In the world of 5G, wireless hotspots are expected to play a bigger role. These little bricks translate the 5G around you into enough Wi-Fi to power a home, office, or construction site. But limited hardware and restrictive service plans have so far held back that potential.
Netgear may be fixing the hardware issue, at least, with the Netgear Nighthawk M5, the first unlocked multi-operator 5G hotspot we’ve seen. The M5 is certified for the AT&T and T-Mobile networks, and operates on the lower than 6 GHz frequency bands of both networks, as well as the next C-band. The hotspot does not have millimeter waves, but our Fastest mobile networks results 2021 has shown that the middle band, including the C band, is really where most people will feel a difference to 5G.
Right now, this is the only option if you need a forward-looking hotspot on AT&T. None of AT & T’s existing retail access points support C-band, which the operator will start activating in 46 markets next year. C-band will likely bring the first widespread AT&T 5G performance that is better than 4G, so that’s a big deal.
Having said that, I’m pretty sure AT&T will sell this hotspot at some point. AT&T has a long-standing relationship with Netgear and they’re going to want devices that use their new C-band waves. We’re just a little ahead of the curve right now.
There is a little mystery as to whether the M5 works on Verizon. Netgear says it “works best” on AT&T and T-Mobile. Verizon has a sometimes uncomfortable relationship with uncertified 5G devices. This is something people will have to test when the hotspot hits the market, so I would stop buying it for Verizon for now.
The M5 is a cute black puck with all the frills you expect from a hotspot. It features a touchscreen interface, two easy-to-access external antenna ports, and USB-C and Ethernet ports to act as a wired modem. It supports 32 simultaneous device connections. The 5,040 mAh battery operates for up to 13 hours.
Earlier access points had issues with their Wi-Fi connections that were too slow for the full potential of 5G. It’s important to remember that a 5G hotspot isn’t about delivering a bunch of gigs to a PC, it’s really about powering 10 or 20 devices in an area, so the maximum throughput per device isn’t doesn’t have to be as fast as the 5G Connection source.
The M5 does pretty well on this front, however, with 802.11ax, 802.11ac, and a gigabit Ethernet port. This will give you around a gig per device, which is fine here as sub-6 connections usually don’t exceed a gig anyway.
The unlocked nature of the puck means it works on AT&T, T-Mobile, and the virtual operators that use these networks, such as Metro, Boost, and Google Fi. It’s always frustrating that in the 5G era, you can’t get an unlimited hotspot plan to serve as a home connection. T-Mobile and AT&T both sell unlimited home plans, but they must be used in specific hardware and cannot be moved. Right now the best hotspot deal is $ 50 / month for 100GB from T-Mobile, which tends to come and go unexpectedly.
I would be happy, for example, if T-Mobile allowed the use of this access point instead of the Nokia router that it sells with its home Internet service. In my review I found this router to be unreliable and I wish there were some hardware alternatives. It is also easier to connect external antennas to this hotspot than to this router.
You’re going to pay a premium for that power and flexibility. The unlocked M5 costs $ 699.99, about double what hotspots cost directly from carriers. (At T-Mobile, the Inseego M2000 costs $ 336.) If you’re in no rush and are an AT&T loyalist, you might want to wait for the carrier to pick it up and sell it for a lower price. .