From 5G smartphones to businesses using 5G solutions for better management and rapid scaling to health care industries implementing 5G tech to improve efficiency and save lives, the new technology seems to be penetrating nearly every industry. But despite 5G home internet being presented as a panacea, especially for Americans living in rural areas with limited broadband options, it still hasn’t taken hold, with only 100,000 subscribers using the service compared to the hundreds of millions of 5G mobile customers.
That raises questions about why 5G isn’t currently popular for home internet use — especially in rural areas that could benefit the most from it — and what the challenges are in terms of adoption. We talked to experts to find out.
How widespread is 5G home internet currently?
T-Mobile launched 5G Home Internet in April this year, making 30 million households eligible for the service (but not all of them have made the switch yet). It also subsequently expanded its availability to 51 cities and towns throughout Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. “While fixed wireless internet isn’t yet available to every American, we’re projected to serve 500,000 households with 5G home internet by the end of 2021,” said Kaley Gagnon, vice president of emerging products at T-Mobile.
A spokesperson from Verizon told Digital Trends that it experienced a gain of 55,000 net subscribers in July, August, and September. The company is estimated to reach 150,000 total subscribers on fixed wireless access at the end of the fourth quarter, the spokesperson said.
However, some experts like Jay Akin, CEO of Mushroom Networks, a networking company that builds advanced routers and appliances, believe getting an exact number of 5G home internet users can be difficult as carriers avoid breaking down their subscriber numbers with respect to LTE-versu-5G for fixed wireless access). “Majority of those subscribers are LTE and not 5G so far,” he said, adding that “5G home internet subscribers are lower than 100,000 people in the whole United States among all carriers.”
Those aren’t promising numbers, especially compared to the slow pace of 5G carrier rollout, which covers 75% of the U.S. on paper, but with only 25% spending online time actually connected to 5G.
Four big barriers to 5G home internet
Despite the widespread availability of 5G devices and an increasing number of discussions on applications of 5G technology, data shows 5G home internet hasn’t yet picked up steam. Infrastructural, economic, and sociocultural factors continue to be major obstacles to 5G home internet becoming mainstream.
One of the major concerns for many users is performance, especially now that everything (school, work, socializing, and even health care) has moved online.
“According to the 2021 EY Digital Home survey, 57% of respondents said that dependability is more important than speed and that reliability is the No. 1 deciding factor for choosing a broadband provider,” said Vincent Douin of EY. “Reliability has now overtaken price considerations when it comes to choosing a broadband provider, and 51% of respondents said they would worry about inferior broadband performance if they switched providers,” he added.
This may be a significant barrier for 5G going mainstream as such performance fluctuations may be acceptable for mobile phone use, but not when the whole household relies on internet access for personal and home office use, Akin said.
Another concern is availability, experts say. “Early deployments of 5G have been targeted at cities, so it doesn’t reach the people who truly need upgraded internet: Rural dwellers,” said Mark Rapley, director of operations for KWIC Internet, a residential and business internet service provider. Focusing on reducing the rural/urban divide is key, he said.
The price of 5G home internet could also make people rethink their choices. Current options cost around $50 to $100 a month, which may or may not be affordable for all American households, even those in rural areas who have limited broadband offerings and costly satellite internet as their only main choices.
Another a huge obstacle is consumer awareness. Many people simply don’t know enough about 5G home internet to make the switch, Douin told Digital Trends. “Consumers’ knowledge of 5G hasn’t improved much since last year, with less than half (45%) still unaware of its benefits and features. It’s critical for 5G providers to cut through complex jargon and focus on communicating tangible benefits to stake their claim to the digital home,” he said.
Here’s how 5G home internet can still become mainstream
Despite the numerous obstacles in the way of 5G home internet becoming mainstream, potential solutions exist, making it likely that an increasing number of American households will make the switch to 5G home internet in the coming years.
Some obstacles like availability and high price are time-based problems. As technology improves and access grows, 5G home internet will become more available at a much cheaper price, creating more opportunities for households to seriously consider making the switch.
For other obstacles, technology-based solutions should be considered, Akin said. “One example is broadband bonding, which is the technology that can combine [two] internet services to create a better internet connection. So, when a broadband bonding home router has two of the 5G internet connections, it practically takes out the performance variation and provides a significantly better end-user experience,” he said. “Similarly, an existing wired internet speed can be augmented with a faster (but less reliable) 5G home internet service to create a combined service that is both fast and reliable.”
So, even though 5G home internet seems inaccessible and somewhat inconsistent now, the connectivity landscape may change drastically in the coming years, making 5G home internet mainstream, or introducing something even better.