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.
For anyone who knows a thing or two about wireless communications, modern 4G/LTE and 5G cellular radios are borderline miraculous.
Consider the first iPhone - which launched in 2007 with a maximum theoretical cellular speed of around 500 Kbps using AT&T's 2G EDGE cellular network.
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 the 5G era has matured and become more mainstream, we see 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. Mid band 5G is has become lot more common on most of the carriers and we are now seeing the gap between really good LTE and good mid band 5G become way more prevalent in everyday connectivity. If you are in a mmWave 5G area, the speeds can be blazing fast.
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.
If you're a member, please log in above to access the exclusive portions of our content.
It is with huge gratitude to our members & supporters for making the free content on our site possible. We're not sponsored, you'll find no 3rd party ads and we don't sell 'stuff'.
Our members get exclusive access to our in-depth content, classrooms, vendor discounts (that can save you more than membership!), alerts, insider info and interactive guidance.
If mobile internet is an important part of your lifestyle, consider helping make MIRC possible.
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) 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.
The ability to make multiple connections on the cell tower the better the transmit speeds, even with weak signals.
The cell tower will have a number of transmit/receive antennas and many LTE devices had 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 such as the AT&T Netgear Nighthawk M6 Pro Hotspot Pro, the Verizon & T-Mobile MiFi X Pro 5G hotspots, plus all the the latest flagship smartphones from Apple, Samsung, and Google.
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, upgraded cell towers can have many more transmit/receive antenna elements. The latest devices typically have four antennas to better take advantage of the cell towers antenna array.
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:
Member Exclusive Content In This Guide
Has this guide been helpful so far?
Well.. there's a lot more below available to our members. As well as dozens of other guides like this, videos, classrooms, forums, webinars and more. All specifically created for helping keep RVers, cruisers and nomads online.
Consider Becoming a Member
If mobile internet is an important part of your lifestyle, a membership can help keep you connected with these exclusive benefits:
- in-depth exclusive content
- interactive guidance
- vendor discounts
- alerts & insider tips
Free Content Like This Made Possible By Our Members!
We are community funded via our premium membership program - allowing us to focus on creating unbiased quality, in-depth, constantly updated content. We don't accept 3rd party advertising, we're not sponsored and we don't sell 'stuff'.
Already a member?
Log in to continue with this guide.
Check out the Topics Covered in the Member Section:
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:
Explore the Resource Center
Join our 'Library Desk':
Internet for RVers & Cruisers Facebook Group
We cross post news articles and guides, and can help point you in the right direction to our content here on the resource center.
It is with gratitude to our premium members that we're able to offer our free content - and for that, they also have access our private Q&A areas for more in-depth guidance.
Become a Member
The MIA is our premium membership - designed for those who consider mobile internet an important part of their lifestyle.
In thanks for making content like this possible, we offer a bunch of additional perks. From interactive guidance, in-depth member exclusive content, discounts, alerts, classroom and more.
Become a Supporter
We totally understand that a membership isn't right for everyone.
However you can still support this content with our supporter level for just $25/year.
With our gratitude, you'll get access to all our free content without the 'nags'.