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The Pros and Cons of Making a Cell Service Your Home Internet Provider

Your mobile phone company’s wireless Wi-Fi could save you money

spinner image a smartphone is transmitting its wireless internet signal to an entire house
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Getty Images(4))

Consumers have been wirelessly connected to radio and television signals through the airwaves since the technologies’ inception.

Today, high-speed internet is available in much the same manner as 5G cellular service expands across the country. Mobile phone providers are paving the way for fast, wireless internet connections to your home.

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Before this service known as fixed wireless access (FWA) became a viable alternative, wires with internet service came into your house via the old copper-wire telephone lines, newer telephone-line technology dubbed digital subscriber lines (DSL), coaxial cable from your cable TV service or fiber-optic cable. Fixed wireless uses a small device, ideally placed near a window, to pick up internet signals from the same cellular towers that transmit your mobile phone service.

As an alternative to traditional wired internet service, fixed wireless, which many providers market as 5G home internet, often costs less and is easy to install.

Pro: 5G home internet is increasingly available

Since the introduction of fifth-generation (5G) cellular technology, wireless high-speed internet has become a practical option for folks who can’t get wired broadband in their areas. Burying fiber-optic cable under streets can be expensive. Companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Xfinity make sure the cost will be worth their expected return before they commit to fiber in a certain neighborhood — or even on a particular street in the same area.

They offer fixed wireless access only when they know they’ll have sufficient wireless capacity to keep both their mobile phone and new internet customers happy with the promised speeds and reliability. To ensure that internet usage doesn’t affect mobile phone reliability, availability of wireless home internet can vary from street to street in the same neighborhood.

One way to check internet access in your area is through a local internet provider’s site, like Verizon or Xfinity, or from independent sources such as Allconnect, BroadbandNow and

Type in your zip code to find residential and business providers in your area, view plan rates and identify services offered such as cable, satellite and wireless. And check download speeds. Some sites let you test your current speed and compare it to other speeds in your area.

Con: Some companies consider 5G the second-best option

For AT&T and Verizon, fixed wireless internet is a secondary technology — a way to plug gaps in the availability of their fiber-optic internet offerings. For both companies, wireless home internet is available only if their fiber-optic service isn’t.

On the other hand, T-Mobile offers its fixed wireless product to any customer where the signal is available.

Pro: Bundling can save you money

Combining fixed wireless internet access from the same provider that sells you mobile phone service can dramatically lower the cost:

  • AT&T mobile customers pay as little as $35 a month not including tax for internet service, compared to $55 a month plus tax for wireless internet only.
  • T-Mobile’s service costs $40 a month when bundled with a qualifying mobile phone line, $50 a month alone.
  • Verizon reduces its rates to $35 to $45 a month depending on speed if bundled with mobile service but charges $50 to $70 a month alone.

All three providers offer free trials: seven days for AT&T and Verizon and 15 days for T-Mobile. The prices include a combination modem-router, which receives the broadband signal and transmits Wi-Fi throughout the house to internet-connected devices.

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Con: The speed is lower than fiber-optic

Compared to fiber-optic cable, download speeds for fixed wireless are considerably less but sufficient for what most customers need, all three providers say. The speeds range from 75 to 225 megabits per second (Mbps) from AT&T and 70 to 245 Mbps from T-Mobile to 50 to 250 Mbps from Verizon.

Those speeds should be sufficient for everyone except the heaviest of users, such as households with people simultaneously playing video games, streaming 4K TV, talking to smart speakers and using video doorbells. If you’ve heard about gig-speed internet, the 1,000 Mbps and higher fiber-optic service is available mostly in densely populated areas and can be expensive because of a lack of competition.

But more than 200 rural electric and telephone cooperatives were offering gig-speed internet to their residents and businesses at the end of 2019, the most recent information available, according to the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, a project of the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance that has offices in Minneapolis; Portland, Maine; and Washington, D.C. The bipartisan infrastructure law enacted in late 2021 sets aside $42.5 billion to expand high-speed internet to underserved areas by 2030, and each state will receive at least $107 million.

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“If you’re using the internet to mine bitcoins or engage in video production, fixed wireless may not be right for you,” says Rick Chandler, T-Mobile’s vice president of customer experience and portfolio management.

Like vehicle speedometers that display high speeds that no one ever travels, “companies are always talking about how fast their networks are, but most [people] don’t need it,” says Jeff Kagan of Marietta, Georgia, a wireless industry analyst. “For most people, middle- or lower-tier speeds are enough.”

Pro: You can install 5G home internet yourself

Unlike wired internet, which requires a technician to activate the service, you install the fixed wireless device yourself. The provider ships the combo modem and router to you and its smartphone app will guide you through the setup process, which typically takes 10 to 15 minutes. The app indicates the best spot in your home to place the device, generally near a window in the direction of the strongest cellphone tower.

But placing the modem where the app suggests doesn’t guarantee great service. Large homes with thick walls may break up the Wi-Fi signal before it gets to your personal computer, smart TV or other device.

To mitigate any problems, T-Mobile sells a small $99 antenna that mounts to the inside of a window. AT&T says if you’re qualified to receive its service, an antenna accessory won’t be needed. Meanwhile, Verizon offers an additional antenna at no charge if it determines during setup that one is required.

So is wireless internet right for you? If you’re comfortable with do-it-yourself installation, then Kagan suggests you give it a try.

“The service will be solid in some places, and it will get better over time,” he says.

Con: No technicians available for the ill at ease

But some people who aren’t comfortable with technology might want the option of calling for in-person help when their internet service is not up to par, Kagan says. So using what may be a more expensive system that brings broadband to your house via wires might be a better option.

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