And speaking of the cables - they seem to come in a wide range of sizes and flavors too. Just what are the differences?
Adapters are available to bridge the gaps, but they aren't always easy to find - particularly if you don't even know the proper names for Tab A and Slot B.
Or is it SMA, FME, and TS-9?
Is the end male or female? Is the polarity reversed? What does that even mean?!?
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Outdoor antennas are connected to indoor receivers using coaxial cable that aims to minimize the signal loss while covering the distance required.
But not all cables are created equal.
You need to use good quality coax and good connectors or the signal will be compromised, defeating entirely the benefits from using a high-quality external antenna or signal booster.
Many cellular antennas take the choice out of your hands - with a set length of cable permanently attached to the antenna.
But other antennas leave the wiring up to you, and you'll need to pick an appropriate cable for the job - paying particular attention to the length needed, and the connectors on each end.
You see, signals degrade rapidly over distance (this is called 'attenuation') - and if you need a long cable run a thicker high-quality cable quickly becomes essential.
Cable attenuation is expressed in decibels of loss – so it is typical to see a cable extension specified as “attenuates signal 2dB” (if it is expressed at all).
Most cellular antennas come with RG-58 or RG-174 cable, with a 12–15' long section often hardwired to the antenna. These wire types are thin and flexible, but for extension cables and longer runs, heftier cables should be used.
Cable Installation Tips:
- Keep your cables as short as possible - but unless you have the skills, tools, and experience to professionally crimp new ends onto cables, do not try to cut your cables down to shorter lengths.
- Every connection point adds roughly 0.5dB attenuation per junction – so it is always better to use a single long cable than to chain two or more cables together.
- You should never ever use a splitter with cellular and Wi-Fi antennas – splitting a signal will cut the power received in half, and two transmitters connected to one antenna is a recipe for trouble.
- Your goal for any antenna cable should be a total attenuation loss of less than 4dB over the distance you want to cover.
- Low-loss cables are more expensive and are stiff and harder to work with – all things to keep in mind when planning your antenna cable runs.
Wi-Fi Antennas & Cable Attenuation
Wi-Fi signals at 2.4GHz degrade rapidly over antenna cables, and 5GHz Wi-Fi is not well suited at all for even short wire runs between the receiver and the antenna. This is why it often makes a lot of sense to put the entire Wi- Fi radio up on the roof and connect to it digitally over Ethernet, which does not suffer attenuation with distance.
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Cable Type Attenuation Chart
Our chart going over expected signal loss by cable type.
Cable End Connectors Guide
There are a wide variety of different connectors that can be found on the ends of cables and on the sides of routers, hotspots, and cellular boosters. This section helps you identify them with pictures and typical devices each type if found on.
Cable Adapters Shopping Guide
Looking for an adapter? This section goes over different common combos, with shopping links.
Conclusion: Don't Be Afraid to Adapt
All these different connector and adapters can be overwhelming, but if you take the time to identify what you have and what you want to get connected - it will not be hard to put together a shopping list to find what you need.
With just a little energy and effort, just about anything can be made to connect.
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