Stationary 5G is great, but it isn't ready for all business and office environments

It's fast, and reports say it's reliable, but stationary 5G isn't for everyone — particularly those who need low-latency connections.

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I live in Louisville, Kentucky, a city whose infrastructure quality varies vastly from neighborhood to neighborhood. When I moved in early 2020, I went from living on a street with AT&T Fiber to a new house only a few miles away, but with only a single option for wired internet: The local cable giant. 

My internet service isn't good. It slows to a crawl at certain times of day, my connection nosedives when two computers are trying to stream video at the same time and I'm forced to reboot my modem far more frequently than I'd like to. My search for an alternative led me to stationary 5G internet, which providers like Verizon and T-Mobile have recently started offering to homes and businesses. I kept it for less than a day.

SEE: Edge computing adoption to increase through 2026; organizations cautious about adding 5G to the mix (TechRepublic Premium)

My tale is a cautionary one that applies to more than just internet service: Make sure you look fully before you leap into any new technology; luckily I didn't cancel my other internet before getting 5G. The connection itself wasn't bad, though it was hard to find a good spot in the house where the modem could get a strong signal without sacrificing coverage. I was pleased with the speed too, but it was something besides that which led to me quickly pulling the plug: Latency. 

I game a lot, and cloud gaming has become my go-to since silicon prices have skyrocketed and my old desktop died. Ultra-low latency is required for online gaming, and my 5G connection was simply incapable of delivering. It's probably not just my 5G connection, either.

5G latency: Not just a gamer problem

Latency is the time it takes for an internet packet (the bit of data you're transmitting) to reach its destination and for the destination to send your response in the form of a new packet. For many types of connections, this can take between 5 and 40 milliseconds, while the average 4G/LTE cellular connection has a latency of roughly 200 to 600 milliseconds. 

For gaming, the goal is a latency below 200 ms, with the goal being as close to zero as possible (my current home connection has really good latency — usually between 18-20ms). For perspective, it takes a human around 13 milliseconds to perceive something in its field of vision, we can hear just one millisecond of difference in sound, and anything above 200 ms is usually fairly noticeable on a computer (speech mismatch, screen tearing, images catching up, etc.).

Latency is an important statistic for any kind of computing that requires near-instant response time, and 5G has been described as the vehicle by which we'll reach those sorts of speeds on a reliable basis, with some predictions saying 5G latency could be as low as one milliisecond. As Forbes contributor Bob O'Donnell points out, 5G hasn't delivered on that promise yet.

"One of the promises of 5G is that it's supposed to reduce latency times down to 1 millisecond, which, at first glance, certainly sounds impressive. As with many aspects of 5G, however, it turns out the full story isn't quite that simple," O'Donnell said. 

5G networks contain the technology to accomplish that goal, O'Donnell said, but he points out a lot of shortcomings in current network architecture that hinder its potential. The problem is the network core, O'Donnell said, which is still built on 4G technology. When your 5G signal reaches a tower it still has to go out to the rest of the network on a 4G connection. Replacing the core, O'Donnell said, is still several years away. 

Laboratory conditions, O'Donnell also said, hardly represent things out in the real world, where hills, valleys, weather and distance all play a part in signal quality. "While final numbers will depend on real-world deployments, my understanding in speaking with 5G network experts from companies like Qualcomm, National Instruments, AT&T, T-Mobile and others is that numbers in the 10-12 millisecond range are much more likely than 1-2 milliseconds," O'Donnell said. 

In short, if you rely on the low latency of a wired connection, need to remotely control something in near-real time, or need to be able to turn your tech on a dime, stick to the old-fashioned cables and wires of yesteryear. 

What do businesses think about stationary 5G?

Latency is just one issue with 5G. It's a big one, but it isn't one that will affect everybody or every business. Many don't need a low-latency connection, so the average home office worker or small business could probably benefit from stationary 5G service.

Look no further than adoption statistics to see that latency issues aren't slowing 5G's rapid spread. Businesses of all types are adopting stationary 5G, and employees in a wide variety of industries are reporting success. 

Phil Pearce, analytics director and founder of MeasureMinds Group, said home 5G connections became common for his company in the wake of COVID-19. "Some of the staff have been using stationary 5G in their home offices for well over a year. [It's] proven incredibly helpful for remote workers that live alternatively, like one of our employees that lives on a boat," Pearce said. 

Pearce said that 5G hasn't been a problem for large data either, and regularly outperforms broadband in similar uses. He said the service has cut out at times, which has been frustrating, but overall said 5G has "a proven track record of incredibly high download and upload speeds, is affordable and allows people living alternatively to still be able to contribute to the team."

Heather Welch, resource manager at Ukulele Tabs, has a similar experience with stationary 5G service. The IT team, she said, hasn't been thrilled with the fact that the connection isn't consistent and regularly switches between 4G and 5G. 

Despite that, "we now enjoy faster internet speed and no longer waste precious minutes waiting for a page or file to download," Welch said. "Personally, I'd advise companies to switch to 5G as early as possible." 

How to ensure you have a good stationary 5G experience

We're still in the early days of fixed-location 5G service, and its far from a universally-available product. T-Mobile and Verizon both offer stationary 5G service for businesses, but in limited markets. Be sure to check with both providers to see if either is in your area.

Don't leap into fixed-location 5G quickly, either. Do your research as to service reliability in your area and be sure to consult 5G maps to see how close to the edge of a coverage zone you're in. It's also a good idea to look at a website like Down Detector, which has historic outage records that can help clue you in to whether you're in an area with bad service. 

SEE: 5G: What it means for edge computing (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Positioning of a fixed 5G modem can be tricky too, and can have a huge impact on performance. The space it's in has to be in view of a window that, in turn, is a good spot for 5G signal strength. As I mentioned above, finding that space can be trickier than you may think, with the end result being that the unit, which is roughly the size of a two-liter bottle, is in a very inconvenient space. 

Figuring out whether there's a good space for the 5G modem is only possible after signing up for service and getting the hardware, which means you should look for a plan with an easy out if you end up not liking the service or it not being practical for your needs.

Both T-Mobile and Verizon's business 5G plans are contract-free, which means a trial period shouldn't be a problem if you're in a coverage zone. As was the case when I returned mine, I wasn't out anything but my time when I realized it wasn't suited to my needs. Hopefully your experience will be a better one. 

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