The Wonders of MIMO
For RVers and Cruisers, understanding what MIMO technology is, how it works, and how it can be used to enhance cellular speeds has the potential to make finding great mobile internet on the road an easier experience.
A decade and a half later - the latest flagship cellular devices were able to support maximum theoretical speeds of over 2,000 Mbps.
That's more than a 4,000x increase!
And as we head into the 5G era, peak theoretical speeds are approaching 10 Gbps, another 10x increase!
Of course, theory rarely equals reality - and the cellular networks need to be substantially upgraded and built out to even come close to being able to deliver speeds like this to real people outside of a lab.
And in the real world - you will be sharing this speed with perhaps hundreds or thousands of others connected to the same cell tower.
But real-world 4G/LTE speeds over 50Mbps are actually not at all uncommon, and speeds over 100Mbps are now widely reported - and things just keep getting faster. 5G, for now, isn't much better than LTE unless you're on the super-short-range millimeter-wave network, but that will change over time as 5G network capabilities are expanded.
One of the key technologies making these sorts of speeds possible is known as MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) - an incredibly clever technique for putting multiple antennas to work to increase both data transmission speed and reliability.
MIMO technology is fundamental to both 4G/LTE, 5G, and WI-Fi radios - but cellular boosters and MIMO have some... challenges... working together.
Read on to get a grasp of what MIMO is, how it works, and how you can use a little bit of MIMO awareness to potentially increase your cellular speeds.
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MIMO In A Nutshell
MIMO is one of the core technologies enabling 4G/LTE and 5G cellular, and almost every modern mobile device (whether a phone or a hotspot) actually has two or more cellular antennas on board to enable the magic of MIMO.
On the other end of the line - cell towers typically have multiple antennas working together in tight synchronization to communicate with you.
With more antennas transmitting a signal, there are more possible echoes and reflections (read the "how it works" section below to understand the magic here) for the receiving device to catch a signal.
And more reception antennas on the cell tower better enable your carrier to receive a weak remote signal from your handset.
The cell tower will have a number of transmit/receive antennas and most LTE devices will have two antennas. This allows those devices to utilize 2x2 MIMO.
Devices with four antennas for 4x4 MIMO is now common, with consumer devices such as flagship hotspots (the AT&T Netgear Nighthawk 5G Hotspot Pro, the Verizon MiFi M2100 5G UW, the T-Mobile Inseego 5G MiFi M2000), and many newer smartphones like the iPhone 12.
Although the latest cellular standards (Category 18 & higher) support 8x8 MIMO, consumer devices with 8 antennas are not common.
These antennas connect to a cell tower that will usually have at least four antennas - and as many as 128! The number of antennas on the tower gives devices more options to get a good, high-performing connection.
This figure illustrates a relatively simple 4x2 MIMO deployment. In this case, 4x2 means four transmit/receive antennas on the tower, and two on the user device:
This 4x2 configuration isn't the only one possible, however, and modern, upgraded cell towers can have many more transmit/receive antenna elements and more modern devices have four antennas to better take advantage of the options.
MIMO is one of the key technologies that allow these devices to have such great performance - it really is pretty darn amazing stuff!
MIMO vs Boosters Video
For a quick overview of MIMO vs Boosters, here's our video. It's low on the tech to hopefully help explain a more complex topic:
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A bit about the most common MIMO modes use by devices and cellular towers.
MIMO vs Cellular Boosters
We go deep into why cellular boosters aren't always the best choice for cellular signal enhancement.
Optimizing Cellular Reception in a MIMO World
Understanding MIMO can help you better optimize your cellular data performance.
MIMO - Not Just For Cellular
MIMO is also used for other wireless signals, like Wi-Fi.
How It Works: Breaking The Data Transmission Speed Of Light
Going super geek in this section.
Conclusion: Understanding MIMO
For those willing and able to spend a little time getting a grasp on what MIMO is, how it works, and how it can be used to enhance cellular speeds - MIMO has the potential to greatly increase your cellular speeds.
But for MIMO to work its magic, it takes a willingness to defy common sense and try turning OFF your cellular booster.
The results might surprise you!
Cellular antennas can be a vital part of your signal enhancing strategy to get a better signal, and thus better cellular data performance. They come in many shapes, sizes and varieties.
They can be used directly connected to your mobile hotspots or cellular embedded routers, or they might connect to your cellular booster. They come in omni-directional vs directional, single vs MIMO, and might support different frequency bands. They come in combination antennas with Wi-Fi and GPS.
But most importantly, is your installation options on your RV or boat.
So before choosing an antenna, be sure to understand all of these variables - and keep in mind that there likely isn't a single 'one size fits all' solution here. You may need to make compromises, or even have speciality antennas for challenging signal areas.
We recommend starting with our Guide to Selecting Antennas, and then moving on to our other guides addressing related topics:
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