5G is bringing increased speeds and lower latency to smartphone users around the world, but it’s also revolutionising broadband deals.
5G broadband offers a potentially cheaper, more convenient, and often much faster alternative to traditional fixed line broadband.
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 experts 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 wide 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 you 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 number of devices (up to 64 devices but often fewer). 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. You don’t even need a landline.
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?
5G Coverage Checker
Find out which networks have launched 5G in your area,
or when it is coming to your area.
EE offers plans and devices for both varieties of 5G broadband.
For 5G home broadband, EE sells the EE Smart 5G Hub. This can get up to 64 devices online at once over a range of 30 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 it’s easy to set up.
For mobile broadband on EE there’s the EE 5G WiFi, which is a battery powered device that can get up to 64 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 6,460mAh battery so it can keep your devices online for hours.
While EE offers widespread 5G coverage, you’ll want to check EE coverage before committing.
Vodafone currently only offers 5G home broadband, so there are not yet any 5G mobile broadband plans available on the network.
The GigaCube is what you’ll be using for 5G home broadband on Vodafone. This is a rebranded TCL 5G CPE router. It can get up to 64 devices connected at once, and Vodafone claims you can get speeds of up to 1Gbps with it in the real world, while even higher speeds are theoretically possible if network technology improves. It’s plug and play with no need for a landline or an engineer visit. It’s also fairly lightweight and portable, so you can take it with you and plug it in somewhere else if you want.
Vodafone offers 5G connectivity in a whole host of towns and cities across the UK. For full, up to date coverage, head to Vodafone’s coverage checker.
Three 5G is available in an enormous and ever-growing number of locations, so its 5G broadband could be a good fit for you, but for precise coverage details you should really head to Three’s coverage checker.
Three uses the Three 5G Broadband Hub – which is a rebranded Zyxel NR5103E - for home broadband. This supports average download speeds of typically between 100-200Mbps (depending on your location) and top speeds of 1Gbps. That upper limitation could improve eventually too, as the hardware itself is capable of up to 4.7Gbps speeds – the limiting factor is Three’s network, but that’s the case on rival networks and devices too.
The Three 5G Hub also has two Ethernet ports, so you can get wired connections as well, and Three offers unlimited data as standard, so there are no restrictions.
National Broadband isn’t a network as such, but it does offer a 5G home broadband service. It does this by offering service through other networks – choosing the best connection for your home.
The service appears to offer a Huawei 5G CPE Pro router (though this hasn’t been confirmed). This is the same device as Vodafone, EE and Three all used to offer for their 5G home broadband services, so it’s certainly capable. Speeds on the service are advertised as comfortably averaging over 100Mbps, and unlimited data comes as standard.
Who offers unlimited 5G home broadband?
At the time of writing, Three, EE and Vodafone all offer unlimited data options, as does National Broadband.
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 to give you an idea.
Some of the most recent data at the time of writing was average speeds recorded by Opensignal in September 2022. This found that Three’s average 5G download speed was highest at 228.4Mbps, followed by EE at 130.5Mbps, then Vodafone at 105.2Mbps, and finally O2 at 92.3Mbps.
If you sign up to 5G home broadband today, then, you can expect to enjoy average speeds of between around 90Mbps and 230Mbps. That’s much faster than typical fibre broadband, and a little slower than full fibre (aka FTTP) broadband.
For more details on how fast 5G is, check out our full 5G speeds guide.
Is 5G broadband any good and will it replace fixed line broadband?
Right now, fixed broadband is much more widely available than 5G broadband – though 5G is starting to catch up.
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 May 2022, it was estimated that only 8.2 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 majority of 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. The government doesn’t estimate that it will hit 20 million FTTP-connected homes and businesses until sometime 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?
At the time of writing only Both EE and Vodafone currently offers 5G mobile broadband packages.
Such 5G mobile broadband devices don’t need to plug into a power point, and they aren’t designed to remain in a 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 between 20 and 64 personal devices at once.
If you find yourself working away from home in unfamiliar locations, and you need a guaranteed source of internet connectivity for your laptop or tablet, it could be a smart way to go.
Frequently Asked Questions
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, EE, Vodafone and National Broadband all offer unlimited data. Three’s package is cheaper than its rivals, 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.
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.
Do I pay any setup 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 setup fee (or in some cases get the device for free), then a rolling monthly fee over generally 12, 18 or 24 months.