Getting a Better Cellular Signal
Connectivity challenged nomads are constantly wishing for just a bit more range, or just a bit more speed from their mobile arsenal.
But seeking to understand all the things that can impact your cellular signal can quickly becoming overwhelming - and optimizing effectively is often anything but simple.
It is little wonder that people end up focused on the simplest indicator they can find - the signal strength bars.
One bar bad, five bars good - right?
But bars are only the tip of the iceberg - and when it comes to actual performance it is not at all unusual for a one bar signal in one location to outperform five in another.
And sometimes the simplest tweaks can make a huge difference in your real-world performance, even though the bars may not change a bit..
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Boosters or Antennas?
But before we get into the nitty-gritty of understanding your signal performance, we're often asked one basic question - are boosters or antennas better for enhancing your signal and thus your performance?
In our testing, there's a place for both - but it really comes down to the gear you're using for your cellular data access.
We have separate guides going over the advantages of each, but here are the basics:
Regardless of which you're using (or none at all), there's still a lot to understand about how to understand the signal you're getting and how to best optimize it.
Gere's a quick video overview on MIMO Antennas vs Boosters:
Measuring Your Signal Enhancing Efforts - It's All About Performance
Bars are relatively meaningless in the effort to determine your actual cellular data performance. They're a nice visual indicator, but each device manufacturer uses their own formulas for coming up with what determines 1 bar versus 4 bars.
And usually bars have nothing to do with how fast your connection will be since there's a lot more going on behind the scenes with different frequency bands, tower congestion, carrier aggregation and more.
Data speeds & consistency is what really matters when considering a mobile internet connection.
To truly optimize your connectivity, you need to learn how to measure your real-world performance to know if your efforts are having an impact.
And the best quantitative measurement of this is the download and upload speeds you are getting.
To learn more about testing your upload and download speeds and understanding raw signal strength - head on over to our guide:
Besides the bars or dots shown - some cellular devices provide a huge range of other calculated signal parameters that can be interesting to observe while you are tuning your connection - but most can (and should) be ignored.
Here are a few of the more interesting ones, and how they might impact your overall connection.
Signal Strength in dB (decibels) - The decibel is a logarithmic scale - every change by 10 represents a 10x change in received signal power, and a difference in 3 represents a doubling. Wireless signal strength will be recorded as a negative number, and the numerically lower the number, the weaker the actual signal. A solid signal would be around -50dB and a weak signal would be around -110dB.
SNR (Signal to Noise Ratio) - The relative amount of cellular signal being received versus background "static" noise. A larger number is better, and a negative number indicates the static is overwhelming the signal - though modern LTE devices can often still deliver surprising performance even with a negative SNR. If you are tweaking your signal - improvements in SNR can often provide more of a speed increase than improvements in raw signal strength.
Connection Type - Is the connection LTE, or has the device fallen back to a legacy 3G or even 2G connection? Legacy technologies like CDMA, HSPA+, GSM, EDGE, UMTS, and EVDO are all usually less than ideal - but a 2G connection sure beats no connection at all. The connection type is often displayed in the status bar.
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LTE Frequency Bands Explained
Each carrier has their cellular network deployed over a variety of wireless frequency bands. If you want access to a carrier’s entire network, it helps to understand your carrier's roadmap so you select the right gear.
Hidden Multipliers: MIMO & Carrier Aggregation
Understanding these core LTE technologies will help you better select gear to optimize cellular data performance.
Things That Impact Wireless Signals
In this section, we go over the challenges of getting a great cellular signal, and which ones you have more control over to get better performance.
Strategies For Signal & Performance Enhancing
Now that you understand more about the things that impact performance, this section goes over specific strategies for improving it - ranging from the extremely simple to the most complex.
Getting poor cellular data performance? This section walks you through things to look at it in diagnosing where the issues might be - and how to counteract them if you can.
An archive of a member webinar recapping this guide.
Conclusion: Analyze Before you Optimize
There are a few different options for optimizing cellular data performance, but before you know how to proceed you need to be aware of things that could be affecting your current performance. Line of sight to towers, altitude, and data plan restrictions are just a few of the things that could have an effect. There are easy solutions, like moving your equipment or using an indoor antenna, or more advanced solutions like a direct wired antenna or a cellular booster. When evaluation your current performance, be sure to analyze upload and download speeds and not just signal strength or bars.
The guides below have been hand-picked to help further your education about the complicated topic of signal enhancing and utilizing cellular boosters.
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