T-Mobile’s wireless home Internet service could become more widely available later this year, but potential customers should be aware of a limitation listed in the terms of service: it is “not compatible with some live TV streaming services,” according to T-Mobile.
The reason for this limit isn’t immediately apparent, but complaints in customer forums show that the problem affects Hulu’s live TV service. T-Mobile has been piloting its Home Internet plan at up to 50,000 homes over the past year, and some of the early adopters haven’t been able to use Hulu + Live TV.
The problem appears to be that Hulu’s system for verifying a user’s home location interprets the T-Mobile router as a mobile hotspot instead of a home Internet device. This isn’t an unreasonable assumption, since the device connects to T-Mobile’s LTE network in order to provide in-home Wi-Fi, so it basically is a mobile hotspot. But other live-TV streaming services apparently work fine on the T-Mobile home Internet plan.
You’ll need to use a residential, non-mobile Internet connection when you set your Home network. Please note that mobile hotspots and shared Wi-Fi networks (like a dorm, office building, etc.) do not meet this criteria, and therefore can’t be used as your Home network.
The problem does not affect the cheaper Hulu streaming plans that don’t include live channels.
On mobile devices, it’s complicated
Hulu does let customers watch live TV on mobile devices, but only if they’ve also activated their service on a home broadband network. Setting up the home network once isn’t enough to ensure continued streaming outside the home, because Hulu requires a new check-in every 30 days:
Living room devices must be connected to your Home network to access Hulu, but you can stream elsewhere on your mobile devices—as long as you’ve checked in at Home within the past 30 days. If you haven’t checked in lately, you’ll run into an error message when you try to use Hulu on mobile outside of your Home network.
To clear the error message, your mobile device must be connected to your Home network. If you’re away from home or otherwise unable to resolve the issue on your own, contact us and we’ll see what we can do to help.
All of that is moot for T-Mobile Home Internet customers, because Hulu + Live TV doesn’t see it as a potential “Home” network.
Other online live-TV services like YouTube TV apparently haven’t had this same problem on T-Mobile Home Internet, suggesting that Hulu could make a change internally to allow live-TV streaming on T-Mobile Home Internet. It’s not clear to us whether T-Mobile could fix the problem without cooperation from Hulu.
We contacted Hulu’s PR team twice in the past week and haven’t heard back. Hulu’s majority owner is Disney, and Comcast’s NBCUniversal division has a one-third stake in the streaming service.
T-Mobile didn’t name any specific video services in its statement to us but told us that most live TV plans should work fine, just as they do on more traditional home Internet services. “Most Live TV services will work with T-Mobile Home Internet, but it’s best that customers check with their chosen live TV streaming provider to make sure,” T-Mobile told Ars.
T-Mobile Home not yet widely available
T-Mobile started offering the wireless home Internet in March 2019, touting a goal to serve “up to 50,000 homes this year in rural and underserved areas of the country.” T-Mobile has not said how many customers the service has now.
Availability is dependent upon capacity, as T-Mobile only offers the service in places where it can “deliver speeds of around 50Mbps through fixed unlimited wireless service over LTE.” T-Mobile plans to expand to more areas after it completes its pending merger with Sprint, which could happen in April, but T-Mobile hasn’t said how far the service will expand this year.
T-Mobile has said it will take a few years to upgrade the service to 5G and expand across much of the US. T-Mobile’s goal is “to cover more than half of US households with 5G broadband service—in excess of 100Mbps—by 2024.”
The T-Mobile service was initially invitation-only, but you can check availability at your address at this page. When we tried it, the website prompted us to type in contact details and said, “If you’re eligible, we’ll give you a call to complete your purchase.”
The Hulu problem has hit a number of customers using the T-Mobile service, despite its limited availability. Customers have discussed the problem on Hulu’s support forums, T-Mobile support forums, and Reddit. One user on Reddit complained that “every other LiveTV competitor can [work on T-Mobile home Internet] just fine.” A user on a T-Mobile forum complained that “Hulu is very stubborn when it comes to how they restrict their service.”
The T-Mobile/Hulu problem seems like something the companies should be able to fix, especially if they coordinate with each other. Hopefully, this sort of thing won’t become a bigger problem. But as mobile carriers like T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T roll out home Internet services based on cellular technology, particularly in rural areas without good wired broadband, customers will have one more thing to worry about when selecting broadband and streaming plans.