At the end of November, the local council were carrying out some works on the road outside of our house. While they were doing that, our Internet connection went down.
As it turned out, the South Lanarkshire Council had cut the fibre line between our property and the cabinet across the street 😡 and to make matters worse, after speaking with Virgin Business, it was going to be 6-8 weeks before they could repair it.
Scroll down for the tldr
I've been with Virgin (and ntl before them) for well over 20 years now. Their actual product is excellent on the whole but their customer service is an absolute shambles. Worthy of another blog post itself.
I won't go into too much on Virgin here other than to say that when I enquired as to how my business - and to a lesser extent my kids - were going to survive without an Internet connection for 6-8 weeks, their answer suggestion was a 4G hub. Like most people, I'd have expected that 4G hub to have been complimentary given the fault was with their product...albeit caused by South Lanarkshire Council. No. Virgin wanted me on a 2 year contract at £7 per month and then had the cheek to try upsell our mobile phones. Needless to say I cancelled our account the next day.
In the meantime, Sarah and I were tethering to our phones in order to keep working. That didn't solve the kids lack of Internet though and also helped me discover that the 2 older kids had maxed out the data allowance on their phones because the school have been encouraging the kids use their data allowance rather than the school wifi 🙄.
Now, being with Three, our 5G service on our handsets is rock solid for the most part. 180Mbps down and 20Mbps up. Unlimited data, calls and texts for circa £25 isn't a bad deal. That's only just for me though. Sarah's deal is identical. We were paying Virgin Business £56 per month for 300Mbps down and around 16Mbps up.
The older 2 kids aren't on the same network and when we enquired with EE about increasing their data allowance, we'd have been looking at around £50 per month per kid for a fuller data plan. That wasn't going to happen.
It still wasn't going to solve the overall lack of Internet in the house for things like game consoles, smart TVs and the like.
I attempted to see if their was a way other than allowing my phone to act as a hotspot to connect it to our overall home network but it wasn't possible.
It's then that I started to look into 5G sim routers. There are a few of these on the market and they are pricey.
Here's the shortlist I came to
I liked the concept of the Netgear device that it could be used anywhere to create a 5G hotspot (although this was reflected in the price of the hardware) and so I pulled the Amazon trigger.
The device itself was small, a little larger than the size of a beer mat. However the UI and software UX was very slow and clunky. After an hour faffing with settings, it was working using the sim I'd taken from my phone to test with.
Sitting next to the device the speeds were circa 80Mbps down and about 6Mbps. Not bad but not great either. I left the device attached to the Google mesh network and went to test speeds around the house. Unfortunately, despite having the Google mesh network, the speeds across the house were marginally over 2Mbps down (I didn't bother testing the upstream).
I tried running Netflix from our lounge smart TV but the quality was dreadful. My gut told me to cut my losses, return the Netgear and order the Linksys.
The Linksys isn't mobile (I mean I guess it could be with a mobile power pack) and is the size 3 large stacked coffee mugs. The setup was painless, popped my mobile sim card into it, turned it on, saw it was broadcasting a new wifi network and connected in just a few mins.
The speeds were back to what I was getting tethered to my phone (180Mbps down and 20Mbps up) 🚀. The next step was hooking the router up to the Google Mesh which was straightforward.
Again, I ran some tests through the rest of the house. In my office I'm getting circa 50Mbps down and around 25Mpbs up. Tests were conducted with the kids connected to Netflix, YouTube etc. We tried a couple of simultaneous Zoom calls and quality seemed stable. The only problem now was I couldn't use my phone.
After a quick call to Three, I organised a business plan. A 5 sim cards with unlimited data, unlimited calls and unlimited texts (which nobody really uses in 2022) for £45 per month total on a 2 year contract.
By the end of the contract, between hardware and service provision, I'll have spent £1480 on providing internet, mobile internet and phone.
By comparison over the same period, with a fixed line internet connection I'd be paying:
£1344 for just the internet line at the house/office
£2400 for cell phone plans
any potential price increases in a renewal later in the year
ditching fixed line internet is saving us £2264 over the same period.
If you're frustrated at the spiralling cost of broadband or looking for an alternative provider, check with the likes of Three and see if 5G is available in your area, if it is order a PAYG sim to check the speeds available in your area. You'll need a 5G phone handset to check that. You'll pay more initially but over the term, you'll likely to be better off in the longer-term, especially if you have multiple phone handsets.
Three's own 5G broadband hub is ok but then you're paying £21 per month for 1 sim and their router, there are better deals to be had by calling them direct vs online.