As a Starlink owner, I was curious as to how Starlink fares when compared to 5G home internet offered by providers like Verizon, and T-Mobile.
I went out and did a lot of research and talked to several Starlink and 5G home internet users to come up with this article.
Starlink offers almost universal coverage whereas 5G internet is offered only in areas where there are 5G towers. Starlink is more expensive compared to 5G as it has an upfront hardware fee and a higher monthly recurring fee. Starlink has a waitlist in many areas whereas 5G has no waitlist.
|Parameter||Starlink||T-Mobile 5G HI||Verizon 5G HI|
|Download Speed||50-200 Mbps||33-182 Mbps||85-300Mbps|
|Data Cap||1 TB||None||None|
|Ease of Setup||Moderate||Easy||Easy|
|Upfront Equipment Cost||$599||$0||$0|
|Monthly Recurring Fee||$90 or $120||$50||$50|
|Free Trial||Yes-30 day||Yes-15 days||Yes-15 days|
While there are multiple 5G home internet providers I chose T-mobile and Verizon to compare with Starlink due to their coverage area in the USA.
Note that I'm comparing Starlink with 5G Home internet by T-Mobile and Verizon.
5G cellular services from T-Mobile and Verizon are treated differently from 5G Home Internet services.
Also, this comparison is meant for people who live in rural areas, away from places with fiber internet.
This is important because 5G home internet speeds can be astonishingly high in urban areas but that's only in a limited area.
Speed Comparison: Starlink vs 5G Home Internet
For starters, what speeds are the brands promising officially?
|Internet||Download Speed||Upload Speed|
|Starlink Residential||50-200 Mbps||10-20 Mbps|
|T-Mobile 5G Home Internet||33-182 Mbps||8-25 Mbps|
|Verizon 5G Home Internet||85-300Mbps||10 Mbps|
So those are the advertised speeds. How much do you actually get? Here's what real-life test data shows.
Such a study for 5G home internet isn't available yet. But what are customers saying?
The data from my surveys show that the speed of 5G internet services varies wildly.
Keep in mind that these are users who live in rural areas and not cities, without access to fiber internet.
There are people getting well above 200 Mbps download speeds and 100 Mbps upload speeds.
On the other hand, there are people who are barely getting 5 Mbps download speeds and 2 Mbps upload speeds.
The speeds are really all over the place.
The speed you get with 5G Home internet depends on some key factors:
- Distance to the nearest tower
- Line of sight to the tower
- Number of 5G users in your tower
- Time of Usage (like peak hours)
The biggest issue most 5G users face is the drop in speeds after a while.
When there are fewer users, 5G home internet can be blazing fast. This can change quickly when the carrier oversells in the area.
Here's what a Starlink user who was on Verizon 5G home internet said about his experience-
"When I got it I was getting 15Mbps down, and by the time I switched to Starlink, Verizon 5G was so over capacity that I was lucky if I got 1Mbps".
Another issue is the hours at which you use the internet.
During peak hours (5 PM-11 PM), network congestion can cause 5G speeds to drop rapidly.
The only real way to know the speed of 5G home internet you'll get is to actually test it.
How 5G Internet Speed Varies by Location
The truth is that 5G internet speeds vary considerably depending on your location.
I'll explain using Verizon 5G as an example.
This is a snap of the 5G Map of Verizon near Pheonix, Arizona.
Depending on where you are on the map, the type of connection you get will vary.
What do these mean practically?
|5G Home Internet||Nature|
|5G Ultra Wideband (UW)||Extreme High Speed, But Low Range|
|5G Nationwide||Fast, Medium Range|
|4G LTE||Slow, Long Range|
While 5G UW is extremely fast with speeds that can go as high as 3,000 Mbps, it's available only in cities.
But these areas most likely have fiber internet access.
The range of 5G UW is extremely short due to the high frequency of the wave.
You'll get this type of 5G (n41 band) only if you live very close to the tower.
If you're considering Starlink, you most likely live in a rural area. You're most likely to be in the 5G nationwide or 4G LTE zone.
Speed drops off considerably as the distance to the tower increases.
Here's a real-life test from a user on how 5G speeds vary with distance from the tower for T-mobile home internet.
|Distance from Tower||Upload/Download Speed (Mbps)|
Please note that these values are not going to be the same always.
There are so many factors determining speeds that it's impossible to predict speed based on distance from the tower.
However, this is an example of how 5G home internet speeds can vary depending on your distance from the tower.
To know how far away you're from your nearest 5G cell tower, use cellmapper.
How much Internet Speed is Enough?
The internet speed you need is dependent on the number of people using the internet in your household. Say you have 4 people in your house with all 4 people streaming 4k video (Netflix/HBO) at the same time. You'll need an average speed of 25 Mbps per user for smooth streaming, which works out to 100 Mbps for the entire household.
Latency and Gaming Comparison
The latency or ping is an important metric that determines the quality of certain ping-sensitive activities like online gaming and video chat.
An internet connection with high ping or even a varying ping can make these activities terrible.
|Starlink (USA)||43 ms|
|T-Mobile 5G HI||No data available|
|Verizon 5G HI||No data available|
Test data shows that the average latency (ping) for Starlink in Q3 of 2022 was 67.16 ms in the US.
So, is Starlink good enough for gaming? Yes and No.
Starlink works well for most kinds of casual gaming but it's still not ready for competitive online gaming.
For a more detailed analysis read my guide here- Is Starlink Good for Gaming?
Gaming is also not much better on 5G home internet if you live in a rural area.
Although there aren't any test data available about the latency on 5G home internet, my research shows that congestion can cause gaming during peak hours nightmarish.
Many users face dropouts on the internet several times during the day.
Usually resetting the modem gets you back online but the need to do this can get quickly annoying.
Both Starlink and 5G home internet services work on CGNAT, meaning no dedicated IP address.
This means you can do port forwarding or host servers when gaming online.
Data Cap Comparison
|Starlink (USA)||1 TB|
|T-Mobile 5G HI||No data cap|
|Verizon 5G HI||No data cap|
Starlink has a 1 TB data cap in the USA.
However, this is not a hard data cap but rather a deprioritization beyond 1 TB and this applies only to Starlink residential and business users.
Starlink offers priority access of up to 1 TB every month which ensures high speeds and low latency.
Beyond 1 TB they offer what Starlink calls basic access which is typically slower than priority access speeds.
However, you're likely to experience the effect of basic access during peak hours such as 7 PM-11 PM.
T-Mobile and Verizon do not have any data cap for their 5G home internet.
This can be a bit surprising as cellular 5G data is mostly data capped heavily.
Both Starlink and 5G home internet users report facing short outages and internet drops at different times during the day.
For Starlink, you get back online within a minute or so without doing anything.
With 5G, you often have to reboot your router to get back online.
Several users also report 5G connections like T-mobile disliking using too many apps running at once.
Reports say that once you cross a certain threshold number of apps, the internet service starts killing each open app, one by one.
Reliability during Bad Weather
While light rains or snow don't affect the performance of either Starlink or 5G home internet, heavy rains do.
During heavy rains, Starlink performs worse than 5G because of the larger distance the signal has to travel cutting through the water in the air.
Most users see slower speeds and higher latency during heavy rains with Starlink.
However, when you have natural disasters like cyclones, Starlink is more reliable as 5G tower networks are usually severely affected.
As long as the Starlink ground stations are powered, Starlink will continue to serve you well.
Of course, this entire comparison makes sense for you only if these are available in your area.
|Starlink||Yes in some areas||Available throughout the USA. Some areas are low capacity.|
|T-Mobile 5G HI||No||Available in large parts of the USA|
|Verizon 5G HI||No||Available in large parts of the USA|
Starlink is actually available almost throughout the US although some areas fall on the waitlist.
Read this to know how to check if Starlink is available in your area.
A waitlist means that Starlink is not even immediately available to get for many states in the USA.
You'll need to pre-order Starlink and wait for your turn. This wait can be even more than a year.
However, this is the case for Starlink residential. If you order Starlink RV, you skip the waitlist and get Starlink immediately.
For T-Mobile and Verizon, there's no waitlist. You order and you get it immediately.
However, there are still large patches of the USA that aren't covered by these companies for 5G home internet.
Even if the map says 5G isn't available in your area, make sure to call customer care and enquire whether it's actually available.
Anecdotal experience from several users shows that 5G service could be offered to you if you call and enquire.
This option isn't there for Starlink though. There's no way to contact Starlink customer support until you buy Starlink.
Cost Comparison: Starlink vs 5G Home Internet
|Type||Starlink||T-Mobile 5G HI||Verizon 5G HI|
|Monthly Fee||$90 or $120 (limited capacity regions)||$50||$50|
|Price Lock/Guarantee||None||2 Years||2 Years|
|Other Incentives||None||Discount for Cell Phone Plans||Discount for Cell Phone Plans|
The cost for Starlink is much higher compared to the 5G home internet plans offered by T-Mobile and Verizon.
Monthly Recurring Fee
For starters, the monthly fee itself is more than double.
T-mobile and Verizon also have a price lock/guarantee promise that keeps your internet fee the same for 2 years from your start date.
Starlink on the other hand makes no such promises. The price, as of right now, stands at $90 for regions with high capacity and $120 otherwise.
The equipment fee that you've to pay upfront is also a major disadvantage to buying Starlink.
Starlink charges $599 as a one-time fee to sell you the hardware and you own it outright. This may seem a bit steep considering the fact that Starlink routers lack premier features such as Port-forwarding, Beam-forwarding, etc.
T-mobile and Verizon give you the hardware required for free but you're only renting it from them.
You need to return it intact when you end the subscription though or you'll be charged a fee.
Starlink definitely has a cost to set up everything.
You need to mount the dish appropriately in an area without obstructions.
This can mean buying mounting accessories such as a pivot mount which costs money.
If you feel up to it you can definitely DIY this whole setup saving you a few hundred dollars in installation.
The 5G internet services on the other hand cost almost nothing to set up.
For example, with T-Mobile, you just have one device to set up and place.
A device that T-mobile calls the "Internet gateway device", is informally known as "the Trashcan" due to its design.
You place it at a location inside your house where you get a strong signal and you're done.
Note that you might have to move around the device inside your house until you find a good spot.
This is much easier compared to setting up Starlink.
However, at some locations, the 5G signal can be too weak inside the house.
In such a case, you'll need to get an external antenna such as the MIMO 4x4 Antenna to get a strong signal.
Most users who install an external antenna see substantial jumps in their internet speeds.
If you need to install this antenna, the cost of equipment/hardware for 5G becomes similar to that of Starlink.
However, there are people who see their 5G jumping from normal speed to high-speed band speed after installing an external antenna. So it could be well worth the investment.
A lot of users also recommend getting a Small Fan to cool the device as heating-related issues can happen.
Starlink offers no incentive to entice you into buying from them.
T-mobile and Verizon give you the option to bundle your cellular plan and home internet giving you a deep total discount.
If you're already on one of these services for your phone, you should strongly consider this incentive.
Both companies also offer decent discounts for Seniors aged 55 and above.
They also offer to pay off your early termination fee (ETF) up to a certain limit, if you're willing to switch from certain qualified internet service providers.
T-mobile and Verizon also offer bundled plans with their home internet that gives you services like Disney, Netflix, Amazon, etc for free.
Ease of Setup
|Internet||Ease of Setup|
|T-Mobile 5G HI||Super Easy if no external antenna|
|Verizon 5G HI||Super Easy if no external antenna|
If you don't need to install an external antenna for your 5G internet, then the overall process is much easier than Starlink.
For Starlink, you need to do some serious mounting and cabling work.
Once it's set up, you might need to attend to the dish once in a while. This can be tough if the dish is on the roof.
There's likely to be troubleshooting required once in a while with Starlink as it has a lot of parts.
For example, a slight seating issue (a common one) with the Starlink cable can cause a disconnected error which could require you to climb on your roof to fix it.
None of this applies to 5G home internet.
If you live in a heavily wooded/forested area it becomes even more difficult for Starlink as the dish needs a very good unobstructed view of the sky.
This can mean setting up a dedicated tower just for mounting your Starlink.
Pausing, Cancellation, and Contract
|Starlink Residential||No||Canceled Anytime-No contract|
|Starlink RV||Yes, Anytime||Canceled Anytime-No contract|
|T-Mobile 5G HI||Yes, twice a year||Canceled Anytime-No contract|
|Verizon 5G HI||Yes, once a year||Canceled Anytime-No contract|
Starlink residential cannot be paused and can only be canceled.
If you want to pause whenever you wish, get Starlink RV.
T-Mobile allows suspending your 5G home internet twice a year for up to 90 days. Note that it says suspend and not pause.
Verizon allows suspending its 5G home internet once a year for up to 90 days.
All these services are no-contract which means you cancel them anytime.
With Starlink however, that means you'll have hardware worth hundreds of dollars sitting idle in your hands.
Although you can sell your Starlink dish to an interested party after informing Starlink.
Deprioritization of 5G home internet users
|Starlink RV/Portability||Yes||Starlink Residential|
|T-Mobile 5G HI||No||5G Cellular|
|Verizon 5G HI||No||5G Cellular|
Starlink residential users are given the highest priority by Starlink. This can be really important during peak hours when networks are congested.
For 5G, T-mobile and Verizon prioritize 5G cellular users over home internet users.
If you live in an area where there's a lot of 5G cellular usage, this means your home internet speeds and latency are going to suffer during peak hours when the network is congested.
Starlink deprioritizes Starlink RV and Starlink portability users over Starlink residential users if the network is congested.
However, this only applies if you want to move around with your Starlink internet
Portability for RV users
|Starlink||Yes with Portability/RV|
|T-Mobile 5G HI||Yes (unofficially)|
|Verizon 5G HI||Yes (unofficially)|
If you wish to move around with your internet, staying at different locations for days, then Starlink will meet your needs better.
Starlink gives the option of adding a portability feature for an extra fee every month that lets you use the dish anywhere on your continent.
With T-mobile and Verizon, it's a bit complicated.
Technically, according to their terms of service, you're not supposed to use your 5G home internet at an address different from your registered address.
However, it works and a lot of people carry their 5G home internet in their car/truck and it works reasonably well (both Verizon and T-Mobile) depending on your location.
If you're far away from the tower you might only get 4G LTE though.
They're yet to crack down on this (Geolock), but they don't want you to do this as they sell a certain number of connections per area and people moving around with their home internet can cause unplanned congestion.
To fully abide by their terms and conditions, you'll need to buy the cellular plan (bundle) along with home internet to have portable internet.
No Dedicated IP address
|T-Mobile 5G HI||No||CGNAT|
|Verizon 5G HI||No||CGNAT|
The lack of a dedicated IP address means that you won't be able to host games when gaming online.
Of course, you can overcome this using a VPN that gives you a dedicated IP address. But it will cost extra.
What's My Conclusion?
My suggestion is to sign up (pre-order) to be on the Starlink waitlist immediately and then test the 5G service.
Because both Starlink and 5G home internet are still in their infancy, their speeds and reliability vary wildly.
The only way to really know their performance is to test it out at your location.
If you live in an area where you can get Starlink immediately, wait until you test the 5G service.
Starlink, Verizon and T-mobile all offer a free trial period where you can freely test out the internet and see if it works for you.
I also recommend you get an external antenna like the MIMO for testing your 5G. If it doesn't work out you can return the antenna for a refund.
If your speeds are satisfactory, stick with 5G until you become eligible for Starlink.
Because there's no contract you can simply cancel your 5G plan, return the equipment and start with Starlink when you're eligible.