Starlink vs. 5G internet

Starlink
Starlink
Price
$120.00–$5,000.00/mo.
Speed
Up to 220Mbps
Equipment costs
$599.00–$2,500.00 (one-time fee)
Verizon
Verizon 5G Home Internet
Price
$60.00–$80.00/mo.** ($35.00-$45.00/mo. w/ Verizon Unlimited Plus)
Speed
Up to 300–1,000Mbps
Equipment costs
None
T-Mobile 5G Home Internet
T-Mobile 5G Home Internet
Price
$50.00/mo.† ($30.00/mo. w/ Go5G Plus or Magenta MAX)
Speed
72Mbps–245Mbps
Equipment costs
None

*Plus hardware, shipping & handling fees, and tax. Fully refundable. Depending on location, some orders may take 2 weeks or more to fulfill.

**w/ Auto Pay. Available in select areas.

†w/ Auto Pay. Regulatory fees included in monthly price for qualified accounts. See full terms.


Dave Schafer
Nov 09, 2023
bullet7 min read

Satellite internet has long been a staple of the rural internet world, and Starlink is the most exciting new provider to pop up in recent years. It promises faster speeds, lower latency, and unlimited data to customers who may not otherwise have access to high-speed internet.

However, with the rise of 5G cellular tech, mobile providers have started to leverage their networks to challenge satellite’s dominance. Using existing towers, cell service providers can offer speedy and extremely affordable broadband to customers across the country, many of whom have no other options.

That brings us to today’s question: Is Starlink or 5G home internet a better option for you? Let’s explore everything you need to know to pick the best internet provider.

What is Starlink?

Starlink is a satellite internet service operated by SpaceX. It uses a large constellation of satellites to beam internet service down to users on Earth. As of this writing, Starlink has well over 4,000 satellites in operation (and may cross the 5,000-satellite mark before long).

Starlink offers a few distinct advantages over other satellite internet providers. First, it’s actually fast: The Residential plan offers speeds up to 100Mbps, while the Business plan cranks the maximum speed up to 220Mbps. This puts it right in line with many cable plans, which is a giant leap up from satellite’s traditionally slow performance.

Starlink also offers unlimited data. This is perhaps the biggest advantage of the service over competing satellite providers like HughesNet and Viasat. In the past, satellite customers have had to either pay huge fees for more data or heavily restrict their usage. Starlink changes this.

Of course, nothing is perfect—including Starlink. We have two major concerns with the service:

  • Price: Starlink is expensive. The unlimited data is a nice perk, but it also means that the starting price of the most affordable plan is $120 per month—that’s a lot for internet. Additionally, Starlink charges for equipment, whereas most other satellite providers don’t. This charge is a one-time, up-front cost of either $599 or $2,500, depending on which hardware package you opt for.
  • Availability: The main selling point of most satellite internet is availability, but Starlink remains frustratingly hard to get. Huge swaths of the Eastern and Central U.S. are currently waitlisted, and the Starlink availability map simply says “Expanding in 2023,” which isn’t particularly helpful.

What is 5G home internet?

5G home internet is the same technology used to provide internet access to smartphones. A wireless gateway picks up the signal from a nearby tower and broadcasts it as a Wi-Fi network in your home.

These types of home internet services first began with 4G LTE networks, although the speeds were slower and the availability much more limited. Home LTE internet provided a reasonable alternative to satellite or DSL in rural areas. However, with the increased speed and bandwidth of 5G, it’s now become a realistic and affordable alternative to other forms of internet even outside of rural locations.

All three major cellular carriers (T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T) offer a 5G home internet service. These plans usually come with hefty discounts if you also have a qualifying cellular plan with the provider. These discounts make 5G home internet extremely compelling, with enough speed for most use cases and a really hard-to-beat price.

Which 5G providers are the best?

Price
Price with qualifying mobile plan
Speed
T-Mobile Home Internet$50.00/mo.*$30.00/mo.72–245Mbps
Verizon 5G Home Internet$60.00–$80.00/mo.*$35.00–$45.00/mo.300–1,000Mbps

*w/ Auto Pay. Available in select areas.

T-Mobile and Verizon provide the most widely available, mature 5G home internet services at this time. AT&T is lagging a fair bit behind in terms of speed and especially availability. Although it’s still a good value, the fact that it’s only available in a handful of large cities makes it tough to recommend.

T-Mobile and Verizon are pretty similar in terms of price and performance. T-Mobile has one plan for $50 per month ($30 with a qualifying cell plan). Verizon offers two plans at $50 or $70 per month ($35 or $45 with qualifying cell plans). That means Verizon has the potential to be more affordable than T-Mobile, but if you want the fastest speeds, it’ll cost a few dollars more per month.

Speaking of speed, it’s worth noting that, while Verizon appears to be faster on paper, real-world performance is about the same. This is because Verizon advertises its theoretical maximum speed, whereas T-Mobile advertises real-world average speeds.

Starlink vs. 5G home internet availability

Starlink is available not only nationwide, but around the world—at least in theory. If you check out the Starlink availability map, you can see that the service is available over a very wide area, including much of the U.S., Mexico, Canada, South America, Europe, Australia, and even a handful of spots in Africa and Asia. However, there are also waitlists in a very large portion of the U.S., including most of the eastern half of the country, which is disappointing.

5G home internet availability varies a bit from provider to provider. T-Mobile offers more or less nationwide coverage with Verizon only slightly behind. AT&T brings up the rear, with coverage in only a handful of major cities. (You can read about them in this press release.)

Starlink vs. 5G home internet speed

Maximum speed
StarlinkUp to 220Mbps
5G home internetUp to 1,000Mbps

Starlink’s plans top out at 220Mbps, but it’s worth noting that this is on the Business plan, which carries both a higher monthly cost and a dramatically higher equipment cost ($2,500!). The Residential plan caps out at 100Mbps—still good for satellite, but less impressive compared to other types of internet. That said, it’ll handle basic web usage and even streaming your favorite shows with ease.

5G home internet speeds can theoretically reach up to 1,000Mbps, though again, this can be misleading. Verizon advertises maximum speeds of 1,000Mbps on its 5G Home Internet Plus package, but these are theoretical—average speeds are more likely to be in the 100–200Mbps range, similar to T-Mobile. This will depend on where you live and the quality of the signal there—people close to urban centers with Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband are much more likely to see the higher speeds.

Starlink vs. 5G home internet latency

Satellite internet is known for having high latency. Starlink is better in this regard, thanks primarily to its LEO (low-Earth orbit) constellation. That said, it’s still a great distance for a signal to travel, so some latency is to be expected.

5G home internet will usually be better in this regard, especially if you’re close to the tower. In fact, low latency was one of the major selling points of 5G when it first hit the market. If you’re a heavy gamer, you may have a better experience with 5G.

Starlink vs. 5G home internet cost

Price
Starlink$120.00–$5,000.00/mo.
5G home internet$50.00–$80.00/mo.

Data as of 11/9/23.

This one’s really no contest—any 5G home internet service is going to be significantly more affordable than Starlink (or any other satellite provider, for that matter). This is especially true if you have a qualifying cell plan with the 5G provider—most offer hefty discounts on the home internet service. Even without that, though, the most expensive 5G internet plan is still going to be cheaper than the cheapest Starlink plan—and with comparable speeds too.

Who should choose Starlink?

Starlink really fills two specific niches: customers who have no other local internet options and customers who need internet access on the go. In either of these scenarios, Starlink is a fantastic choice.

That said, the service does have a couple of shortcomings. First, it’s expensive. The base service is $120 per month with a $599 equipment charge. If you want faster service or the ability to take it on the road, you’ll pay at least $150 per month, and equipment fees can hit a whopping $2,500.

The other major issue we have with Starlink is that it can be hard to get across large portions of the U.S. due to waitlists. In our opinion, the best thing about satellite is the ability to get service anywhere, and these difficulties really put a damper on that.

Who should choose 5G internet?

5G home internet is an excellent choice for rural customers who lack other high-speed internet options. Since there’s less infrastructure involved (just a tower that may already be there, compared to underground lines running to each house), rural areas are potentially more likely to have access to 5G. Additionally, it offers much faster speeds than DSL, which is often the only option in remote spots.

5G internet is also a great alternative to cable or fiber for city dwellers who have a qualifying cell plan with a provider (for the discounted rate) and don’t need the absolute fastest speeds. These customers can get access to a speedy connection with unlimited data for an astonishingly low price.

Starlink vs. 5G FAQ

How does 5G internet work?

5G home internet uses the same mobile internet tech as your smartphone. However, in the case of home internet, the signal is picked up by a wireless gateway that essentially acts as a permanent hotspot for your home. The gateway takes the 5G signal and turns it into a standard Wi-Fi network that all your devices can connect to.

5G home internet is a smart way to take advantage of the infrastructure that most mobile carriers already have in place. It’s also extremely affordable, and offers speeds comparable to cable, making it a very compelling option. 

How much does Starlink cost?

Starlink’s cheapest plan, Residential, starts at $120 per month, with $599 in equipment costs due up front. Prices increase from there depending on the plan and configuration you choose, with monthly service costs reaching up to as much as $5,000 and equipment fees climbing as high as $2,500.

Is 5G internet better than Starlink?

There’s not really a clear answer to this question—each has ups and downs, and each is better suited to a certain type of user. That said, for most people who just need basic home internet, 5G is going to be the better choice. This mainly boils down to cost—Starlink is expensive. However, it also requires more equipment (the dish), and there are waitlists in many areas of the U.S.

That said, there may be many users who don’t have access to 5G home internet, in which case Starlink is obviously the way to go. Additionally, if you need to take your connection on the go, Starlink is a great choice.

Dave Schafer
Written by
Dave Schafer
Dave has written professionally for tech companies and consumer technology sites for nearly five years, with a special focus on TV and internet. He uses his industry expertise to help readers at HighSpeedInternet.com get the most out of their services. No matter the project, he prefers his coffee black (the stronger, the better).