We all know that 5G is bringing increased speeds and lower latency to smartphone users around the world. But did you know that it’s also going to revolutionise the world of broadband deals?
5G broadband offers a potentially cheaper, more convenient, and often plain faster alternative to traditional fixed line broadband. Here’s everything you need to know about it, starting with the best 5G broadband deals currently on the UK market.
What is 5G Broadband?
5G broadband offers a fast and convenient alternative to regular fixed-line broadband. While traditional fibre broadband requires a physical landline and installation by an engineer, 5G broadband is plug and play, and transmits data using the wireless 5G network.
While it’s early days for 5G broadband, many predict that it will become a viable alternative to, and perhaps even a full replacement of, traditional broadband systems.
5G broadband actually comes in two distinct forms: home broadband and mobile broadband.
5G home broadband is designed to provide broadband to a household, or business. This involves a 5G router which needs to be connected to a power outlet, and can then share internet over a Wi-Fi connection at a wider range and with a great number of devices (up to 64 devices currently). No landline is required.
5G mobile broadband is designed to provide a fast broadband connection anywhere happen to be. It involves a compact 5G mobile Wi-Fi device powered by its own battery, which then shares an internet connection over a shorter range with a lower number of devices (up to 20 devices currently). Again, no landline is required.
Haven’t we had mobile broadband for ages?
Yes we have, both in the 3G era and the 4G era. You’ll still find 4G home broadband and 4G mobile broadband services being offered on the UK’s major networks.
But 4G and 3G broadband never really threatened to be a viable alternative to fixed broadband. They were (and are) too slow, unreliable, and unresponsive.
5G, by contrast, has the raw download and upload speeds to go toe to toe with fixed broadband. It also has infinitely higher capacity than 4G, which means that high levels of local internet traffic won’t bring your connection to a grinding halt. And it also has low latency, which means that response times are comparable to fixed broadband.
What’s needed for 5G home broadband to work?
The beauty of 5G broadband is that very little equipment is needed once a 5G network is in place and covering an area. No landline is required, as with standard fixed home broadband.
In fact, all you really need to do with 5G home broadband is to plug in a router and insert a SIM card, which makes the setup process very quick and easy. You shouldn’t even need an engineer visit, which will also cut down the waiting time before you can start to enjoy it.
Who offers 5G home broadband?
EE offers plans and devices for both varieties of 5G broadband.
For 5G home broadband, EE sells the 5GEE Home Router. This can get up to 64 devices online at once over a range of 100 metres, so it should be fine for even the largest and most high-tech homes. It’s wired, rather than battery powered, but is basically plug and play, so easy to set up. Prices start from £100 up front and £70 per month for 18 months, which nets you 1,000GB of data each month.
For mobile broadband on EE there’s the HTC 5G Hub, which is a battery powered device that can get up to 20 devices connected to 5G at once, wherever you are (as long as there’s a 5G signal) over a range of 30 metres. It has a 7,660mAh battery but unlike most mobile broadband devices it also has a touchscreen, specifically a 5-inch 720 x 1280 one. Coupled with a high-end Snapdragon 855 chipset, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, a microSD card slot, speakers, and Android 9 Pie, this is a full-blown Android device in its own right, so you can use apps and media on the screen as well as controlling the connections to other devices. Prices start from £100 up front and £50 per month, which will get you 50GB of data each month.
While it offers the widest 5G coverage, you’ll want to check that you are included in that coverage before committing.
Vodafone currently only offers 5G home broadband, so there are not yet any 5G mobile broadband plans available on the network. It’s also got one of the narrowest 5G offerings in terms of coverage. But with unlimited data plans it’s in a strong position.
The GigaCube is what you’ll be using for 5G home broadband on Vodafone. This is the same rebranded Huawei 5G CPE Pro router that the other two UK 5G broadband operators provide. It can get up to 64 devices connected at once, and it’s plug and play with no need for a landline or an engineer visit. It’s also lightweight and portable, so you can take it with you and plug it in somewhere else if you want.
Prices start from £50 up front, with a monthly fee of £30 per month, which gets you 100MB of monthly data. However, if you want unlimited data, you’ll need to up your monthly payments to £50.
Vodafone offers basic 5G connectivity in 46 towns and cities across the UK, including Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London and more. For full, up to date coverage, head to Vodafone’s coverage checker.
Three’s 5G coverage isn’t the broadest at present, but that’s going to change very fast. It has acquired more 5G spectrum than anyone else.
Right now, Three offers limited 5G coverage in 68 towns and cities, including London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leicester and many more. Its home broadband offering is currently rolling out to customers beyond London, but for precise coverage details you should really head to Three’s coverage checker.
Three uses the Three 5G Router to provide your home internet connection. It’s the same rebranded Huawei 5G CPE Pro router that’s commonly used by other networks, which means a neat plug and play device that can support up to 64 simultaneous connections and theoretical download speeds of up to 2.33Gbps - though you can expect still-impressive speeds of 100–200Mbps in the here and now. With Three plans, you also get unlimited data, which makes it a strong rival to Vodafone.
At the time of writing, Three’s 5G home broadband packages cost from £29 per month, with no up front fee.
O2 hasn’t yet revealed whether or not it will offer 5G home broadband, but it is running a limited 5G mobile service in 60 towns and cities across the UK, with at least 13 more announced for summer 2020. It’s a sure fire bet that it will be offering 5G home broadband at some point.
The company also offers a 5G mobile broadband package in the form of the Huawei 5G Pocket Hotspot Pro, which offers download speeds up to 1.65 Gbps (though real world download speeds are likely to be in the 100–200Mbps range where available). Prices start at no up front fee and a monthly charge of £30.95 for 15GB of data.
If O2 does offer 5G home broadband at any point, you’ll want to check whether you have O2 5G coverage before signing up for it.
Who offers unlimited 5G home broadband?
Of the three 5G home broadband providers at present, Three and Vodafone both offer unlimited data options. EE does not.
How fast is 5G Home broadband?
Exact download speeds for 5G will vary, whether in home broadband form or mobile. But there is some real world data from the very early days of 5G network coverage that we’re living through.
During the first half of 2020, RootMetrics recorded median 5G download speeds from EE (which has the broadest 5G offering) of at least 103.9 Mbps across the 16 UK cities it tested. These speeds peaked at 145.9 Mbps. Three offered the fastest median speeds during this period, managing to hit 193.7 Mbps.
If you sign up to 5G home broadband today, then, you can expect to enjoy speeds of between 100 Mbps and 200 Mbps. That’s much faster than typical fibre broadband, and a little slower than full fibre (aka FTTP) broadband.
Will 5G home broadband replace fixed line broadband?
Right now, fixed broadband is the king, with much wider access than 5G. Meanwhile, 5G broadband is only available in a handful of metropolitan areas.
In the medium to long term, however, things could look different. There is a massive need for a broadband solution that offers next-level download and upload speeds, and right now traditional fixed broadband is failing to meet that need here in the UK. As recently as July 2020, it was estimated that only three million homes in the UK had access to full-fibre broadband. The rest of us only have access to FTTC (fibre to the cabinet), which is much slower.
5G home broadband promises a quick and effective solution to the 17 million UK homes still reliant on this outdated standard. It requires no costly and time-consuming investment in FTTP infrastructure, which tends to involve digging up roads. Openreach doesn’t estimate that it will hit 20 million FTTP-connected homes and businesses until some time between 2025 and 2030.
Beyond that, there will always be remote homes and businesses that don’t get access to any form of fixed broadband solution. For such people, 5G broadband could well form a permanent solution.
Who offers 5G mobile broadband, and is it right for me?
Both EE and O2 currently offer 5G mobile broadband packages.
Such 5G mobile broadband devices don’t plug into a power point, and they aren’t designed to remain in stationary position in your home. Rather they are compact, battery powered devices intended to give you a strong 5G connection whilst out and about.
Such devices enable you to guarantee a private, stable, and fast internet connection wherever you are, rather than having to rely on questionable coffee shop Wi-Fi or public hotspots. And they can typically host 20 or so personal devices at once.
If you find yourself working away from home in unfamiliar locations, and you need a guarantee source of internet connectivity for your laptop or tablet, it could be a smart way to go.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I pay any set-up fees for 5G home broadband?
Fees vary when signing up for 5G home broadband, but it works a lot like a mobile phone contract. You pay a one-off initial set-up fee, then a rolling monthly fee over 18 months or so.
Do I need a landline for 5G home broadband to work?
No, you don’t need a landline to connect to 5G broadband. As long as your area is covered by a 5G network, all you need is to sign up to a 5G home broadband contract and plug in the provided 5G router.
How is 5G home broadband installed and by whom?
The beauty of 5G home broadband is that you don’t need an engineer to visit, or any form of intensive installation for that matter. Once you’ve signed up for a 5G home broadband package, you’ll receive a 5G home router through the post, along with instructions on how to install it.
It’s as easy as plugging in a new Wi-Fi router. One small additional step is to slot a SIM card in to said router, much like you do when you get a new smartphone.
Who offers the best unlimited 5G home broadband plan?
That all comes down to where you live, and how much you’re prepared to pay.
Three and Vodafone both offer unlimited data. Three’s package is much cheaper, which would appear to make it the ‘better’ offering. But at this early stage in 5G home broadband’s evolution, availability most likely overrides value.
In other words, take whatever unlimited 5G home broadband package you can find. You’re one of the lucky ones.
Is 5G home broadband fast enough to replace fixed line broadband?
Yes. Where available, 5G broadband offers speeds in excess of standard fibre fixed home broadband available to most of the UK. Only full fibre broadband really beats it for speed, but like 5G, that’s only available to a fraction of the country at present.
How do I know I have adequate 5G signal for 5G home broadband to work?
Use each network’s 5G signal checker to establish if you have adequate 5G signal, and which is strongest in your area: