Mobile 5G vs Fixed 5G

What's the difference between mobile 5G and fixed wireless access 5G?

Illustration of a worldwide network

5G is available in two forms: as a mobile service (Mobile 5G) that you can access via your phone from anywhere with proper coverage, and as a fixed service (Fixed Wireless Access / FWA 5G) that works in one place only. There are benefits and disadvantages to each.

Mobile 5G

  • Works when you leave home

  • Could provide 5G internet to other devices on the go

  • No hardware installation is necessary

FWA 5G

  • All your devices get 5G, including computers

  • Provides a reliable connection

  • More likely to offer unlimited data usage

At the end of the day, a mobile network and a fixed wireless access (FWA) network do exactly the same thing: provide access to the internet. However, like we discussed already above, the difference is that one of them lets you reach the internet from your phone while you're out and about, while the other is only useful if you need internet at one place, like at home.

Not all ISPs offer the same kind of 5G access, so knowing how they differ is important when choosing which provider to go with. Of course before getting that far, deciding how you want to take advantage of 5G service is important: do you want 5G-powered Wi-Fi at home and/or are you just interested in super-fast mobile access?

Mobile 5G Pros and Cons

Advantages

  • Access to the mobile network's entire coverage area

  • Easy setup: Buy a mobile device and connect it to a provider with a 5G plan

Disadvantages

  • It's easy to get charged overage fees for too much data usage

  • You could experience poor coverage in some areas

Accessing a 5G network anywhere you go might be exactly what you’re after. You could ultimately use your smartphone, tablet, smartwatch, etc, while you’re in a car, outside the range of your home Wi-Fi, or anywhere else you can get a decent signal.

Relying on a mobile network to deliver 5G is great when it comes to mobility (obviously) but probably not so great for reliability or cost.

5G isn’t much different from older mobile technologies like 4G when it comes to coverage reliability. You might get perfect service one place but spotty coverage, or total lack of coverage, a few minutes later when you move somewhere else.

On top of that, mobile 5G will most likely result in high phone bills or force carriers to offer ultra-large or even unlimited data plans. Of course, an unlimited data plan is nothing to complain about, but if you end up with a limited data plan, you might find that due to the speed at which you can access data, you’ll consume a lot doing things like playing VR games, streaming videos, using AR apps, and browsing the web.

Fixed Wireless Access 5G Pros and Cons

Advantages

  • Fast, 5G-based Wi-Fi access throughout your house

  • A dedicated signal from a nearby 5G cell

Disadvantages

  • Signal is lost the moment you leave

  • Special hardware is required

Fixed wireless access has the major benefit over mobile 5G of reliability. When you’re in one location, you’re much more likely to receive constant coverage because there aren’t as many moving parts that could interfere with the signal.

Another aspect of FWA that makes it outperform mobile access is when it comes to using multiple devices at once. When you’re at home with 5G internet, every device in your house can communicate via Wi-Fi with the router to access the fast connection provided to the 5G modem from the closest 5G cell tower. Mobile 5G doesn't offer that same ability, at least not easily.

For example, if a family wants to run an Xbox, multiple laptops, several smartphones, some smart TVs, and other devices on a 5G network but all they have access to is a smartphone that can reach a mobile 5G network, then that device has to be converted into a hotspot to feed internet to the other devices. When the phone leaves the vicinity, all of those devices will lose access to the internet.

Compared to mobile 5G, a FWA 5G plan is also more likely to allow unlimited data usage. Most ISPs don’t cap data usage for at-home connections like they do with some mobile connections. If multiple devices need access to the 5G network, you’d be way better off getting an unlimited at-home 5G service than a mobile one.

Another advantage over a mobile 5G plan is when accessing the internet indoors. Mobile coverage isn’t always great indoors, even if you use a 5G hotspot with your mobile 5G connection. However, in a FWA setup, the 5G connection is really only between the modem and the tower, which is fine tuned during installation. The great coverage in the house is Wi-Fi, or even wired, just like you're probably used to.

However, with 5G fixed wireless access, you can't just buy a device and be done like you can when using a phone on a mobile network. Instead, a special modem and antenna must be installed either on the outside or inside of your house in order to receive 5G service from the nearest cell. Additionally, like with any home internet service, you'll also need a router, potentially a new one that can take full advantage of the fast connection.

Do You Have to Choose?

If you can't decide whether to get a 5G fixed wireless connection at home, one thing you can do is use a 5G mobile hotspot. A device like this connects to a mobile network like a phone does, but can also create it's own Wi-Fi network so that other devices in the vicinity can take advantage of the connection as well.

For example, with a 5G mobile hotspot, you could connect your gaming consoles, computers, tablets, phones, etc., to the 5G network you subscribe to but without having to set up a true FWA system at your house. Any wireless device in your home that's currently on Wi-Fi can connect to a hotspot.

That said, the disadvantages we mentioned above for mobile 5G apply to a hotspot, too. However, if you're lucky enough to get clear service inside your house and are on an unlimited plan, then going with a 5G hotspot is much like setting up your own 5G FWA system but without the installation hassle or extra hardware and antenna costs.

How to Get Mobile or FWA 5G

There currently aren’t any live mobile 5G networks that consumers can access, partly because there are no 5G smartphones on the market just yet. However, many mobile carriers are planning to release mobile 5G service in late 2018 and 2019; AT&T and Verizon are two examples.

Verizon is currently the only company offering fixed wireless access 5G in the United States. It’s called Verizon 5G Home and is limited right now to just a handful of locations.

See when 5G will roll out to the US for more information on the progress carriers are making to release both mobile 5G plans and FWA 5G plans. If you’re not in the US, check out our 5G Availability Around the World piece.