T-Mobile 5G Home Internet Gateway Review: Decent Hardware, Limited Software

7 min read

T-Mobile’s new 5G Home Internet Gateway has finally arrived, and with it, a moderate expansion of their Home Internet service offering. The new device is a custom version of the Nokia FastMile and offers both LTE and 5G network connectivity.

In a country where many millions of people only have access to one internet provider, often a cable monopoly, it’s nice to finally see some competition, especially in rural areas.

The new gateway is decently made, however, there are quite a few limitations in the features department. Here’s how the new T-Mobile 5G Gateway holds up.

About The Size of a Small Trashcan
The Good Stuff
  • 5G Capable
  • Strong Internal Antennas
  • Easy to Setup
  • Handy Touchscreen
  • WiFi 6
  • Support For Up To 128 Devices
  • Great Speeds In Good Coverage Areas
  • Price
The Bad Stuff
  • No Bridge Mode
  • No Port Forwarding
  • No Custom DNS or IP Settings
  • No uPNP
  • Issues Using Some VPNs
  • No External Antenna Connections
  • Only 2 LAN Ports

Hardware

Right off the bat, the device feels relatively premium. It sports a silver matte finish and an elevated base for ventilation. The interactive touchscreen on top feels sleek and futuristic, with options to see things like signal strength, battery charge level, connected devices, and even text messages sent to the device like two-factor authentication codes. Overall the device is not offensive to look at, though I can’t help wondering what a nice matte black finish would look like on this thing.

T-Mobile 5G Gateway Base
The Gateway’s Elevated Base for Ventilation

Around back are the usual array of ports plus a few less common ones. There’s your typical LAN ports for connecting hardwired devices, a (currently disabled) telephone jack, a USB-C port (presumably for debugging purposes), and a connection for an external UPS device. The device uses a barrel-jack power connector that uses a 12v DC adapter at 4 amps. There’s also a handy power button (which not all routers offer, annoyingly) and of course a reset pinhole. The sim card tray is located on the bottom of the device underneath a slot cover secured by a screw.

Having only 2 LAN ports on a modern routing device nowadays is a bit disappointing, although the previous Askey LTE gateway also only had 2 ports. If you’re planning on getting T-Mobile Home Internet service, it’s worth keeping in mind that you may need to add a network switch to your setup.

T-Mobile 5G Gateway Display
Signal Strength Displayed on the Touchscreen

The telephone jack is also pretty interesting. The previous model Askey device also had a disabled telephone jack as well. T-Mobile currently offers a sort of home phone service via their LineLink device which essentially turns a cellular phone line connection into a home phone jack. It would be convenient for a number of customers if T-Mobile decides to offer LineLink services through the 5G gateway at some point in the future.

T-Mobile 5G Gateway Ports
A Small Buffet of Ports

It’s a real shame that the device has no external antenna connections. This matches what the Askey LTE device offered as well, but was a big complaint among users of that device. You are therefore forced to place the device where the best signal is, not where you want it. That being said, the internal antennas on this device are quite good and appear to be able to pick up signal from quite a distance from the tower in some areas.

There’s also a 5000 mAh battery inside the unit. This allows you to walk the device around your home during setup and use the top touchscreen to find the strongest signal. Unfortunately the device does not actually allow WiFi or wired connections while on battery power.

The main UI mentions mesh network compatibility, too. A T-Mobile branded mesh node was spotted passing through the FCC recently, so it seems at some point in the near future T-Mobile will directly provide mesh nodes to Home Internet customers.

As for the WiFi specs, the WiFi provided by the 5G Home Internet Gateway is quite modern. It features dual-band WiFi 6 (802.11AX) with beamforming and band steering technology. It offers up to 4 separate SSIDs per radio too, if desired. By default, the device has a single SSID, with band steering automatically moving your device between the 2.4GHz and the two 5GHz (high and low) frequencies. It also sports Multi-User MIMO which allows for more capacity as new devices connect using the WiFi 6 standard.

Software

The setup process is pretty simple. Install the app, scan the QR code on the bottom of the device, do some basic setup, and you’re off. Unfortunately, that’s where the device’s limitations begin to show.

The Main UI on Desktop

The firmware of the device is incredibly limited. Basic creature comforts like port forwarding and a bridge mode toggle are nowhere to be found, nor are settings to set static LAN IPs or custom DNS. From what I can tell there’s no uPNP either, which, along with the lack of port forwarding, may cause issues for gaming. Apparently, T-Mobile’s Home Internet uses CGNAT, which may preclude the possibility of many of these features being added in the future.

These features were on the previous Askey device, but apparently were not actually functional due to the aforementioned CGNAT. That being said, according to a few sources, the new 5G Gateway began to go out much sooner than planned due to a massive shortage of the LTE Askey model, though T-Mobile has not officially stated as such.

There’s also an issue with VPNs. Many users across Reddit have reported issues using their workplace VPN networks and even standard internet VPNs like NordVPN, with issues like super slow speeds and completely failed connections through the VPN tunnel. Some speculate this is an issue with the fact that many VPNs are IPv4 only and the Gateway is an IPv6 device. It’s unclear the exact cause for these issues, but it’s worth noting if you’re a potential future customer.

There are rumors that new firmware is coming soon. We’ll post here on the site if and when that happens, though it’s unclear if any of these issues will (or even can) be fixed.

Other than those flaws, the UI of the main interface isn’t too bad. It offers an easy way to see the cellular signal strengths, number of devices connected, and data usage at a glance.

The device connects to an LTE band as it’s primary signal and a 5G band for it’s secondary signal. As far as I can tell there is currently no carrier aggregation on either LTE or 5G, so whatever 2 bands you connect to is what you get. Therefore I believe the best signals would be a band 4/66 LTE connection and an n41 5G connection. The status page offers up which bands you’re connected to at any given time.

Status Page Showing Connected Bands

Other pages include a Statistics page for port status and total data transfer for each connection, a Network page to setup your WiFi connections, and a System tab for triggering a reboot or factory reset, changing your admin password, and manually upgrading the firmware via file upload.

How To Get It

T-Mobile is accepting Home Internet signups from a variety of locations across the US. To check availability, visit their website here. Even if it’s not available in your area you can sign up to be notified when it is. Some customers say that T-Mobile called to offer the service to them even in areas where the website said it was not available, so if you’re interested definitely fill out the contact form. If you are not already a T-Mobile customer you will be set up with a new T-Mobile account which does requires a credit check. Existing customers will have the service added to their existing account.

T-Mobile’s Home Internet service is a flat $50/mo. All taxes and fees are included. This alone makes it worth looking into for many typical cable customers. You can find more details at this link.

Speeds will vary greatly depending on the coverage in your area. If you have great signal on the new n41 5G band you could easily reach speeds of 200Mbps+. T-Mobile states that most customers should expect speeds of at least 25Mbps download. The great thing about T-Mobile’s offering is no matter what speeds you get, you always pay the flat $50/mo.

If you’re an existing T-Mobile Home Internet customer with the Askey modem you can fill out a form here to sign up to receive the new 5G gateway. Just keep in mind the current limitations of the device before switching.

Verdict

The Home Internet service itself is fantastic if you live in a decent coverage area. Rural customers with no other options will especially love the service, offering both higher speeds and lower pings than other providers like ViaSat. If you’re in the middle of nowhere with 3Mbps DSL or 250ms ping satellite internet, definitely give T-Mobile Home Internet a look.

The new 5G Gateway from T-Mobile is overall a well-designed device, but the firmware issues are a huge issue, and potentially a non-starter for those that need ports forwarded or reliable VPN usage. If those issues don’t matter, or if you believe (as I do) that these features will be added in a future firmware update, I can highly recommend the new 5G gateway.

Cellular-based home internet offerings like this are finally beginning to offer some competition to the cable provider monopolies. I’m looking forward to the day Spectrum and Comcast have to lower their prices to finally compete.

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