The roll-out of 5G networks is now proceeding at pace. The much faster speeds offered by the latest wireless technology are now being adopted in many markets around the world, and larger cities are getting the service first. The download speeds achievable with a good 5G signal can easily outperform a standard fixed-line broadband connection. A mobile 5G router can be used almost anywhere that has a good signal and makes it possible to work almost anywhere and will even make streaming 4K videos easy.
To access 5G networks you’ll need a smartphone that’s 5G compatible or a mobile router that can work with 5G data SIM. Your smartphone may not be due an upgrade to a 5G model quite yet, in which case a mobile router is an ideal step to getting faster mobile broadband. A 5G mobile router comes into its own when it’s supplying 5G speeds over a Wi-Fi network so that lots of devices can connect wirelessly and get high-speed Internet. IN a domestic setting, a 5G mobile router makes more sense than using a 5G smartphone with its tethering turned on.
There are a few 5G mobile routers on the market, but they are much more expensive than regular 4G models and only likely to appeal to early adopters. The flagship 5G mobile router on the market right now is probably Netgear’s Nighthawk M5, but that is also the most expensive.
The new M5 mobile router uses the latest Wi-Fi 6 (AX1800) standard and can access all 5G networks. It feels like a well-made device and comes in the square format that we’ve come used to seeing from Netgear’s range of Nighthawk mobile routers. The top of the M5 has a bright color LCD touchscreen that can be used to access settings as well as displaying status information like signal strength, Wi-Fi state and the remaining data allowance.
The Netgear Nighthawk M5 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 mobile processor that supports mmWave and Sub 6 bands for superfast mobile broadband with average download speeds between 100 and 200Mbps. Those kinds of speeds are faster than most fiber broadband services currently on offer in the UK. Peak download speeds with 5G can go as high as 753Mbps, which compares to the best figure of 90Mbps on 4G networks.
The maximum theoretical speed that 5G can provide is quoted as between 10 – 50Gbps but that’s way off in the future. With a good signal, 5G mobile broadband should be capable of delivering speeds up to 11 times faster than 4G. However, there’s an important caveat here: you do need a good 5G signal, so if you are on a fringe area the Nighthawk M5 may revert to 4G speeds or even 3G if you are unlucky.
The antenna built into the Nighthawk M5 is strong but for those who need them, external antennas can be added thanks to two extra connectors on the side of the device. External antennas are good for anyone living on the edge of a 5G coverage area who doesn’t have access to a fixed-line broadband service. That could be someone with a holiday home who only needs broadband for a few weeks of the year during vacations. It could also be a great solution for anyone living permanently in a place where no fixed-line broadband will ever be available.
Despite being on a fringe reception area, I was able to get a download speed of 90Mbps with the Nighthawk M5, which is higher than the speed of my fixed broadband connection. I wasn’t able to get out and about to push the Nighthawk M5 to see what it could achieve with 5G as I’m currently living under pandemic lockdown. However, I have absolutely no reason to believe that the M5 can’t deliver even greater speeds in an area with strong 5G coverage. My upload speeds were much more disappointing so that may well be a problem with my coverage. Even so, the Nighthawk M5 certainly pulled in faster download speeds than the D-Link DWR-2101 that I was testing alongside it.
Also built into the Nighthawk M5 is a wireless router using the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard. The advantage of this new Wi-Fi technology is that Wi-Fi 6 (AX1800) can handle four times more data throughput than the previous AC1200 standard. The M5 can also cope with up to 32 devices connected at once. That sounds like a lot but it’s surprising how soon the number of connected devices can add up. By the time everyone’s smartphone, tablet and home computer are joined to the network, that’s a good chunk of the 32-limit taken up. Add on a couple of TVs, a few wireless speakers, some security cameras and other Wi-Fi devices and it’s not difficult to imagine how the limit can be reached.
As well as being able to receive and distribute 5G signals over Wi-Fi, the Netgear Nighthawk M5 can also work as a WAN router by connecting it to a regular broadband router so the device works with a conventional internet connection. If the main fixed-line broadband goes down, the Nighthawk M5 can kick in and offload the data stream and start using the 5G connection so users can access 5G using the Nighthawk M5’s built-in Wi-Fi 6.
In addition to the RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet LAN/WAN port, the M5 also has a USB-C port for powering the router and it can be used for tethering with very high-speed transfers. Most people will only use the USB-C port for recharging the removable lithium-ion battery that can power the router for up to 18 hours. If the Nighthawk M5 is being used as a static home router, Netgear suggests removing the battery and powering the router using a USB-C cable and the power supply provided with the device.
In addition to offering access to the main router’s settings via the Nighthawk M5’s touchscreen, there’s also a built-in web interface as well as a smartphone app that can be used for configuring and monitoring the router.
Verdict: There’s little doubt that Netgear’s Nighthawk M5 mobile router is state-of-the-art technology right now. It covers all the wireless bands right up to 5G and it has the latest Wi-Fi 6 standards. The interface on the color touchscreen works well but the smartphone app is a great way to control the router. I love the fact there are external antenna connectors and the inclusion of a LAN/WAN Ethernet port with a data offloading feature makes this a router for every scenario. My one reservation about the Nighthawk M5 is its price. It is expensive and about the same price as a new iPhone 12 which also has 5G and a tether capability. For any user who needs mission-critical broadband, the Nighthawk M5 makes a brilliant backup and could help a small business keep working if its fixed-line broadband went down. You can’t put a price on that sort of flexibility and convenience. As far as individual users go, it is a bit expensive but for home workers without good broadband, it may be worth considering.
Pricing and availability: The Netgear Nighthawk M5 5G mobile router is available unlocked now and costs £739.99 / €799.99. It will be available in the first half of 2021 in USA via contract with AT&T for $509.99.
More info: www.netgear.co.uk
- 5G: 5GNR Sub 6 GHz (NSA)
- Supports LTE CAT 22, LTE Advanced, 4×4 MIMO, 256QAM
- IPV6 Support
- Chipset: Qualcomm SDx55
- Wi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax
- Connected devices: 32
- Max Throughput (PHY) 1.2Gbps on 5GHz
- Max Ethernet download speed: Close to 1Gbps
- Wi-Fi download speeds: 11ax can support up to 1.2Gbps
- USB 3.1 Gen-2 tethered/Sub 6 NSA: Close to 3Gbps
- Dimensions: 105mm x 105mm x 21.5mm
- Weight: 240g