4G Home Internet: What you need to know before you buy

With so many providers offering so many options for Internet connectivity these days, it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. With the need to stay connected to family, friends, work, and all that's going on around us, we want to ensure that we have the best way to stay connected to our individual worlds and all that happens within them.

But with so many options, how do we find the best suited for our individual needs?

In this article we will look at the 4G home internet options offered by four of the top providers, as well as how they compare to cable and DSL services. While most 4G providers offer similar services, their rates and equipment can be quite different. Let's get started.

AT&T 4G Home Internet Options

AT&T offers 4G home internet through their AT&T Wireless Home Phone and Internet package. As you'll find with most other providers, AT&T's 4G service requires a data plan. The way that they differ here is that they also require users to have a voice plan as well.

This voice plan is a mandatory requirement whether you use their phone service or not and costs about $20/mo in addition to the cost of the data plan.

AT&T's data plans differ in size and cost to better accommodate what the user may need. As of this writing, these plans start at 10GB/mo for $60/mo, 20GB/mo for $90/mo, and 30GB/mo for $120/mo.

Download speeds with this option range from 5-12 Mbps but are dependent on a number of factors including how many devices are using the service.

There is also a $10 charge per 1GB of data used that exceeds the monthly data allowance. This particular service allows for the use of 10 Wi-Fi devices and one hardwired device (Ethernet) simultaneously.

One last note about the AT&T option is that the equipment can be purchased online or at one of their stores for around $99 unless you opt for the two-year contract, in which case the equipment would be free. This equipment is also self installed, so there would be no need to schedule an appointment for an installer to come to your home.

Verizon 4G Home Internet Options

Verizon offers a 4G home internet option with their Home Fusion package.

Verizon's Home Fusion option is similar to AT&T's Wireless Home Phone and Internet option in a number of ways, but also differs slightly in some.

The data plan pricing is similar in amounts, (10, 20, and 30GB per month at $60, $90, and $120 per month respectively).

Where it differs is that Verizon does not require a voice plan as AT&T does, which already makes this option twenty dollars less per month. Verizon also offers a protection plan covering the equipment for a monthly cost of $6.99.

This option's download speeds are also the same at 5-12 Mbps with upload speeds of 2-5 Mbps but they differ again in that Verizon's equipment and plans allow for the use of over 20 Wi-Fi devices and up to 4 hardwired connections simultaneously.

Another area where Verizon differs is that their equipment requires professional installation. The user would need to schedule an appointment for an installer to come out and install the equipment which includes an exterior antenna mounted to the side of the home.

It should be noted that if the customer ever decides to cancel this service, the installer does not come back for the exterior antenna, it is simply left there the same way most satellite companies do with their equipment, should the customer ever change their mind and want to return to that service provider.

T-Mobile 4G Home Internet Options

Here is where we start to see a bigger difference among the providers. T-Mobile does not offer a home internet option. Rather, they offer a mobile hotspot device that can be used in the home or anywhere the mobile hotspot device is taken.

This device can be utilized by any Wi-Fi device but does not offer a hardwired connection option. Instead, should the user want to use the mobile hotspot for their PC or other hardwired device, they would need to purchase a Wi-Fi USB in order to connect.

This is simply a device that plugs into a USB port and acts as a Wi-Fi antenna. The cost for T-Mobile's mobile hotspot device is, $0 up front (for customers with good to excellent credit) or $60 up front (for those who may be trying to build their credit up).

Another big difference with T-Mobile is their data plans. These plans start at 1GB per month for $10, 3GB for $20 per month all the way up to 21GB for $120 per month. To give an idea of what you are able to do with 1GB per month, T-Mobile estimates users being able to post 1 photo or video per day, send or receive 15 emails per day, and view up to 15 web pages a day.

T-Mobile requires only a data plan to use this option but customers do get 1GB free per month should they opt for a voice plan as well. One last note about T-Mobile is that they do not charge for overages. Regardless of the data plan the user chooses, T-Mobile advertises $0 overages.

Sprint 4G Home Internet Options

The last of the Big 4 is Sprint. Sprint is similar to T-Mobile in that they do not offer a home internet option either. They too offer the mobile hotspot device which ranges in price from free with a two year agreement to $49.99 with a two year agreement.

Their device is compatible with Wi-Fi devices only (unless you use the aforementioned USB Wi-Fi antenna). As with T-Mobile, there is no installation as the device is mobile and travels with the user.

Sprint's data plans begin at $34.99 per month for 3GB of data, $49.99 per month for 6GB of data, and $79.99 per month for 12 GB and offer an additional 100mb to 300mb for off network roaming depending on the plan you choose.

Overage charges include $.05 per MB if the customer stays on the Sprint network and $.25 per MB if the customer is off network.

Sprint also requires only a data plan to use their 4G service, no voice plan is required and, as the device is mobile, no installation is necessary. The alternatives to these 4G options for home internet include: cable, DSL, and satellite.

Alternative: Satellite Home Internet Option

The satellite option is one of the more expensive options in terms of what you pay for and what you get and is geared towards those who live outside the coverage areas of cable, DSL, and 4G providers.

For this option, the user would need a satellite dish installed (a fee that could range between $150-$225) just for internet access and, just as with satellite t.v., this option could be susceptible to inclement weather causing the user to lose service during those times.

Satellite internet users also report download speeds of only 700kbps. That's a lot slower than the 5-12 Mbps and higher speeds offered by 4G, cable, and DSL competitors.

Satellite internet users have also reported compatibility issues and dismal upload speeds (a deal breaker for online gamers) as well.

Alternative: DSL Home Internet Option

DSL, or direct subscriber line, is a viable option for many and in some ways is similar to cable.

However, where cable internet provides service through existing cable lines, DSL provides service through telephone lines.

Those considering this option should know it may not be available in more remote areas (as satellite is) and the farther you are away from the subscriber, the slower the speed of service would be.

On the plus side, subscribers can choose between varying speed and prices based on the plan they choose, this option is faster than dial-up, and both internet and phone could be accessed at the same time.


Alternative: Cable Home Internet Option

As one of the most popular choices out there, cable offers faster speeds (both upload and download) than most competitors.

The connection with cable internet is through the very same connections used for cable TV which means there is a constant connection to the internet and no need to "dial up" whenever you need to get online.

Another plus is that cable internet supports online activities such as gaming, resulting in a far better experience for the user. The cable option does not suffer from loss of speed the farther you are away from the provider's location as DSL does and is most often not susceptible to inclement weather as satellite is.

However, cable may also not be available in more remote areas and, depending on the provider, could be a bit more expensive than some other options. Cable, satellite, and DSL have a number of providers and plans to choose from and vary greatly depending on location.

If one of these were the option to choose, the next step would be to see which cable, satellite, or DSL providers are available in that area to get more accurate information on pricing. One final note about cable; when speaking with a customer care representative from one of the 4G providers, she put it to me like this, 4G is better for browsing, e-mails, and low data gaming (i.e. apps) but for unlimited home internet, cable is the better option to go with.

As you can see, each provider has their own unique features. As consumers, we need to ask ourselves what our individual needs are. If you spend more time on the Internet via tablets or phones, or while away from home, 4G may be the better option. If most of your online time is spent at home on a PC, then cable may be the choice for you.

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