CenturyLink offers excellent fiber internet, but it’s available only in limited markets. If you can't get fiber, you may be able to get a DSL connection but you'll pay nearly as much.
T-Mobile provides an inexpensive 5G internet plan with no contract and decent speed, but not a lot of choices or professional installation.
CenturyLink offers two types of plans, depending on your location. The more common option is DSL, which is relatively slow and offers inconsistent speeds. The other option is fiber, which is extremely fast and reliable.
Generally speaking, the DSL options are not a great value. The price is reasonable, but the speeds mean you’re likely to get more for your money elsewhere (this is true for many DSL providers). The fiber plans are a much better value—they offer much more speed for the money than CenturyLink’s DSL plans and are competitive with other providers’ fiber offerings. In fact, CenturyLink's 940 Mbps plan costs a little more than half of the national benchmark for similar plans (1). We highly recommend CenturyLink fiber if you have it available.
T-Mobile 5G Home Internet comes in one download speed (100 Mbps), which is fast enough for a lot of people but slower than most cable plans (up to 1 Gbps) and fiber plans (up to 5 Gbps). The good news? T-Mobile’s plan includes unlimited data, but there may be slowdowns when the network is congested. It’ll cost you $50, which is $0.50 per Mbps, and about right for 5G plans. However, overall, 5G internet is super cheap compared to other kinds of broadband internet. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) benchmarks similar broadband plans at $105.67/month, (1) which comes out to more than a dollar per Mbps!
Even better, if you’re already a T-Mobile customer with a qualifying Magenta plan, your rate is $25/month. If max download speeds of 100 Mbps works for you, T-Mobile 5G Home Internet is a pretty sweet deal, especially if you’re already a customer. But if you’re looking for more plan options, you won’t find them here.
There’s a performance divide based on the type of service available. The CenturyLink DSL plans can range from 15 to 100 Mbps, which is a wide range. Additionally, 15 Mbps just isn’t great these days. It doesn’t even reach broadband speeds (25 Mbps or more). That said, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting the advertised speed—whatever plan you sign up for, you seem to get what you pay for with CenturyLink.
On the other hand, the fiber plans offer Gigabit speeds (up to 940 Mbps), which is excellent. Additionally, fiber internet offers synchronous download speeds and upload speeds, meaning you can game, video chat, or upload large files just as fast as you binge Netflix. Fiber also tends to be inherently reliable because of the way the technology works—the light signals in fiber optic cables can carry more information over longer distances than coaxial cables. We have no complaints about performance on these plans.
As with any fixed wireless internet provider, speeds fluctuate widely and can be affected by weather, terrain, peak hours, and more. That means you’ll rarely get a steady 100 Mbps. T-Mobile says you’ll likely see anywhere from 33 to 182 Mbps for download and 8 to 25 Mbps for upload. (2) But we think T-Mobile should toot its horn a little louder. Independent research shows speeds average out to around 119 Mbps for download and 16 Mbps for upload—both of which leave other wireless ISPs in the dust. (3)
Generally, 5G internet isn’t as fast as cable internet (up to 1,000 Mbps, or 1 Gbps) or fiber (up to 5 Gbps). But for most people, it’ll feel pretty zippy. Unfortunately, if you’re using your connection for gaming, the inconsistency could cause unpredictable, frustrating lags.
CenturyLink installation is more or less on par with other providers in terms of installation procedures and costs. If your neighborhood is wired for only DSL with CenturyLink, you can have your internet service set up by a pro for somewhere between $129 and $300 based on the installation requirements. You can alternatively choose to do a self-install for $15.
If you live in an area wired for CenturyLink fiber, your pro installation and equipment rental are free, and you may be able to self-install for free. You could also wrangle unlimited data and an included mesh wireless network if you sign a contract, so be sure to ask. This is about on par with other fiber internet providers.
Find out whether you need a professional to come by or if you can handle setup yourself.
As for equipment, the CenturyLink modem and router are also pretty standard stuff. The company charges around $15 per month for equipment rentals for DSL customers. The gear is nothing to write home about, but it works. You can also buy the modem outright from CenturyLink for up to $200—whether this is a good deal for you depends on how long you plan to have CenturyLink as a provider.
We don’t particularly recommend buying your own router. Both the DSL and fiber services require a modem certified by CenturyLink to function, so you may as well save some money and use the built-in wireless router.
T-Mobile uses a 5G gateway (included at no additional cost) to turn cell signal into Wi-Fi for your home. It’s strong enough to send signal about 30 feet away, depending on how many walls are in the way. It’s compatible with most mesh network extenders. Plus, you can create up to four separate networks, so you can create one for Airbnb guests or your least favorite roommate.
According to T-Mobile, installation should take around 15 minutes—if you have an Android or iOS phone and can download the T-Mobile internet app. If that doesn’t work out, you can call T-Mobile customer service and someone will help you get set up. If you don’t get cell signal or a landline at home, though, you’re going to have a rough day.
CenturyLink consistently scores slightly below average in customer satisfaction (2), largely due to complaints about a lack of responsiveness regarding customer service. The service also gets a lot of complaints from new fiber internet customers, but complaints are very common industry-wide.
CenturyLink hires techs and contractors from around the country, so some inconsistency is expected. It redeems itself slightly, though, with an easy-to-use support page.
The company is expanding and we hear that many new cities will have fiber internet hookups from CenturyLink within the next few years. If you can get only DSL, though, you may have a connection as slow as 3 Mbps or one as fast as 100 Mbps, with huge variation in latency depending on how far you are from the nearest access point.
We like that CenturyLink provides DSL to customers who may have no other option, but we don't recommend the DSL offering if you have access to cable or fiber internet from another provider.
T-Mobile is fairly new to providing home internet, but it has a solid track record of providing great service to its mobile customers. Both contract and non-contract customers see the best service in the industry, according to J.D. Power. (4)
We don’t like T-Mobile’s short 15-day money-back guarantee, which doesn’t give you much time for a test drive. (We much prefer Starry’s 30-day guarantee.) Even worse, your countdown starts when T-Mobile ships your 5G Gateway, not when it arrives. If there are any shipping delays or it takes you a day or two to get set up, you’ll run out of testing time fast.