The Netgear M5 hotspot is the 5G hotspot for AT&T we’ve been waiting for, but it isn’t coming out until the second half of 2020, while the new 4G Orbi router system would be a great template for breaking cable companies’ internet monopolies … if only it was 5G.
The M5 is a follow-up to last year’s Nighthawk 5G, which saw a limited release with AT&T. In a lot of ways, the M5 is what the Nighthawk 5G should have been—a flexible, powerful, 4G/5G router with Wi-Fi 6 and a two-way Ethernet port, which lets it become the hub of a home or office system. The previous model didn’t have Wi-Fi 6, so it could only broadcast Wi-Fi at up to about 600Mbps in real-life circumstances; that was frustrating when the 5G connection coming into the hotspot was delivering 1.3Gbps.
The new hotspot also uses Qualcomm’s new X55 modem, which can handle all of the different forms of 5G US carriers have to offer. That way it will work with both AT&T’s fast, short-range millimeter-wave network and its slow, long-range low-band network.
The M5 will likely come out on AT&T. Verizon has a stronger relationship with Inseego and its MiFi line. Netgear didn’t announce a price for the hotspot, though, and says it won’t come out until the second half of the year.
Where Are the CPEs?
A separate Netgear announcement showed another weakness of 5G in the US right now. The 4G Orbi LTE WiFi Router is a whole-home mesh system for people who don’t have a traditional wired connection that uses 4G LTE as its backhaul.
Available in April for $399.99, the Orbi 4G LTE has a Category 18 cellular modem and will work with pretty much any major LTE service provider with an appropriate plan. It matches up with Orbi 802.11ac mesh satellite units to create a whole-home Wi-Fi system.
“Up to 22 percent of American homes and an even higher percentage around the world don’t have a good option for high-speed internet. It’s either too slow, too expensive, or non-existent. We are solving this problem for customers by delivering fast broadband for the home, wherever there is mobile coverage,” said David Henry, SVP of Connected Home Products for Netgear.
My response is an incoherent, barbaric yawp of annoyance and frustration. Yes! This is true! But wireless carriers have told us any number of times that they don’t have 4G LTE capacity for the kinds of “seamless 4K streaming and gaming” that US homes demand, and the few 4G LTE home service plans out there tend to be either limited or expensive.
This was something 5G home internet was supposed to solve, but 5G home internet is, at the moment, completely missing in action. Nearly a year after commercial 5G launches, Verizon has ground its 5G home rollout to a halt; Sprint is hardly marketing at all because of its endless merger saga; T-Mobile is also trapped in the merger saga; and who knows what’s up with AT&T’s home internet strategy?
We also aren’t seeing the many promised 5G home routers Qualcomm has been slapping up on slides for several months now.
Adding Wi-Fi 6 to Cable
(AX1800 Mesh Extender, AX6 AX5400 WiFi 6 6-Stream Router, Nighthawk Mesh WiFi 6 System)
That leaves more traditional, wired means of internet connection, and Netgear is spreading Wi-Fi 6 across those lineups this year.
The Nighthawk Mesh Wi-Fi system is a step up from the Orbi system, supporting Wi-Fi 6 for better speed and range. It’s coming out this month with one router and a satellite for $299.99.
If you want to roll your own network rather than have it auto-configure through a mesh system package, there’s also a new AX6 AX5400 Wi-Fi 6 home router and an AX1800 4-stream Wi-Fi 6 mesh extender coming out in Q1 of 2020; the extender costs $149.99 and the router doesn’t have a price yet.
That extender would also pair well with the new Nighthawk AX8 cable modem router, which has DOCSIS 3.1 for 1+ Gbps speed into your home, and then 2.5Gbps/4Gbps Ethernet ports and Wi-Fi 6 for super-high-speed distribution within your home. That one will be available this month from Netgear.com for $429.99, but you need to make sure it’s compatible with your cable provider.
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