With the UK’s 5G network constantly growing, 5G home broadband could soon be a viable alternative to traditional fixed broadband, especially for people living in urban or suburban areas. See how it works and what it could mean for your home broadband with our guide.
5G broadband works in much the same way as 5G smartphones, in that it connects to the internet via a device with a 5G SIM card. However, rather than a mobile phone, the 5G SIM card is in a home router, which then sends out a Wi-Fi signal for all of your devices to connect to at once.
5G essentially works on the same airwaves as 4G internet, but on much higher frequencies. This means it can transmit more data in a shorter period of time, and it can provide a much faster internet connection as a result.
For example, 4G in the UK has an average speed of 24Mbps, while 5G speeds in the UK could be as much as 12 times faster at 300Mbps, and have the potential to reach 20Gbps in the future. To put that into perspective, 300Mbps would download all ten seasons of Friends in just nine minutes, versus almost two hours on a 24Mbps 4G connection.
5G stands for the fifth generation technology of mobile networks, which is why it’s so much faster than 4G and 3G. Where 3G technology enabled the age of the smartphone and 4G allowed faster browsing and richer media, 5G will transform how mobile phones and mobile broadband work.
5G broadband is a form of mobile broadband. It works by incorporating 5G technology into a Wi-Fi hub rather than a smartphone. It then connects to devices via a Wi-Fi signal in the same way as standard fixed broadband routers.
5G broadband doesn’t just allow for much faster downloads and higher quality streaming. It also means multiple people in a household can use the internet at the same time without putting a strain on the connection.
It can therefore be an effective wireless alternative to fixed broadband, as you can access lightning-fast broadband speeds without the need for a wired connection to the home. This means you don’t need a fibre-optic or copper ADSL broadband connection.
With 5G home internet, you won’t need a 5G mobile phone contract to enjoy its ultrafast broadband speeds from home.
If you live in an area with a 5G signal, you’ll be able to use 5G for your home internet. To do this, you’ll need to purchase a 5G broadband deal (more on those later). Once you’ve signed up, you’ll receive a 5G home Wi-Fi router.
If your area doesn’t have 5G yet, you’ll have to wait until it becomes available where you are before you can choose a 5G home Wi-Fi deal.
5G routers are mobile broadband routers that operate with a 5G SIM card. They work in much the same way as a typical fixed broadband router.
While 5G routers need to be plugged into a power source, they don’t need to be connected to a phone socket like normal Wi-Fi routers. So you’re free to place your 5G hub wherever you want.
Most home broadband routers are very straightforward to set up. Simply plug it into a mains socket, go through the setup process, select its Wi-Fi network on your device and enter the password.
It’s important to think about where to place your 5G router. For a standard router, you’d want to keep it clear of electronic devices, large furniture and thick walls to help the Wi-Fi signal carry throughout your home.
For a 5G router, you’ll want to position it where it can get the best 5G signal. Because it operates on higher frequencies, 5G can’t penetrate obstacles as well as 4G. So it’s best to test out a few different locations, like on a window sill or in a room upstairs. It’s also worth rotating your 5G router once it’s in position to see which angle picks up the best 5G signal.
If there’s an app available from your 5G broadband provider, it might be able to give you some additional insight as to where to place your 5G router in order to get the best signal.
Some 5G routers will already have a SIM card pre-installed, so you can start browsing as soon as you plug it in, switch it on and connect. But depending on which provider you choose, you may have to insert the SIM card yourself. This is really quick and straightforward.
A 5G dongle is a mobile internet dongle that connects your individual device to a 5G signal. It gets you online just like a 5G router does, but it instead plugs into a USB port on your computer or laptop, rather than a mains socket in your house.
This means that it’s completely portable, so it’s a great option if you’re constantly on the move. But it does mean that you can only use the dongle on one device at a time. Plus, with 5G coverage still quite low, you might spend most of your time travelling with only a 4G connection.
5G routers aren’t as portable as 5G dongles, but they can connect multiple devices at once. Also, the routers are still semi-portable, because all they need to work is a mains socket and 5G coverage. So all you’d need to do is unplug it, take it with you, and plug it back in wherever you’re staying.
Learn more about 4G and 5G mobile internet dongles with our guide.
The 5G speed you’ll be able to get depends on a number of factors, including your location and your network provider. The main players in the 5G broadband space are Vodafone, EE and Three, who each quote their own range of expected speeds.
Vodafone has said that customers can expect average 5G speeds of around 150-200Mbps and EE has claimed a range of 5G speeds from 130-240Mbps. Meanwhile, Three offers a 5G home broadband package with 100Mbps speeds. But it has rights to more of the 5G spectrum than any other network, so its network could grow rapidly in the coming years.
A report from Opensignal in May 2020 showed that the UK’s average 5G download speed was 138.1Mbps across all the networks tested. This looks to be in line with what the individual networks are reporting.
To use our Friends example from earlier, the entire box set would take 21 minutes to fully download at 130Mbps. That’s over five times quicker than it would take on average 4G speeds.
There’s clearly a lot of variance across networks and locations, but we’ve seen first-hand how fast 5G speeds in the UK can be.
Not sure what your current speed is? Run our broadband speed test to see if you have faster speeds available to you.
At this early stage there’s still very little uptake on 5G. But many networks that offer 5G mobile services have now started rolling out 5G broadband deals.
Vodafone 5G broadband is supplied by the Huawei 5G CPE Pro router, which it calls the GigaCube. Once you’ve signed up and Vodafone sends you its GigaCube router, you will be set up and connected to Wi-Fi in minutes.
Vodafone 5G broadband contracts are either 24-month or 30-day rolling contracts, which come at three different monthly prices depending on how much data allowance you want. The three data options are:
100GB per month (cheapest)
200GB per month (middle price)
Unlimited downloads (most expensive)
Three also offers a 100Mbps 5G broadband service via the Huawei 5G CPE Pro router, although the network provider calls it the Three 5G Hub. The service comes with no download limits or setup costs.
You can sign up to a 12-month or 24-month contract, or you could even choose a rolling monthly plan (however that incurs a setup fee). Three will also send you all the kit you need within one working day if you order it before 4pm. So if you’re moving house or need to get online quickly, you could set up a connection in less than 24 hours.
Given that 5G can be a bit inconsistent while it is still being rolled out, the provider offers a money-back guarantee in the first 14 days of your contract if you aren’t able to connect to Three’s 5G in your home. This means you can get a full refund on the service and you’ll be free to search for an alternative internet connection straight away.
EE 5G home broadband is available in select locations and, you guessed it, is supplied via the Huawei 5G CPE Pro, which is called the 5GEE Home Router.
Average speeds with EE’s 5G home broadband are around 150Mbps, with no download limits. Setup is quick and easy with no need for a phone line or an engineer. And as an added bonus for EE mobile customers, the network operator offers a 20GB data boost to your pay-monthly mobile plan if you choose its 5G home broadband package.
If you have 5G coverage but your home is blocking the signal from getting to your router, EE also gives you the opportunity to boost your 5G coverage with an external antenna. This is a very handy option for houses with thick walls or poorly-placed power sockets.
5G broadband is set to be revolutionary, bringing incredible speeds to new locations that are still struggling with ADSL broadband. 5G technology will also increase the capabilities of many devices that are currently limited by their ability to stay connected to a Wi-Fi signal.
However, it’s worth remembering that, as 5G mobile broadband technology advances, so too does fixed broadband technology. The rollout of full fibre broadband networks is ongoing, increasing the accessibility of gigabit speeds for homes and businesses across the country. In fact, in many locations, full fibre broadband is easier and less costly for local governments to install than a vast network of 5G broadcast towers, especially in rural areas.
In addition to this, Wi-Fi 6 –– the next generation of Wi-Fi from current Wi-Fi 5 technology –– will be able to deliver Wi-Fi speeds 40% faster for fixed home broadband than the speeds that are currently available. It will also be much more capable of handling multiple devices at once, which will have a significant impact on public Wi-Fi in locations such as airports or entertainment venues.
Find out about our best 5G broadband deals. If 5G isn’t available in your area but you still want faster broadband speeds, check out our best fibre broadband deals.