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T-Mobile Home Internet Gateway Offers Unlimited Data for $60/month - This is What Cord-Cutters Should Know

Ben Bowman

Data caps are becoming a major problem for cord cutters. If you want the ability to stream 4K video, you’re likely going to smash through the cap on a regular basis. Streaming just one hour of 4K video eats up 14 GB of data.

In Chicago, my internet-only plan through Comcast/Xfinity was $82.95/month, but that came with a 1.2 TB data cap. If you use streaming services and need internet for video calls throughout the work day, it’s easy to crash into the cap. To avoid the penalties for going over, we paid another $30/month for unlimited data. But that meant $115.95/month for internet access alone. Add in all our streaming services and our monthly bills skyrocketed.

That’s why I was intrigued by T-Mobile’s Home Internet Gateway. On its face, the service seems too good to be true:

  • No cost for the device
  • $60/month if you sign up for autopay
  • Unlimited data
  • Download speeds between 50-100 Mbps

How would the device hold up in a data-heavy home where streaming video runs nearly 14 hours a day? Here’s what we found.

Getting Started

The first step is to determine whether you’re eligible for the service. You’ll enter your phone and home address here. T-Mobile says 30 million U.S. homes are eligible.

Once you’ve left your information, you wait for a T-Mobile representative to call you. When this happened for us, my iPhone noted the caller ID as “Potential Spam,” which immediately put me on edge. The operator eventually asked for my Social Security number and my driver’s license number, so I became even more alarmed. (This is allegedly needed for a credit check.) I reluctantly shared my information after the operator verified her identity by emailing me directly from T-Mobile.com. But this was an incredibly invasive and unpleasant start.

Once my order had gone through, the operator told me I would receive my device within five business days. Incredibly, it arrived in 48 hours.

Setting Up

The device itself is fairly simple to set up. You’ll download the T-Mobile Home Internet App and follow a few steps to get started. Use your phone’s camera to scan the QR code on the bottom of the unit, and the app should guide you through without much trouble.

The device has a small touch screen window on the top that turns on as soon as you plug in the unit. Much like a cell phone, it eventually changes to display your signal strength.

Within the app, you’ll give your network a name and password, then change your administrator password.

From there, you should be up and running. To test the service before I killed off Comcast, I pulled up a 4K movie from Disney+ and let it play for a while. Everything seemed fine and I happily told Comcast where they could cram their data cap.

Performance Highs and Lows

When the service works, you wouldn’t know it was any different from any other ISP. Even 4K video streams smoothly. You can have multiple devices connected with no noticeable service issues.

However…

The service does not always work well. In fact, service drops entirely twice a day. The outages last between 3-10 minutes. It occurs at random and doesn’t seem to be triggered by any specific action on our part. (The Wi-Fi has dropped whether we’re browsing on one cell phone or whether we’re using two computers, two phones, and an Apple TV simultaneously.)

Also frustrating, the speeds available can sometimes drop significantly, so you get to relive the days of dial-up internet when a website loads text first, and then you can grab some coffee while the images load. As you can see from our speed tests, the numbers are all over the place.

My download speeds have as low as 19 Mbps and as high as 88 Mbps. My upload speeds ranged from 5-53 Mbps.

As you stream video, you may notice your movies or shows occasionally turn pixelated as the data becomes constrained. While streaming a 4K Disney+ video to test the service, we also encountered buffering. Again, this doesn’t always happen, but it’s frustrating when it does.

Also important for some cord-cutters: the device is not currently compatible with Hulu Live TV.

Troubleshooting

To troubleshoot these issues, we reached out to T-Mobile. First, we contacted them by phone. On Sunday night, we were put on hold for two hours before an operator could speak to us. Yes, two hours.

During this wait, we reached out to the company by Twitter and their agents there were significantly more responsive. We will say that T-Mobile’s customer service team is incredibly friendly, no matter how you contact them.

As you might expect, the customer service team tries to ascertain whether the issue is user error or equipment-related. I allegedly live close to a T-Mobile tower, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Since the service dies regardless of our usage, that makes it difficult to pin down. More baffling, there are times when the service cuts out and I’ll run to the gateway device and it still shows three bars of service. The app, however, will show that there is no internet connection.

The company has allegedly created a “trouble ticket,” so we’ll see what their engineers say.

Another frustration, to access your T-Mobile account, you need a T-Mobile ID. But there’s a problem with that, according to the T-Mobile rep I messaged on Twitter:

“Home Internet customers without a voice line prior to March 20, 2020 cannot set up a T-Mobile ID if they did not already establish one before that date. A solution will be in place on April 21 to resolve the issue moving forward. Those impacted are still receiving the legacy notification experience (paper bill statement with service notifications sent to Wi-Fi Gateway). Based on these details, it’s not allowing you to register since there was not a voice line with a T-Mobile ID prior to 03/20/2020 but the fix is set to go live on the 20th of this month. At that time you will be able to successfully register for your MyTmobile account online.”

Verdict

Just as you may encounter cellular disruption depending on your location or usage in your area, the same issues apply to the T-Mobile Home Internet Gateway. Your success with the device probably depends largely on some factors you can’t control.

When the service works, it’s a godsend. The fact that we haven’t gone 24 hours without a service disruption is a major red flag. It’s possible T-Mobile is still working out the kinks. In fact, as I was finishing this article, my service dropped again.

That said, if you’re okay with occasional drops in Wi-Fi service, $60/month is hard to beat when you’re looking to move past the barbaric notion of a data cap.

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