From January - April 2016, we tested several cellular antennas head-to-head to see how they perform both with one of our top performing boosters from our Winter 2015 Booster Testing and direct connected to mobile hotspot devices. We tested in a variety of locations with varying signal conditions on each of the four major carriers.
The antennas in our testing line-up include:
- weBoost 4" Mini MagMount "Stubby" (301126) - Default antenna bundled with the Drive 4G-X and Signal-4G boosters.
- WirEng BoatAnt - Our co-author Jack Mayer's top pick in 2014. We also began testing the new BoatAnt2-MIMO, but pulled it from testing when WirEng notified us that the product was being redesigned and would soon be re-released.
- weBoost Wide Band Directional - A classic 'fin' directional option we've tested in the past.
- weBoost / Wilson Trucker Antenna (318433)- The definitive RV antenna upgrade from the 3G-era, but potentially lacking in support for key LTE bands. Provided to us for testing by WilsonAmplifiers.
- MobileMark 4-In-1- A high-end low-profile MIMO antenna provided by 3GStore.
- Panorama Wideband MIMO - A directional MIMO option provided by 3GStore.
- 2x weBoost Signal-4G Direct Wired amps, used to test feasibility of a MIMO booster setup, provided by weBoost.
- Did not ship in time to include: Maximum Signal MaxAmp
You can learn more about each of these models, compare specifications, and learn more about selecting antennas in our members-only comparative guide:
Our testing procedures:
During our testing, we visited a variety of locations and set up our antennas for head-to-head comparison.
We start by taking 3 baseline readings with each of our cellular devices with no booster or antenna.
Each device is tested independently, with all other nearby devices in airplane mode to prevent any potential interference.
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Next, for each of our devices we tested each antenna with the weBoost 4G-X cellular booster, and also with the Signal-4G direct-wired booster. For devices with MIMO antenna ports, we also tested each antenna direct connected to the hotspot, bypassing the booster. For non-MIMO antennas, they were plugged into the primary antenna port only.
For the directional antennas in our arsenal, we followed the procedures outlined in our Wilson Wide Band Directional Antenna – Worth The Hassle? article to find the best signal for each carrier.
The devices & carriers we are tested include:
- Verizon - Netgear AC791L
- AT&T - Unite Pro
- T-Mobile - iPhone 6S (supports LTE Band 12)
- Sprint - Netgear Zing (provided by Unlimitedville.com)
The readings taken are:
Coverage? Map snapshot, showing high level view of anticipated service at each location.
- Signal strength db reading, on devices that support it using Field Test mode.
- Signal bars/dots present & service type - HSPA, LTE (and specifically which band, when possible), 3G, 1XRT, Edge, etc.
- Download speed.
- Upload speed.
- Ping Time
- SNR - Signal to Noise Ratio, if reported by device
- Calculated Scores
For each antenna at each location, we are assigning two scores:
Qualitative formula: (Antenna Average Download Speed / Baseline Average Download Speed) + (Antenna Average Upload Speed / Baseline Average Upload Speed). Will it capture all of the nuisances like switching bands, ping time and signal strength? No. But it will capture actual performance increase. The higher the score, the better the performance noted. This gives us something to average out over time.
Subjective Grading: On a scale of A, B, C, D & F each antenna and location is given a grade based on relative performance. These scores are then given a numerical value based on scholastic grade point averages, to give us an overall GPA.
- A - 4.0 = Solidly created a more usable signal
- B - 3.0 = Solid performance, but not signifiant gain, nor loss
- C - 2.0 = Comparable performance with the antenna as without, with potentially mixed results with improved upload speeds and somewhat degraded download speeds.
- D - 1.0 = Degraded performance with the booster engaged, but still usable. You are better off with the booster off or without the antenna.
- F - 0 = Signal was useable without a antenna, but unusable with the antenna engaged.
For speed and ping readings, we are using the Ookla Speedtest app. We take the readings directly on device on our smartphones & tablets we are testing on. When testing mobile hotspots, we test on one of our iPads while connected via WiFi to the hotspot.
Each testing location took 8-12 hours to complete, and burnt through a good chunk of data. It was a very time intensive process to collect the raw data displayed below.
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All of the individual field testing results and observations are shared below to our members. Not only will the results shown the performance of each of the antennas, but also what to expect in different types of signal situations.
Number of field locations tested: 5
Testing is now complete, and we are working on our analysis article (due out in early May). We've also scheduled a special member only live video chat session on May 19, 2016 to overview our results.
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