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T-Mobile’s new Internet service offers great perks with some catches

Wireless company T-Mobile formally announced its 5G home Internet product on Wednesday, promising broadband speeds with a low monthly rate and no data caps.

The service was unveiled at a T-Mobile Un-Carrier presentation that focused on expanding access to the company’s 5G network to more of its customers, an initiative that includes phone upgrade perks and a commitment to expand 5G access to rural communities across the country.

T-Mobile’s announcement was not unexpected: The company has offered some customers access to the service for nearly a year as part of a trial run. Most of those customers were on T-Mobile’s older 4G LTE home Internet service, though a select few were sent an upgraded 5G gateway over the last few months.

On Wednesday, T-Mobile said it would be further expanding the availability of its 5G home Internet service to more than 30 million American households.

Eligible customers will be able to lease a Nokia-branded Internet gateway, a cylindrical device that combines a 5G modem and Wi-Fi router in one unit.

Unlike other companies that charge a monthly fee to lease equipment, T-Mobile says its home Internet customers won’t have to pay anything extra for its wireless gateway (unless they cancel the service and fail to return the gateway, which is pretty standard stuff).

T-Mobile is charging $60 per month for its Internet service if a customer signs up for automatic billing (AutoPay) and maintains at least one postpaid wireless phone line. Customers who don’t want to sign up for automatic billing will be charged an extra $5 a month. Unlike T-Mobile’s top-tier wireless phone plans, local taxes and regulator fees are not included in that price.

Customers can’t pay more for faster speeds, but they can expect average download speeds around 50 megabits per second (Mbps) and peak speeds up to and over 100 Mbps, the company says.

As with any service, there are some caveats: T-Mobile’s home Internet service isn’t available coast-to-coast and depends largely on where a person lives. The company hasn’t offered any information about when T-Mobile will expand beyond those 30 million homes, which means most customers are stuck with older Internet service providers.

T-Mobile also says its home Internet service isn’t compatible with some live TV streaming services. The fine print doesn’t specify the service, but a source familiar with the issue said T-Mobile’s wireless home Internet won’t work with Hulu’s live TV service due to a technical issue. T-Mobile is working with Hulu’s technical team to solve the problem, and other streaming services — including YouTube TV, Philo and Sling TV — should function as normal.

The company isn’t imposing data caps, but it will enforce an acceptable use policy, and it doesn’t want customers using the service “unattended,” which suggests it’s not intended to be used with things like doorbell cameras and home alarm systems (although it appears to be compatible with these gadgets).

Perhaps the biggest caveat involves data prioritization: The fine print says T-Mobile home Internet users may experience slower speeds if a tower is experiencing network congestion due to high demand. It isn’t clear where T-Mobile places its home Internet service on the data prioritization map, but the inclusion of that language might be cause for concern when it comes to certain customers who have large households or who use data-heavy applications like the kind offered by online gaming or videoconferencing services.

Still, for the average Internet user, there’s a lot to like about T-Mobile new 5G home Internet service — the one-size-fits-all plan, the promise of a reliable connection with decent speeds, and the notion that there may finally be some competition for AT&T, Comcast, Charter/Spectrum and other legacy broadband Internet providers. Its limitations are likely far outweighed by the prospect of being able to finally switch from other companies to a solution that will work just fine for most, and that competition in the broadband Internet space is reason enough to get excited.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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