MANY OF US, especially in rural areas, find that broadband speeds via cable or DSL (or, God forbid, satellite) aren’t as stable or fast as we’d like—if they’re even available at all. However, with the increased speed and capacity of 4G LTE (and now 5G) networks, a new alternative has emerged.
Traditional roadblocks that make this a less-than-ideal solution—data limits, cost, latency, coverage, and compatible hardware—are gradually becoming less of a problem as technology advances, and switching entirely from regular broadband to 4G LTE broadband is now very possible—with a few caveats and conditions.
How 4G LTE Internet Works
At its heart, 4G LTE at home is a straightforward concept: provide internet service to your home in the same manner as your phone does when it’s not connected to Wi-Fi. If you’ve ever attempted to tether your laptop to a mobile hotspot, you know what’s involved, as well as all the possible benefits (wireless internet connectivity from anywhere) and drawbacks (interference and bandwidth issues).
However, using a 4G LTE home internet connection is not the same as using a hotspot. Rather than making it coming into your computer, you set up a router to communicate directly with the 4G LTE network, and that router then turns the signal into the familiar Wi-Fi we all know and love. And they see your home Wi-Fi as usual, you don’t need SIM cards for any device you bind.
We’ll go over some of the possible speeds in the bundles we’ve mentioned below, but the potential maximum transmission speed for 4G LTE is around 1 Gbps (and 10 times that for 5G). You won’t see it in practise or outside of a lab, so if you’re in the right place to get a decent signal, a 4G LTE link will make your current home broadband look slow by contrast.
Latency—The time it takes for your inputs to hit the web and pingback—can be an issue for certain applications, such as gaming, but 4G LTE, like most other systems, is improving over time. It’s also becoming cheaper, covering more places at higher speeds, and becoming more accessible to more people as time goes by. Other limits, such as data quotas, are already beginning to fade away in some ways, but these caps can also be considered when comparing services. One of the key reasons for not switching to 4G LTE for home access in the past has been data use limits.
Because all traditional broadband and 4G LTE internet connect to a Wi-Fi router within your house, you’re just contrasting a small part of the infrastructure: the link between your home and the internet at large. If a cable running up to your house or a 4G LTE signal beaming from a local mobile tower is preferred depends on a number of things, the most significant of which is your geographic location.
The same constraints and limits apply to 4G LTE internet availability as they do to any other form of internet, from fiber-optic cable to satellite networks: Companies must be able to deliver it at your address at a reasonable rate, taking into account all of the regulatory, technology, and pricing aspects. If it’s the best solution for you would rely first and foremost on whether or not you will get it, and then on how it compares to the other broadband choices.
There are plenty of gadgets and gizmos you can pick up to make your own bespoke solution, from antennas to hot spots. Just plug a SIM card into the $300 Netgear Orbi 4G LTE, for example, and it’ll turn the cellular signal received by the router into Wi-Fi for your entire house. For a similar price you can pick up the HTC 5G Hub if 5G happens to be rolled out in your neck of the woods already.
Any signup page has a tool that you can use to see if the service is live where you live, and all 4G LTE home internet packages are limited in terms of availability by region. If your zip code qualifies, you’ll be given the requisite hardware to connect your home to the internet, and you can normally do it yourself. But, particularly when it comes to data limits, throttling, and congestion, read the fine print.
AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet costs $59.99 a month plus taxes and converts 4G LTE into a Wi-Fi network that covers the entire property with an outdoor antenna and an indoor router. The carrier claims average download speeds of 25 Mbps (with a minimum of 10 Mbps) and upload speeds of 1 Mbps, and you get 350 GB of bundled data per month to use before incurring excess costs.
If you have a Verizon cell account, you can get Verizon LTE Home Internet Service for $40 per month plus taxes, or $60 if you don’t. There are no bandwidth limits, meaning you can upload and download as much as you like. Verizon boasts “typical download rates of 25 Mbps.” In the case of the Verizon service, all you need is the router that will be sent to you, which will connect to 4G LTE and transform it to Wi-Fi for your home until installed.
If T-Mobile Home Internet is available in your city, it will cost $50 a month plus taxes. T-Mobile claims that “the vast majority of our consumers experience speeds of 25 Mbps or higher,” which is the same statistic as AT&T and Verizon, although the firm is a little more upfront in admitting that such speeds will not be available all of the time. T-coverage, Mobile’s on the other hand, has no storage limits, meaning you can download and upload as much as you want without paying extra.
There are also third-party firms that can offer you internet, using the carriers’ 4G LTE networks and concentrating mainly on rural areas. For eg, NoLimitData offers an unrestricted data plan for $90 per month, while the UbiFi bundle costs a bit more at $100 per month. Both providers guarantee that your hardware and connection will be up and running as soon as possible, at the fastest speeds available in your region.
Of course, instead of signing up for one of the aforementioned packages, you can only use your phone as a hotspot for everything in your house—but it won’t have the same multi-device control features as a dedicated 4G LTE router, and there might be issues with your SIM card data usage (check with your network if you’re not sure).
What is 5G? Consider 4G LTE home broadband, but much better (Verizon already offers it). However, the same socioeconomic considerations are at stake, because if 5G has a flaw, it’s range—to access the fastest 5G rates, you need to be close to an antenna, which may restrict its efficacy if you live in the middle of nowhere or in a large community of apartments. Keep an eye on this.