The future of mobile broadband is 5G, and despite a few setbacks with setting up the UK infrastructure, 5G home broadband will soon be a viable alternative to the traditional fixed broadband we’re much more familiar with.
How does 5G broadband work?
5G broadband operates in much the same way as 5G smartphones. 5G stands for the fifth generation technology standard for mobile networks, following on from its predecessors 3G and 4G. And where 3G technology introduced the age of the smartphone, and 4G enabled faster browsing and richer media, 5G will transform how mobile phones and mobile broadband work.
5G operates similarly to 4G, with 5G networks using the same airwaves as 4G to transmit information to and from mobile devices. However, unlike 4G channels which are mostly around 20MHz, 5G channels can be up to 100MHz, with some networks using as much as 800MHz at a time.
What that essentially means is that 5G is exponentially faster than 4G. For example, 4G in the UK has average speeds of 20Mbps, while 5G speeds in the UK could be as much as 20 times faster at 400Mbps, and have the potential to reach 20Gbps in time.
5G broadband works by incorporating this new technology into a mobile broadband Wi-Fi hub rather than a smartphone, connecting to devices via a Wi-Fi signal in the same way as standard fixed broadband routers.
It therefore effectively becomes a wireless alternative to fixed broadband, meaning that you can access fantastic broadband speeds without the need for a wired connection to the home –– such as a fibre-optic cable or copper phone line.
With 5G home broadband, your mobile devices don’t need to support 5G, just Wi-Fi.
Mobile broadband explained
Mobile broadband uses a router with a SIM card, rather than one connected to a fixed home broadband line. The mobile broadband hub connects to a nearby mobile mast in the same way your smartphone does. You can then connect your smartphones, tablets, smart TVs and any other device in your home to the router through Wi-Fi.
Some mobile broadband routers are also battery-powered, meaning that you’re effectively able to take your broadband connection with you wherever you go.
Can I use 5G for home internet?
If you live in an area with a 5G signal, you’ll be able to use 5G for your home internet. All you need to do is get a 5G home broadband router. If you’re not in a 5G-covered area yet, you’ll have to wait until the technology becomes available before you choose a 5G home broadband deal.
How do 5G routers work?
5G routers work in much the same way as a typical fixed broadband router, and for the most part, a 5G router will look just the same as a regular broadband router.
However, some providers are also offering more sophisticated 5G hubs. Three, for example, will provide you with either Huawei's B535 WebBox wireless router or the Huawei AI Cube, which is a Wi-Fi hotspot and smart speaker combined.
While both of the 5G hubs need to be plugged into a power source, they obviously don’t need to be connected to a phone socket. So you’re free to place your 5G hub wherever you feel you’ll need most.
Setting up a 5G home router
Most home broadband routers are very straightforward to set up these days; you simply plug the router into the main internet socket as well as an electrical outlet.
When setting up a 5G home router, you’ll still need to plug it in, but you’ll also need to insert a SIM card that will allow it to connect to a mobile network. However in some cases, the SIM card will be pre-installed, meaning you’re ready to start browsing as soon as you plug your router in, switch it on and connect.
It’s important to think about where to place your 5G home 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. 5G isn’t as penetrative through obstacles as 4G is, so it’s best to find the optimum area in your house. This might be different from your standard router 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.
What are 5G speeds in the UK?
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 mobile 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 –– and more contiguous 5G spectrum –– than any other network, so expect this to grow a lot higher 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, which looks to be in line with what the individual networks are predicting.
How fast is 5G in the UK?
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.
Which UK providers offer 5G broadband?
At this early stage there’s still very little uptake on 5G, but those networks that do offer 5G mobile services are also branching out to include a 5G broadband offering.
Three 5G Broadband
Of the major 5G providers, it’s Three that’s focusing its efforts mainly on 5G broadband.
Three provides 5G broadband via either its HomeFi Plus Wi-Fi router, which can connect up to 64 devices to its wireless network, or the Huawei AI Cube, which is a Wi-Fi hotspot and smart speaker combined.
You can sign up to either Three’s 5G 12-month and 24-month contracts or choose a rolling monthly plan that incurs a setup fee, both of which are available with unlimited data plans.
Vodafone 5G broadband
Vodafone 5G broadband is supplied by its GigaCube portable wireless router which can get you set up and connected to Wi-Fi in minutes. Vodafone 5G broadband contracts are either 18-month or 30-day rolling contracts with a set data allowance.
EE 5G home broadband
EE 5G home broadband is available in select locations and is supplied via its 5GEE Home Router. Average 5G speeds on EE are around 150Mbps and setup is quick and easy with no need for a phone line or an engineer.
Will 5G replace broadband?
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 within 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 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.