Thanks to 5G, an exciting new alternative to traditional fibre home broadband is starting to emerge.
The next-generation mobile network known as 5G is not merely a super-fast way to get connected from your smartphone. It’s also being positioned as a viable means of connecting to the internet from your home.
In order to connect to 5G home broadband, you’ll need a 5G router. Here’s a run down of the current 5G router market in the UK, which includes the router you’ll almost certainly be getting if you sign up for a 5G home broadband contract.
What is a 5G router?
A 5G router is a plug-in device that enables you to access home broadband using a 5G signal rather than the telephone wiring that runs to your home.
With real world download speeds of between 100–250Mbps, 5G home broadband is already faster than standard fibre broadband where available. With peaks speeds exceeding 1.5Gbps in places, it could even potentially compete with top notch full fibre broadband.
5G also benefits from lower latency than 4G, which should in time make for a fixed broadband-like responsive online experience. In current real world terms, you can expect a ping of 35ms, which falls in between a decent home broadband connection (10–20ms) and a 4G broadband connection (50ms)
But perhaps the key benefit of using a 5G router right now is how quick and easy they are to set up. You can receive it in the post the very next day after you order, at which point you literally plug it in and access the internet. There’s no need to wait around for an engineer to visit.
Best 5G routers
Given the relatively new nature of 5G broadband, there aren’t an awful lot of options for 5G routers on the market. In fact, the UK’s three 5G broadband suppliers all offer the exact same 5G router option, albeit under different names. Thankfully, it’s a good one.
We’ll update this piece as more 5G router options become available.
UPDATE: As of early 2021 there have been reports of shortages of the Huawei 5G CPE Pro. At the time of writing, it was nowhere to be found on EE, and purchasing one outright through alternative means can be rather pricey. Our advice: either shop around with other networks, or await news of more stock (or a replacement) from EE.
Huawei 5G CPE Pro
The Huawei 5G CPE Pro is notable for being the 5G router that all three UK 5G broadband suppliers issue. Three calls it the Three 5G Hub, Vodafone the GigaCube, and EE the 5GEE Home Router. But it’s the exact same device in each instance.
This means that buying a 5G router in the UK is a bit of a no-brainer at the time of writing. The Huawei 5G CPE Pro is the 5G router you’ll be given as part of your 5G home broadband contract, stock permitting. Still, it’s good to know what you’re getting all the same.
The Huawei 5G CPE Pro router allows up to 64 devices to get online at once over a range of 100 metres, and also has two Gigabit ethernet ports, which are handy for console and PC gaming. It also offers support for download speeds of up to 2,330Mbps, which clearly isn’t attainable right now. But 5G is only predicted to get faster over time, and the Huawei 5G CPE Pro will be ready for it when it does.
Your choice of alternative 5G routers is extremely limited at the time of writing. There are a couple of interesting options if you want to be more flexible or mobile with your 5G broadband connectivity.
The 5GEE WiFi is the latest mobile broadband device to be launched by EE.
EE's device has a lot going for it with a massive 6,450mAh battery, a 30 metre WiFi-range and the ability to connect up to 64 devices at the same time. Impressively it also supports Wi-Fi 6, which is the very latest generation of Wi-Fi leading to improved efficiency and speeds when multiple devices are connected.
Theoretical maximum speeds of up to 2.33Gbps per second are supported, but currently you can expect average speeds of around 150Mbps.
Huawei 5G Pocket Hotspot Pro
If the HTC 5G Hub is just too unwieldy for you, and you need more mobility from your broadband connection, then the Huawei 5G Pocket Hotspot Pro could be a good choice.
Available through O2, the Huawei 5G Pocket Hotspot Pro is a tiny 280g device powered by an 8000mAh battery. It offers 5G download speeds of up to 1.65 Gbps, though again, you’ll likely be getting a tenth of that at best.
Elsewhere you get a USB type-A and a type-C port for wired charging, and that’s your lot for physical connections. This is as no-nonsense a 5G router as they come.
5G Pocket Hotspot deals
Best 4G routers
If you’re looking to set up a mobile home broadband service, but don’t live in a 5G area, there is another option. A 4G router will work in much the same way as a 5G router, but with lower download speeds and higher latency.
Three 4G Hub (B535)
You can pick up the Three 4G Hub on Three. It’s a Cat 7 that’s technically capable of download speeds of up to 300Mbps and upload speeds of up to 100Mbps, though you almost certainly won’t achieve anything like those speeds given the limitations of the modern 4G network.
Any such issues won’t be down to the router itself though, which is one of the most capable on the market. You can connect up to 64 devices simultaneously over Wi-Fi - the same as most 5G routers - and there are also four ethernet ports for wired connections and two sockets for hooking up a signal-boosting external antenna.
4GEE Home Router 2
EE offers the 4GEE Home Router 2, which matches the Huawei HomeFi Plus for speed. It’s another Cat 7 device, which means it can hit a theoretical 300Mbps download and 100Mbps upload.
Again, you won’t hit anything like those speeds in real life, but it’s worth noting that EE typically has the best all-round 4G performance in the UK. There’s support for up to 64 simultaneous connections and two SMA antenna sockets. You only get two ethernet ports, however, so if you’re fond of physical connections over Wi-Fi, it might not be the best choice.
What are the benefits of 5G broadband?
Where available, 5G broadband offers download speeds that rival or exceed most UK fixed broadband packages. Despite this, it’s a lot easier to set-up, with no engineers required. You simply plug and play.
How fast is 5G broadband?
At the time of writing, real world download speeds for 5G broadband tend to fall between 100 and 250Mbps, which is faster than most regular broadband packages. Peak speeds have been recorded of around 1.5Gbps in certain places, however, which rivals the fastest full fibre broadband services available in the UK.
How responsive is 5G broadband?
At the time of writing, you can expect to achieve a latency of around 35ms. That’s more/worse than traditional home broadband’s 10–20ms, and less/better than 4G broadband’s 50ms. You can expect this to improve over time, and it should ultimately rival the latency of full fibre broadband.
Why aren’t there many 5G routers on the market?
5G is still in its infancy, particularly here in the UK. Only three operators are offering 5G broadband packages, and only in a relatively small percentage of the country.
Because of this, there isn’t an abundance of 5G router options available, and all three have gone with the same base unit. This will undoubtedly improve over time as 5G broadband becomes more popular.
Do I need a 5G router or a 4G router?
5G broadband is much faster and more responsive than 4G broadband, and that gap is going to increase exponentially over the coming years. You should got with a 5G router if at all possible.
There are only two reasons you should actively choose a 4G router over a 5G router: budget and availability. It’s early days for 5G connectivity in the UK, and it’s neither widely available nor particularly cheap to get set up with a 5G broadband package.
Check out our guide to the best 4G / 5G router.
How do I check whether I can get 5G broadband?
Check out the 5G coverage checker for the UK’s three 5G broadband suppliers (Three, EE and Vodafone)