Sparklight, formerly known as Cable One, is a cable internet provider primarily serving suburbs and rural areas in over a dozen states. Its no-contract plans offer good download speeds to areas fiber doesn’t often reach, but its data caps aren’t ideal.
T-Mobile provides an inexpensive 5G internet plan with no contract and decent speed, but not a lot of choices or professional installation.
Sparklight’s no-contract cable internet plans are generally a decent value compared to other providers available in the communities the company serves. While you might not be able to get fiber in these areas, you’re likely to find DSL, satellite, or other cable internet service providers (ISPs). The speed you get for the price is comparable to other cable providers or a bit cheaper, and the performance surpasses DSL and satellite. All of this means Sparklight’s plans are worth strongly considering if your address is in one of its service areas.
We recommend choosing a Sparklight plan with at least 200 Mbps of download speed, but ideally more if it’s in your budget. Since Sparklight is a cable provider, upload speeds tend to be far below the download speeds. Upload speeds increase with each pricing tier, so if you work from home and have multiple connected devices you may want to pick one of the more expensive plans for seamless video calls.
All of Sparklight’s plans have data caps, except for its most expensive Gig plan. Data caps are typical for cable providers. While some competitors offer data caps over 1 TB for all of their plans, Sparklight’s plans have data caps that range from 100 GB to 1.5 TB. You can get 100 GB blocks of additional data for $10 during months when you need it, or you can upgrade to unlimited data with any plan for an extra $30/month. When calculating your needs, consider that the average person uses 536 GB of data per month (1).
The Gig plan offers the most data for your dollar and the highest speeds, but it’s more expensive than fiber plans with comparable download speeds, at least in some of the service areas. If you don’t want to pay top dollar, the Internet 300 and 500 plans also offer good speeds and high enough data caps for the needs of most households. We wouldn’t recommend the Internet 25 plan because its low speeds and data cap won’t comfortably meet most people’s needs.
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.
Sparklight is available in mostly rural and suburban areas where customers probably won’t be able to get fiber internet. This makes Sparklight’s cable internet speeds the best option in some communities that are otherwise served only by DSL or satellite, which can be slow and unreliable. According to a report from Ookla, Sparklight had the highest download speeds among fixed broadband providers in North Dakota and New Mexico. (2)
Sparklight is a fiber-rich cable provider, meaning it delivers service using a mix of fiber and coaxial cables. While it can achieve download speeds of up to 940 Mbps, its upload speeds are much lower than that, reaching 50 Mbps. This is a technical limitation of cable connections that those with fiber connections won’t experience. While this isn’t ideal for households with several people who want to do heavy gaming or take video calls at the same time, Sparklight’s download and upload speeds are generally still sufficient for most households. And for regular browsing and streaming for multiple users, it's just fine. However, the data caps may hold you back if you’re a heavy internet user. Occasional outages and inconsistent speeds do affect service according to customer reports on Downdetector. (3)
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.
When you sign up for Sparklight internet service, you can call to schedule professional installation or choose self-installation. Both options are reasonably fast according to customer reviews. Professional installation is typically free and can be scheduled at your convenience. There's technically a $90 professional installation fee, but it is waived as part of a "permanent promotion." Self-installation is free and should take about 15 minutes once you receive your equipment in the mail.
You can choose to purchase your own Sparklight-supported modem or lease a modem from Sparklight for just over $10/month, less than some other providers. The installation cost, activation fee, and any equipment deposits may be waived for qualifying new customers.
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.
Customer experience with Sparklight is about average compared to other providers. Tech support is available 24/7 by phone or email, and there are plenty of help articles available online. Like most other providers, equipment installation is straightforward whether you have it done professionally or do it yourself.
Common complaints include unplanned outages, inconsistent speeds, and long wait times to reach Sparklight support by phone, according to user reports on Downdetector. (4) If you try Sparklight’s internet service and it doesn’t live up to expectations, the company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
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.