Connecting to cell networks is an increasingly viable option—here’s how it works.
FOR MANY OF us, especially in rural areas, broadband speeds over cable or DSL (or heaven forbid, satellite) aren’t as reliable or as fast as we would like—if they’re even available at all. But the increase in speed and capacity of 4G LTE (and now 5G) networks has opened up another option.
Traditional hurdles that made this less than an ideal solution—data caps, expense, bandwidth, coverage, compatible hardware—are slowly becoming less of an issue as the technology improves, and it’s now very possible to switch completely from standard broadband to 4G LTE broadband—with a few caveats and conditions.
How 4G LTE Internet Works
Routers such as the Netgear Orbi can bring 4G LTE into your home.
The idea behind 4G LTE at home is pretty simple at its core: Deliver internet access to your home in the same way that your phone gets online when it’s away from Wi-Fi. If you’ve ever tried to connect your laptop to a hot spot running from your phone, then you know what’s involved, together with all the potential pros (wireless internet access anywhere) and cons (interference and bandwidth issues).
Using a 4G LTE home internet service isn’t quite the same as running a hot spot though. Instead of having everything come through your phone, you set up a router to speak directly to the 4G LTE network, and then that router converts the signal into the conventional Wi-Fi that we all know and love. You don’t need SIM cards for every gadget you’re connecting, because they just see your home Wi-Fi as normal.
We’ll explain some of the speeds you might get in the selection of packages we’ve outlined below, but the theoretical maximum transfer speed is around 1 Gbps for 4G LTE (and 10 times that for 5G). In reality and outside of a laboratory, you won’t see that, but if you’re in the right area to get a good signal, then a 4G LTE connection can make your existing home broadband seem sluggish by comparison.
Latency—the speed with which your inputs reach the web and ping back again—can be a problem for certain uses such as gaming, but like most other technologies, 4G LTE is getting better over time. As the years go by it’s also getting cheaper, reaching more areas at faster speeds, and becoming more viable for more people. Other restrictions such as data caps are starting to disappear in some cases too, though it’s still worth bearing these caps in mind when comparing services. Traditionally, restrictions on data use have been one of the main reasons not to make the switch to 4G LTE for home connectivity.
As both conventional broadband and 4G LTE internet end up at a Wi-Fi router inside your home, you’re really just comparing a certain section of the infrastructure: that link between your property and the internet at large. Whether a cable running up to your home or a 4G LTE signal beamed from a nearby cell tower is going to be preferable will depend on numerous factors, with your geographical location perhaps the most important.
4G LTE internet availability is subject to the same kind of restrictions and limitations as any other type of internet, from fiber-optic broadband to satellite networks: It has to be cost-effective for companies to offer it at your address, with all the regulatory and infrastructure and pricing considerations that involves. Whether it’s the right solution for you is going to depend first and foremost on whether or not you can actually get it, and then how it compares to the traditional broadband options you have.
There are plenty of gadgets and gizmos you can pick up to create your own bespoke solution, from antennas to hot spots. Just plug a SIM card into the $300 Netgear Orbi 4G LTE, for example, and it’ll convert the cellular signal received by the router into Wi-Fi for your whole home. For a similar price you can pick up the HTC 5G Hub if 5G happens to have rolled out in your neck of the woods already.