g. Tesco Mobile, you will need to see the coverage for O2, whose radio network Tesco Mobile uses.
There are many virtual network operators (MVNOs) out there, and they all offer SIM cards but rely on an MNO’s mobile radio network. For example, in the UK, 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 to find out if they offer indoor 5G coverage in your area. Once you have found the right service provider in your area, you will be in a better position to decide whether to buy a 5G SIM or not.
Step 2: Make sure your mobile tariff is allowed to access 5G
The second step is to ensure that you have the right mobile tariff (mobile plan) that entitles you to access 5G services without any speed caps. 5G consumes a lot of bandwidth, so it is good to buy an unlimited plan or a plan with a lot of mobile data (e.g. 100 GB+).
Once you have decided which mobile network has the right coverage in your area, you can check who provides the best tariffs. It is a crucial step because tariffs are price-driven, and just because an operator has good 5G coverage in your area does not mean that their tariffs will necessarily meet your data needs.
When buying a 5G tariff, you want to ensure it does not have any speed caps, i.e. maximum speed limit. For example, it may be that your mobile service provider (MNO or MVNO) offers a cheaper unlimited 5G tariff, but it may have a speed limit of 10 Mbps.
Another thing to be aware of when buying a 5G tariff is that you may consume more data when connected to a 5G network, and therefore you may benefit from an unlimited data package.
While your data consumption does not directly depend on the technology type, some services, e.g. Netflix, offer you superior video quality when using a high-speed network. As a result, your high-quality video streaming may consume more data per minute when connected to 5G than 4G.
Step 3: Buy your 5G broadband router from a reliable brand
The third critical step is to get a good 5G router from a renowned manufacturer, one that is capable of supporting 5G non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA) in line with the 3GPP Release 15 specifications.
Once you have your 5G SIM card and tariff, you need a 5G mobile broadband router to access the 5G network and convert the 5G mobile internet into Wi-Fi signals to create Wi-Fi internet connectivity within your home.
When buying a 5G broadband router, you have two options. You can either get it through the mobile operator (MNO or MVNO) to split your cost over the contract duration. Or you can buy the router separately to be in a position to get a shorter contract if you later decide to switch the service provider.
If you buy the router through the mobile operator, you can be more relaxed about the cellular technology. However, it is a good idea to check the technical specifications to make sure that 5G NR /5G NSA /5G SA technologies are supported in addition to 4G LTE.
All cellular technology standards are governed by specifications created by 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project), a standards organisation. 5G was introduced in Release 15 of the 3GPP specifications, so a router that supports 5G is expected to be aligned with Release 15.
If you buy your 5G broadband router separately, you may need to do additional checks. Some manufacturers, especially on Amazon, incorrectly use the term “5G” by confusing 5GHz with 5G. 5G is a cellular technology, whereas 5 GHz is just a frequency band used by Wi-Fi.
Your 5G mobile broadband router will support the 5G cellular technology, i.e. 5G NR / 5G NSA / 5G SA in addition to the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi frequency bands. However, just because the router says 5 GHz does not mean that it necessarily supports the 5G cellular technology.
Today, most modern Wi-Fi routers, including fixed (fibre or DSL) routers, support the 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.
Step 4 (Optional): Extend coverage through a Wi-Fi mesh system
As an optional step, if you live in a house where the broadband router is not within an easy reach for everyone, you will benefit from investing in a Wi-Fi mesh system or a Wi-Fi extender to make sure the internet coverage reaches all parts of your home.
When you insert a 5G SIM card into a 5G mobile broadband router, it will create the necessary Wi-Fi coverage in your home. However, if you live in a large apartment or a multi-storey house, the coverage may not reach every part of your house. You will therefore benefit from a device that can extend the Wi-Fi coverage.
The simplest way to extend your Wi-Fi coverage is to buy a couple of low-cost Wi-Fi extenders. While that is a straightforward approach, you will end up with multiple network IDs (SSID) and passwords which may cause confusion and constant switching between the network as you move around the house.
Based on my personal experience, the best option to extend your Wi-Fi coverage without running into multiple SSID issues is to invest in a mesh system that creates a single network (SSID) that everyone in the house can connect to. However, you may have the option to split the SSIDs for 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz if needed.
As a general rule, 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. Then, you can 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 extra support, especially when preparing for a new job, studying a new topic, or 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 you 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 the product overview and product roadmap.