Alternatives to traditional wired home internet connections have recently gotten a lot of attention in the media. Millions of people are annoyed by their current internet service provider and looking for any alternatives that might exist. Additionally there are many regions that lack access to wired home broadband of respectable quality or at all. For many people living in more remote locations their only option right now is a relatively low speed DSL connection or a satellite connection from a legacy provider such as HughesNet or Viasat. These connections often max out at less than 15 Mbps of download speed and 1 Mbps of upload speed.
Satellite internet technology utilizing low earth orbit satellites, along with 5th generation cellular technology (5G) are now promising to offer an alternative to traditional internet service providers such as Verizon Fios, AT&T Fiber, Spectrum, and Comcast (Xfinity).
SpaceX’s Starlink internet service launched its public beta testing program in October of 2020. Elon Musk’s much anticipated tech startup took the world by storm with its “Better Than Nothing” Beta launch. Starlink aims to provide high speed internet service that is available across the entire earth, including extreme rural areas that lack access to broadband presently.
Starlink left the beta stage in October of 2021 and continues to expand its coverage area with the frequent launch of additional low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. They currently have a long waitlist to get signed up for service.
Verizon and T-Mobile are currently the largest players in the 5G home internet market. Both companies offer 5G fixed wireless broadband service that uses cell phone towers to provide home broadband distributed through a carrier provided Wi-Fi gateway.
Verizon is currently more focused on urban deployments using millimeter wave ultrawideband technology. This gives Verizon a clear edge when it comes to speed (bandwidth). T-Mobile is currently more focused on offering its 5G home internet service in as many areas as they have the tower capacity to support. This means that T-Mobile 5G home internet is currently available in more locations.
Many reports show that people living in the United States are interested in both Starlink and 5G network connectivity as potential home internet solutions. Some reports show that interest in Starlink is far greater than in 5G wireless. The combination of exciting space launches and the overall popularity of Elon Musk makes Starlink appear as the more exciting / innovative option. Starlink is more fashionable than cellular.
Starlink vs 5G: Will Either Be a Better Home Internet Service
For most people the answer will be probably not. The deck is really stacked heavily against both technologies ever outperforming traditional Cable and Fiber based internet connections. Despite all the hype that surrounds 5G and Starlink, most people are going to be better off with a traditional broadband internet connection for a number of reasons.
5G towers are a shared resource fighting over a sliver of RF spectrum that carriers have licensed from the FCC. Wireless signals are also much more susceptible to interference from other sources than light traveling through fiber. This means that in real world conditions, 5G speeds almost never look like anything close to the theoretical speeds seen under lab conditions. In most cases. a properly set up cable or fiber network will offer consistently fast speeds that beat out real world 5G speeds 99+% of the time.
Starlink has the added complexity of line of sight requirements. In order to connect to a satellite your Starlink dish needs an unobstructed view of the sky. Starlink makes this relatively easy using the Starlink app. However Starlink will always susceptible to anything that can block this line of sight. This means that stability could be an issue for many people, and random drops are always a possibility.
Technology is rapidly improving on the wireless side of things, Starlink and 5G are no exceptions. We tend to hear about these developments as they often get lots of media attention. What many of us don’t realize is that technology is also improving on the traditional wired side of things. Comcast has recently successfully tested of a 4Gbps symmetrical internet service and 10 gig fiber is on the doorstep.
Starlink and 5G wireless will be best suited to people that lack access to cable or fiber based internet. The wireless nature of these technologies make them suitable for rural deployments. Starlink has the definite leg up here. 5G requires you to be within range of a cell phone tower. In most places that you can get a decent 5G cellular signal, you will have access to cable or fiber based options. Starlink can literally work in the middle of nowhere. Set up the dish with a clear line of sight to the sky and you have high speed internet. For this reason I believe that Starlink is going to be useful to more people as a home broadband service.
Starlink vs 5G: Which is Faster
Theoretical speeds are higher for 5G internet. In lab conditions 5G service using millimeter wave technology can easily reach gigabit speeds. Bandwidth in the millimeter wave spectrum is simply much greater than in the lower frequency bands. Real world speeds with 5G usually fall short by a significant margin. This is typical with most wireless technologies. Real world speeds of 300 Mbps is about average in millimeter wave coverage areas.
Our testing and research in non millimeter wave areas showed download speeds typically in the 40 – 80 Mbps range most of the time. Sometimes during peak hours speeds would be significantly slower. During off peak hours we would occasionally see speeds of over 200 Mbps. Generally Verizon 5G home internet was faster than T-Mobile 5G home internet but not in all cases.
Upload speeds ranged from about 5 Mpbs or less during peak hours to 25 Mbps during the middle of the night, Verizon was faster on average than T-Mobile but not by that much.
Starlink currently averages between about 80 Mbps and 150 Mbps of download speed. This is significantly higher than most DSL plans, and other satellite internet providers which typically top out at about 20 Mbps. Starlink says they expect these speeds to increase as more LEO satellites are launched into orbit. When compared to 5G, Starlink is roughly on par for download and upload performance.
Neither Starlink nor 5G in most current real world deployments can match the speeds seen with a gigabit cable or fiber based internet connection. Stalink and 5G may get faster over time, but so will fiber and cable internet. 10 gigabit fiber is already in widespread use for commercial applications such as in data centers. It would require relatively little investment for fiber based internet service providers to offer multigigabit speeds. Cable based connections are also going to easily reach multigigabit speeds with the release of the DOCSIS 4.0 standard.
Starlink vs 5G: Which is More Reliable / Stable
At the present time, both services have issues with stability and reliability. Starlink has drops that can range from seconds to minutes that occur daily. This will become less of an issue as more satellites get launched into low earth orbit. It will also depend greatly on the customers location and their ability to get an unobstructed view of the sky for their dish.
latency with Starlink is generally in the 40 – 70 ms range which is similar to DSL and some underperforming cable internet connections. This is low enough for most online games to play relatively smoothly. It is also low enough for remote working using applications such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and for VoIP. The bigger issue with Starlink is the drops that last from a few seconds to a few minutes. This would kick you from a gaming match or disconnect a Zoom meeting.
5G is better in terms of reliability. It is less common with 5G home internet to get completely disconnected as frequently occurs with Starlink. The issue with 5G is the latency and stability of the connection. Ping spikes are all over the place on both Verizon and T-Mobile home internet services ranging from 70 ms up to 500+ ms and everywhere in between. This is not suitable for online gaming, working from home, or any other latency sensitive applications such as VoIP. Jitter and packet loss are also common issues with 5G based home internet.
This is not surprising. If you have ever tried to game using a mobile hotspot connection, you would know that latency has always been an issue with cellular based internet connections. 5G does not appear to have solved this issue, at least in non millimeter wave areas.
5G home internet bandwidth is often deprioritized by the cell phone carriers when the local tower is congested. Although data is not throttled based on usage, 5G home internet customers data gets sent to the back of the queue when the tower is crowded. Cell phone data users get a higher priority of bandwidth. This is stated in the terms and agreements of most 5G home internet services. This may also explain why ping spikes are a common issue with both 5G home internet services.
If reliable and highly stable internet are critical for you, a traditional broadband service is your best friend. Latency ranging from 5 ms up to about 30 ms is typical for fiber and cable based internet services. If you work from home, run a business from home, use real time communication services at home, or play online games at home, traditional home broadband is likely the best option, assuming it is available at your location. If we had to choose a winner here it would be Starlink. Just remember the better the view of the sky your dish has the less drops you will experience.
Starlink vs 5G: Which is Better for Gaming
Neither service is ideal for gaming. but at least Starlink is usable for gaming. Starlink as it stands right now, offers performance which is good most of the time but unexpected drops are a definitely frustrating to say the least, Starlink says that occasional drops averaging several seconds are to be expected until more satellites are launched to enhance coverage and stability. For gaming these drops are extremely frustrating but fortunately relatively infrequent. latency (ping) with Starlink is generally in the 40 – 70 ms range which is acceptable to most gamers, jitter and packet loss are generally within the acceptable range as well.
With 5G, performance is a complete mixed bag right now. Whether you are using Verizon’s 5G home internet service or T-Mobile’s 5G home internet service, you will frequently experience performance issues when gaming. Some of the time, especially in the middle of the night, performance is decent. The real issue is what performance looks like during peak hours. Online gaming is virtually impossible from 4 PM until after 11 PM most of the time. Latency (ping) frequently spikes to over 300 ms on both 5G home internet services. Verizon’s service was slightly better than T-Mobile’s but not by any meaningful amount.
Another potential downside of using either Starlink or 5G home internet for gaming is the use of CGNAT. Unlike with Comcast, Spectrum, AT&T fiber, and most other traditional internet service providers, you do not get your own dedicated public IP address. With CGNAT you will likely not be able to use port forwarding at all. You also can’t enable bridge mode on your gateway to use your own router.
CGNAT is mainly an issue for people that are looking to get an “Open NAT Type” on a PlayStation or Xbox console. With CGNAT it is not possible to get an Open NAT Type without using a VPN service. In most cases CGNAT will result in an automatic “Strict NAT Type”. This is due to CGNAT creating a double NAT environment.
If you wish to get an Open NAT Type using Starlink or 5G home internet, your best option is using a quality VPN provider. The VPN provider that in my experience works best for gaming is ExpressVPN. They offer servers in North America for optimal performance and also offer servers globally which can be used to access geo-restricted content. ExpressVPN also offers a 30 risk free money back guarantee. If you are not satisfied you do not pay.
Starlink vs 5G: Who Should Consider Which
If you have access to cable or fiber based broadband, you generally have no compelling reason to look at ether of these services, at least for now. You already have a faster, more reliable internet connection, likely for less money.
Assuming you live somewhere that lacks access to faster wired broadband options, you have a few choices to make. If you want the less expensive option and do not play online games, work from home, or use video conferencing / VoIP applications, go with the 5G home internet service from either T-Mobile or Verizon. Choose which ever has better signal in your area.
If your internet needs are more demanding, go with Starlink. Starlink with the exception of a few drops offers pretty solid performance in most cases. Ensure your dish has an unobstructed view of the sky and you will get decent performance and stability. Starlink’s stability will likely increase in the coming years as more satellites are launched.
The home broadband market is desperately in need of some more competition both to reduce costs and to drive the innovation of new technologies. 5G home internet from T-Mobile and Verizon along with Starlink satellite internet are all exciting new options that ultimately give the consumer more choices.