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T-Mobile 5G home internet: Hands-on



T-Mobile’s new 5G home broadband gateway/wireless router matters for one big reason: It’s an alternative to the cable monopolies that dominate most major markets in the United States. Whether it’s a better option than cable is, unfortunately, a question we can’t objectively answer, for two reasons.

First, what T-Mobile officially calls its T-Mobile High Speed Internet Gateway (5G21-12W-A) is “5G”—and the quality and bandwidth of the wireless signal you receive in your home will be dependent on any number of factors, the most significant of which will be the gateway’s distance from your nearest 5G cell tower. You’ll also need to balance what we found against what your own, competing broadband ISP delivers. Fortunately, T-Mobile’s plan offering is flexible enough that you can probably create your own one-month trial.

In my case, cable still regrettably offers the best option for my family of four, living in a house filled with streaming media devices and gaming laptops. T-Mobile’s 5G router offered enough bandwidth for about half of my family, but not quite enough for all four of us and our many devices. 

To be fair, though, we never experienced all that the T-Mobile High Speed Internet Gateway has to offer. While T-Mobile labels my house as ”covered” by its 5G services, the reality wasn’t quite as simple. 

T-Mobile High Speed Internet Gateway (5G21-12W-A) primary 4 Mark Hachman / IDG

My son’s room simply happened to offer the strongest 5G signal, so that’s where T-Mobile’s router ended up.

Specifications and setup

T-Mobile’s router plan is all-inclusive: after confirming your eligibility, for $50 per month, T-Mobile will send you a pre-configured router with an activated SIM inserted. (The $50/mo actually includes a $10/mo AutoPay credit, so the actual price is $60/mo.) There’s no annual contract, either. If you decide the service isn’t for you, you can simply call T-Mobile, cancel, and the company will send you a prepaid label to box up and return the 5G21-12W-A hardware.

T-Mobile’s pricing is already on par or lower than even the cheapest cable contracts, and T-Mobile promises unlimited internet with no data caps or throttling to boot. Still, T-Mobile says that the service is “not intended for unattended use,” so don’t plan to download Linux distributions via BitTorrent. 

Because of its coverage map, T-Mobile knows if your home will be close enough to a cell tower to receive a satisfactory signal. If you’re feeling really nerdy, however, you can visit a site like CellMapper.net and discover just how close the nearest cell tower is, and what wireless bands those towers use. 

Physically, T-Mobile’s router reminds me of the Harman Kardon Invoke, a now-discontinued cylindrical smart speaker, that, like T-Mobile’s router, included a color display at the top. It measures 8.5 inches high by 4.75 inches in diameter, and is powered by a wall-wart-like plug with a conveniently lengthy six-foot cord. That’s handy, as you’ll want to position the gateway as close to an outside wall or window as possible to receive the maximum signal available. Inside is a Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) radio with four antennas to create the wireless network your client devices will connect to. You can also tap its dual gigabit ethernet ports for wired network connections.



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