I’m moving into a new apartment and instead of dealing with the local cable company, I’m wondering if I could use a wireless 3G/4G internet connection as my primary/home internet connection. I’m a moderate bandwidth user (Apple TV, Netflix, web surfing) but I don’t do a lot of downloading. Could it be a better option than cable Internet?
I would like to say with wireless speeds increasing to the point where they match cable internet in many locations, it’s natural that you may want to consider using a wireless service as your home’s primary connection. It’s especially tempting if you live in an area covered by faster 4G. There are a couple of reasons why you may want to think twice before doing this. Both bandwidth and reliability limitations are something to consider.
The largest reason why it may not be a great idea to ditch your cable or DSL provider for data from a company like Verizon, AT&T or Sprint are the data caps. Now that most of them has done away with unlimited data, there aren’t many carriers that will allow you to use unlimited amounts bandwidth.
USB/Mobile Hotspot Internet Package Comparison
Verizon: 5GB-$50/monthly | 10GB-$80/monthly | Overage-$10/perGB
AT&T: 5GB-$50/monthly | Overage-$10/perGB
Sprint: 3GB-$34.99/monthly | 6GB-$49.99/monthly | 12GB-$79.99/monthly | Overage-5¢/perMB
The largest package you can sign up for from the top 3 companies is 12GB per month.
Even though you said you’re a “moderate” bandwidth user, some of the behaviors you listed are higher-end than you might think. You could easily blow through 10-12GB with Netflix streaming using your Apple TV if you view an episode or two of your favorite hour-long TV series every night.
In this case alone, next to a cable provider such as Comcast, which will charge you less per month for service that’s capped at 250GB per month (other words infinity), it’s hard to make financial sense for using cellular wireless in your home instead of cable or DSL.
Note: If you happen to be a legacy customer that has an unlimited data plan, try to hold on it for as long as possible, if you plan to use cellular data as your primary means of internet. Must I warn you that providers now are throttling data speeds (slowing speeds) for most unlimited data customers as you go over a certain amount of data. This is where you want to call and/or check your contract terms.
Reliability and Service
Most wireless providers are now building out their 4G networks. As we may know 3G is far more widespread, but if you’re specifically looking for the speed of 4G for your home internet connection, you’re limited to major metropolitan areas and cities where 4G is consistently available.
Average 3G network speeds “Real-world” testing
Verizon: Download-1.05 Mbps | Upload-0.75 Mbps | Peak- 1.4Mbps
AT&T: Download-2.62 Mbps | Upload-0.85 Mbps | Peak-6 Mbps
Sprint: Download-0.59 Mbps | Upload-0.56 Mbps | Peak-3.1 Mbps
Average 4G-LTE network speeds “Real-world” testing
Verizon: Download-7.35 Mbps | Upload-5.86 Mbps| Peak- about 12 Mbps
AT&T: Download-9.12 Mbps | Upload-4.91 Mbps | Peak- about 20 Mbps
Sprint: Download-2.81 Mbps | Upload-0.97 Mbps | Peak- about 10 Mpbs
Comparing, an average a cable internet provider such as Comcast would offer speeds of at least 20 Mbps. Also, should it be mentioned, in areas 4G may be available it may not be consistent. Before committing make sure to check with your wireless carrier to make sure you have coverage in your area, even if you think you do. 3G data is fine and you can always fall back to it, but as a primary internet source, speed and reliability is what you want.
If you live in a covered 4G service area and already a legacy customer (which means you could possibly hold on to your unlimited data plan until they find a way to force you off) it could be a good idea, and the cost would even work out when compared to cable internet’s monthly rates (excluding the promotional rates, of course.)
If you’re stuck behind a bandwidth limit, the type of usage you’re using may be a bit too much for the bandwidth caps in place. If you were just checking email, and surfing the web, it might be different. Unfortunately, with the bandwidth caps, monthly fees, and overage costs where they are, it’s a difficult sell right now.