Sunday, April 11, 2021

Improving the T-Mobile Wireless Home Internet

This is an addendum to the T-Mobile Wireless Home Internet Review. After evaluating the gateway unit in one location of our home for a month, we then tried to make improvements by moving the unit around the house. Of course there are physical limitations, and what do you do if you want to connect an ethernet cable to the unit. For our controlled test we hooked up a laptop to the ethernet connector to read the gateway dashboard and do a reliable speed test. Keep in the mind, the unit can be located on a window and operate with nothing more than its power cable.

We proposed that a stronger cellular signal would yield a better internet connection. Only one window yielded a better signal on the gateway bar graph so that was the one we used for the comparison. We did get a better cellular signal and a better signal to noise ratio (SNR). The primary section connected at 1.7 GHz with the secondary section connected at 2.5 GHz, based on the bands shown in the dashboard. But several speed tests showed a noticeably slower download. It was useable but maxed out at 50 to 60 Mbps.

We then moved the unit to a convenient shelf next to, but not in, the window. We got a gangbusters 5G (secondary) signal, but still the download speeds remained below the 50's. In some tests the upload was faster. In the picture shown here of the gateway with its cover removed, you can see the 5G antennas grouped in a stack of 4 directional antennas, spaced in 4 sides around the unit. Keeping this in mind helps you orient the unit, with no antennas on the side with the connectors. Rotating the gateway a few degrees may give you a better signal (RSSI).

Our conclusions are that while we could get a stronger cellular signal, it may not yield a better download speed. Moving the gateway back to its original window location on the 2nd floor brought us back to 100+Mbps download speeds as well a convenient connection to the household ethernet connections. There's also the issue that some locations may not provide good Wi-Fi coverage in your home.

While in its original window location, we also moved the gateway back and forth and changed its azimuth to maximize signals, and found that 6 inches and 45° made a noticeable difference. We also took a walk around the home and yard to make sure we didn't sacrifice Wi-Fi coverage. Nokia offers a mesh solution with additional units that can be located around your home to cure Wi-Fi dead spots.

This assessment could mean that a stronger, and potentially more reliable, cellular signal may be a tradeoff for a weaker signal but a faster connection. We're contemplating drilling a hole in the floor for a new ethernet cable and giving the new location a 30-day evaluation. If you don't need an ethernet connection you would have more flexibility in locating the unit.


Friday, April 9, 2021

T-Mobile Wireless Home Internet Updates

 As part of our continuing evaluation of T-Mobile's Wireless Home Internet, we have made the following changes to our original review.

  • T-Mobile has admitted they're having trouble properly connecting to streaming services like Hulu which may explain our sketchy connection to Sling.
  • The households where T-Mobile is encouraging connections are located in areas with low-density wireless usage. If you live in a congested urban area you may be out of luck. If you're in a rural area with T-Mobile 5G coverage, you may be golden
  • Our family gamer played a data-intense game on cable internet and then the same game on the T-Mobile wireless gateway and found the experience similar. Once in a while there was hiccup in play on the T-Mobile gateway, but not enough to keep from enjoying the game.
  • Losing 5G service, which is weaker than the 4G LTE connection, seems to happen from time to time, slowing service.
  • T-Mobile's lack of data caps and price increases have been confirmed.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

T-Mobile Wireless Home Internet Review

We've been using T-Mobile's New Wireless Home Internet for the last 30 days. It's a combination wireless modem and router.

Highs:

  • It is what they say it is: There are no data caps and there's little difference between download and upload speeds, topping out at 100 to 200 Mbps.
  • The gateway uses both 5G and 4G-LTE channels. Setup is easy with a good signal on the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi band and TWO channels on the 5 GHz Wi-Fi band.
  • The supplied Nokia Gateway is sophisticated, easy to configure, and it's FREE!
  • Some streaming services work flawlessly.
Lows:
  • Speeds vary considerably. It may be affected by the number of users on the cell site, so downloads seem to be slower during rush hours.
  • If you're an intense gamer, while the connection has both good upload and download speeds, the ping and latency can be worse than wired connections.
  • The connection to the internet sometimes just disappears. There are web sites that will not connect right away and your device in the morning may say "no internet".
  • The 5G part of the gateway is 'fragile.' There are infrequent periods with no 5G connection which slows your service, but it's not noticeable on streaming services.

Setup:
Everything popped out of the box without problems. There is a battery in the unit, but its only purpose is to help you find the location of the best signal in your home using a bar graph on the top. Plug in the AC adapter and you're online. T-Mobile provides a good unboxing video, so we won't repeat that here.

The gateway is a custom T-Mobile-designed product based on the Nokia Fast Mile. We really like the thought that went into the antenna design for both the cell site access and the in-home Wi-Fi. We wish we could connect an external cellular antenna.

Performance:
Speeds with only a few devices connected gave us 50 to 180 Mbps downloads, and from 30 to 100 Mbps uploads. The connection was good (4 bars out of 5) in a second story window.  A first floor window is closer to a cell site, but was affected by the window screen.

Internet for most devices seemed to work well, including smartphones, computers and even the thermostat. Buffered streaming from the likes of Prime Video work just fine. But with other streaming services, there were some oddities. For example, we use Sling to access "cable" channels and that connection is quite different when compared to wired internet providers. Admittedly, Sling may be to blame for some of these problems, but they are notably worse on the T-Mobile connection. It appears that T-Mobile accesses Sling's online services differently than our DSL or cable connections, yielding the occasional blank screen or dropped stream. Services like ESPN occasionally have quality issues that we don't experience with other internet providers.  T-Mobile recently admitted they have trouble connecting to some streaming services such as Hulu.  We'll assume Sling has a similar problem that may eventually get ironed out.

Occasionally, the internet connection just disappears. On a smartphone you suddenly can't access a site, but multiple tries eventually result in success. On a computer you might need to 'wake up' your internet connection. It's annoying, but not fatal, and could be be caused by factors outside the gateway.

Billing:
T-Mobile claims they will not increase the price. They could eventually raise prices for newer customers, but the price needs to be competitive.

There are no surprise fees or taxes added to the price, but be aware T-Mobile's billing protocol may trip you up. They give you a $5 break if you sign up for Auto-Pay, but you must sign up after you are a customer.  That is not obvious when you establish service. Also, your bill is "created" as much as 2 weeks before your due date, so if you make any changes during that period, they won't show until the next bill.

With the popularity of T-Mobile's new home internet, it may take a week or two to deliver the gateway unit, and we were charged from the day we initiated the order instead of when we actually activated the  service. T-Mobile's customer service was very good about adjusting the charges.

Other Observations:
Our T-Mobile gateway dashboard shows our service is supplied by 5G wireless channels at 2.5 GHz combined with 4G-LTE cellular channels at 1.9 GHz. Your location may use a completely different combination of signals, so your experience could vary widely from ours, and in some locations, there may be no 5G at all. Occasionally, the dashboard showed no connection to 5G and the performance suffered.  Some problems were cured with a re-start (better than a re-boot), others eventually fixed themselves.

When you sign up, you are assigned a number that looks like a phone number, but you won't get a dial tone if you plug a phone in the jack on the gateway. There is a cover over the phone jack that you can remove and this feature may be available in the future.

We were able to jump into this service early because we are located in a low-density suburb away from the city and your location may affect your ability to sign up. Living near a cell site that has fewer users will increase your chances and maybe your performance.  T-Mobile claims to focus on being the first and best alternative in rural areas, but so far we have not heard of anyone being denied due to their location, other than the lack of 5G coverage.

Conclusion:
For now, we will keep our T-Mobile Home Internet and try to improve service by changing the mix of Wi-Fi channels and window locations. While it's not perfect, it has the fastest upload of all our available services, useful for gamers or big files.  While the download speed varies, it's always at least double what our DSL provides. Since the T-Mobile gateway has no limit on data, we don't have the fear of that pesky data cap from our cable internet provider.

We also experimented with different household locations.

This is an ongoing evaluation and we'll update our experience. Considering there is no upfront cost, you would be smart to at least try the T-Mobile Home Internet. We don't think the cable and telco providers are shaking in their boots, but this wireless home internet, and others like it, may be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

We did not receive any compensation for this review and we have no other relationship with T-Mobile. Oz.