On 5G home WiFi

On 5G home WiFi

Photo by Daniel Monteiro / Unsplash

Why is my internet so slow?

For the past eight years or so I have been a paying customer of Cincinnati Bell Fioptics (now alta fiber). In general, I prefer to support more local businesses than national brands, even if the locals are still a "Ma Bell" spin-off.

In all that time I have not been able to eclipse 50mbps down and 5mbps up from a bandwidth perspective. This is okay for most office uses and some limited streaming at home, but hardly sufficient for 4k movie streaming or playing performance-driven online video games on a modern PC or console.

This bandwidth limit could rear its head in Teams or Zoom calls if any other activity on the network was eating bandwidth at the same time. Even if all the devices were using modern WiFi specs (older specs would throttle down to the slowest consumer's speed).

This is all the classic conundrum of acclimating to a new normal and demanding ever more from what we already have. This happens with internet speed as much as pay increases. You just find ways to absorb that extra budget. In my old age, I still remember when we calculated internet speeds in baud, not even kilobits.

And for this less than graceful experience, I have been paying around $150 USD/month for internet and "cable" tv service I don't use outside of baseball season. UGH!

So, it's been frustrating for a few years now, and I have been considering making a switch for a while. I was planning on switching to Spectrum, sadly, on May 6th, when something unexpected happened, and Verizon showed up, literally, at my door.

The next new normal

Many of us have known that wireless broadband would be the future for some time now. You can easily read the patterns, and it's frankly much more expensive for providers to constantly run lines directly to homes and apartments. The "last mile" as they say, is always the challenge, and forces providers to choose the winning and losing neighborhoods based on demographic makeup and timeline to a return on their investment.

Enter 5g. Now internet providers can make significant investments in cellular tower infrastructure and supporting equipment and customer experiences and still save money over running cables that last mile. Despite some widely discussed conspiracy theories around 5g and 6g wireless technologies, there's nothing really nefarious here. Just solid business and technology sense.

So, on April 28th, when Verizon knocked on my door and caused my dog to bark incessantly enough to get me to open the door and see what was going on, I didn't yet know what was going to happen.

The conversation went quickly. I understood what they were selling, and how it benefitted me. It was probably their easiest sell ever. I knew I wanted a new service provider, I'd not scheduled an install but was planning on calling them literally the next day to do so, and here are these three guys at my door offering me a less invasive, hassle-free alternative. Within a few minutes of random small-talk and almost no sales pitch, I was already signing up for the service.

Here was how I instantly broke things down in my head:

Provider Speed (Mbps down) In-Home Install Price Lock (months) Price Equipment Charge (monthly) Taxes & Fees Avg Monthly Bill DIY Charges
Fioptics 50 Yes 0 69 10 12 91 0
Spectrum 200 Yes 12 45 10 10 65 20
Verizon 5G Home 300 No 24 50 0 0 50 0

So, for less money, less hassle, fewer hidden fees, and a solid price lock, what's not to like? Sign me up!

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Fioptics offers up to 1Gbps internet for $45/mo for new customers for 12mo, but you have to be in a service area for it, and I am not.

Copying less advantaged countries

The truth is that many countries around the world have used cellular towers for providing internet access for a couple of decades. It just isn't realistic to invest in the infrastructure of laying cables direct to homes and disparate villages and cities.

The result in Africa and Asia has been profound in equalizing opportunity and access to jobs. This is especially true through the COVID-19 pandemic as companies globally realize they can source from talent pools all over the world, not just geocentric to some physical office they have.

That we are seeing affluent nations literally copy this paradigm is a testament to the ingenuity and innovation brought forth by creative minds trying to solve problems with more limited resources at hand.

That it took so long, in my opinion, is likely related to more of a corporate need to recoup sunk costs than the complexity of the technology itself. Spreading any technology over the distance of complex and diverse topography and demography like that of the United States is certainly no simple task either.

Setting up the future

I received the package from Verizon on Saturday the 30th of April. They paid for free 2day shipping with my Thursday order. While the delivery window was for Saturday until 8 PM, the package actually arrived around 2:00 PM the following Monday afternoon.

Here's a gallery of photos of the unboxing of the Verizon 5G home modem.

The setup process was actually really simple. Just a couple of quick steps and we were online. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom. I really enjoyed how easy this was to complete.

  1. Scan QR code on the setup sheet in the box
  2. Watch a video in the My Verizon app (maybe unnecessary for those with technical knowledge, but probably useful for your average home user)
  3. Connect to the network using details on the bottom of the gateway device

That's not to say there weren't issues. My account with Verizon had apparently not yet been provisioned and it took until about 2:00 AM Tuesday morning after several hours trying to get assistance Monday evening from various support teams at Verizon. The customer service people I spoke with were very polite and friendly and seemed to earnestly be working to get me to a point I could proceed.

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It's worth noting that while the Verizon 5G Home Internet Gateway comes with an ethernet cable, it appears to be 100 base-t and not a gigabit cable. A confusing choice by Verizon with the advertised speeds. I used a gigabit cable I had on hand as a result.

Around 2:00 AM Tuesday after receiving a couple of emails from Verizon indicating my account had been finally set up (no doubt by overnight support staff), I was able to get the Verizon 5G Home Internet Gateway set up in no time.

Some caveats:

  • The network configuration on my AmpliFi needed to be set to bridge mode, this forces me to Verizon's IP range instead of an internal IP range
  • Bridge mode also removes the ability to assign named devices on the AmpliFi to an individual's profile (unsure why)
  • I still prefer my AmpliFi from a usability standpoint,
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To ensure I got the most value from the AmpliFi, I needed to reduce interference by disabling band steering and then disabling WiFi broadcast for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.
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Continuing to use my AmpliFi also meant a seamless transition, and I didn't need to troubleshoot WiFi connectivity with the new Verizon 5G Home Internet Gateway. This has been troublesome at times with some devices, like the Nintendo Switch.

Go Speed Go

The difference in speed was readily apparent after the setup process. Even AmpliFi agrees, using their speed test. I'm sure my PS5 will benefit from much-improved bandwidth, and now I can start considering streaming from my Twitch profile too.

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Conclusion

There are a couple of options on the market for 5G home internet. T-Mobile and Verizon are the most vocal players right now, in the US. I'm not generally a fan of Verizon for some of their business practices, but T-Mobile is marginally better. Points to Verizon for being the first to literally show up at my door.

Even after just a couple of days with the increased speed, I don't think I can stomach going back to the slower 50Mbps I had before. While it's not gigabit, it's as close as I can get for my neighborhood. The fact that providers like Verizon no longer need to run cables directly to every home, condo, or apartment, you can absolutely bet 5G will be a watershed for high-capacity broadband availability and access in underserved communities across America.


Giddy
Cincinnati, OH USA
Crazy about video games, tea, technology, baseball, and learning things.