My experience with T-Mobile’s Home Internet
March 15, 2022 | You have no doubt seen T-Mobile’s ads for their ‘Home Internet’ service – me, too! In January, I decided to give it a try and see how it performs. As we will see, the news is both good and bad.
Before we get to the details, a little about our house. My office is separate from the main house, across the driveway. The house is basically long and thin with most of the windows on the back (south) side. Upstairs, there are only three windows and they all are on the south. Importantly, the current Internet connection comes into the house and goes to my closet for connection to the router, switch etc. for the LAN and Wi-Fi. We have low-e windows and the house is well insulated. Read: poor RF propagation. As a result, we have four Wi-FI APs to cover the house and my office. And to make matters more complex, we are literally on cell-edge: one cell site covers the back of the house and another the front of the house. We can literally swap cell sites while walking from the front to the back!
So In January, I got another promotion from T-Mobile and had a chat session online; they checked my address and said I was in a ‘prime’ area of coverage and that the service should work well. So I signed up and waited for the modem, which shipped the next day and arrived a few days later.
Account activation is easy. I was not a T-Mobile customer, and all they wanted was a credit card and a few details, and everything was done online and via email. When you create an account, you define a PIN for later access – more on this later.
Setting up the modem was easy – place it by a window and turn it on. There is a small screen on the top (in magenta…) and it is pretty simple to use. I set it up in my office by a window but only got two bars. The instructions said to move to another part of the house – same thing, two bars. Then it said to move to an upstairs window….where I got two bars. No matter where I tried (front, back, east, west), I never got more than two bars.
My original plan was to use the modem in my closet and then connect the ethernet port to my LAN switch, etc. But since I only got one bar in the closet where all the networking gear is, this would not work. So in the end, I just put it in my office and used the Wi-Fi connection. But again, there were never more than two bars, no matter the time of day or day of week.
For a speed test, I just used Ookla on my Mac desktop (Firefox browser for those who are interested). I tested it over several days and never got more than 99 Mbps down (at 6:57pm on January 25th). The slowest I got was 23 Mbps, down, also on the 25th at 5:11pm. Uplink speeds were between 1.4 Mbps and 18.5 Mbps (both on the same day, January 28th). Latency (ping) ranged between 46 ms and 84 ms.
The range of results, even a few minutes apart, illustrates the problem with T-Mobile’s service – it is inconsistent. It can be fast one minute and slow the next, literally. One evening, I was editing video interviews and uploading the files to YouTube using the T-Mobile modem, and YouTube said the transfer would take more than 35 mins. So I switched back to my cable modem (still using Wi-Fi) and the upload took three minutes. Since I had multiple videos to upload, this saved a considerable amount of time.
Since there was no way for the T-Mobile modem to replace our cable modem (too slow; too inconsistent; poor coverage in our networking closet), I decided to return the unit and cancel service. Remember that PIN? You need that to access the account. But online, it said my PIN was invalid and that my email did not exist (even though it was the same email they used to activate the account, send instructions, etc.). And I swear I wrote the PIN down correctly! After FOUR calls to customer care, I finally had to go to a store. Simple reason: to reset the PIN, T-Mobile sends a text to your device….but a modem cannot receive a text! So, no way to reset the PIN.
Off to the store I go and tell them my problem (I take the modem with me). They say I have to call customer care! After talking to the manager, the store calls customer care and finally cancels the account. I then say I want to return the modem. The store cannot accept the modem; it has to be mailed back since it was an online purchase! Very frustrating but easy to do after calling customer care for the FIFTH time.
So, my summary is as follows:
1. T-Mobile’s Home Internet is a good service if you have good coverage, have one or two people in a house or apartment, and do not need big upload or download speeds. Anyone with multiple family members trying to work from home and/or watch multiple streams at the same time will be frustrated.
2. Activation is easy but make sure you have another T-Mobile device on the account, in case you need to reset that PIN.
3. T-Mobile needs to work on the customer care coordination between its stores and online. The fact I had to mail back the modem and not return it in the store is crazy, even though I had to go to the store to cancel the account!
Overall, a decent service for the right use case and in the right coverage area. I was neither of those!