3G/4G antennas – Types, directional, MIMO, cables & connectors

MIMO SMA connectionsChoosing the right antenna is not as simple as picking a random high gain 4G antenna and expecting it to work!  There are several types of antennas and connectors.  Even the cable type and length can make a difference.

Before considering an antenna, check out the article on choosing the right 3G/4G router.  A proper mains-operated 4G router can do away with most indoor antennas. 

Like TV antennas, there are a wide range of 3G and 4G antennas.  These range from small portable antennas to large outdoor antennas.  Portable antennas generally provide a significant signal boost for small data modems and portable hotspots.  However, they may not provide any benefit over the internal higher gain antennas in larger mains-operated desktop routers.

Larger outdoor antennas can provide a vast signal improvement, particularly if mounted high up.  They are available in a choice of single and MIMO, omni-directional and directional, wideband and band specific.  Antenna suppliers may also offer a choice of cable connectors.

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Update 16th April 2018: I added the Antenna gain and radiation pattern section.  If a directional antenna does not have a radiation pattern graph, consider avoiding it!

Cell towers enforce a maximum range!

Before purchasing any antenna, first check that 3G/4G reception is possible with a router.  For example, try operating the router outdoors or outside an upstairs window facing the cell tower.  If a router fails to connect in 3G or 4G mode, an antenna will very unlikely help.

Cell towers determine the distance based on the signal round trip time between it and the user’s equipment.  Devices with round trip times over the configured threshold will be considered out of range, preventing a connection.  This cannot be overcome even with clear line of sight and a powerful antenna.  See this troubleshooting article for further information.

To make matters worse, there may be different range limits for phones and data devices.  This is the case with the Three network in Ireland.  A phone that picks up 4G does not necessarily mean that a router will also be able to operate on 4G.  In 4G+ areas where cell towers operate simultaneously on bands 3 and 20, the cell tower may enforce different range limits for each band.  See the band coverage section below.

Active signal boosters / mobile repeaters

Do not confuse antennas with signal boosters or repeaters!  A signal booster, also known as a mobile repeater, amplifies the signal in each direction.  These are typically placed inline in-between an indoor and outdoor antenna.

Most low cost non EU mobile boosters blindly amplify everything, including background noise and other sources of interference.  Improper isolation of the indoor and outdoor antennas can result in signal oscillations, like a PA speaker whistling near its microphone.  These unwanted transmissions can severely affect the mobile networks in the area, not just one network.

According to ComReg, mobile repeaters are the main source of interference in Ireland.  Mobile repeaters and boosters that don’t meet ComReg’s strict criteria are prohibited for consumer use.  It is also illegal to posses non-compliant signal boosters and they can be seized by customs.

Antennas, cables and connectors on the other hand are purely passive components.  These carry the signal received over the airwaves or transmitted by the data device’s radio hardware.   A purely passive antenna setup connects directly to the antenna ports of the data device.

ComReg has recently permitted the use of mobile repeaters that meet their strict technical conditions.  However, even with a high quality mobile repeater, it will only improve the reception on one polarity.  While this is great for calls, texts and data on mobile phones that lack antenna ports, 4G MIMO reception requires two repeaters running in opposite antenna polarities.

4G will work with a single repeater for the correct 4G band, but with its bandwidth cut in half.  One workaround for 4G MIMO would be to use an indoor rabbit ear antenna on the router’s port #1.  Then install an outdoor antenna with the opposite polarity and connect it to port #2.

Warning: Do not connect a repeater or signal booster directly to the antenna port of a modem or router!  This will potentially damage the repeater or the modem/router, like connecting an speaker amplifier to a microphone input.

Portable antennas

Portable 4G antennaA quick search of “4G antenna” on eBay or Amazon will return countless sellers offering antennas like the image on the right.  This type of antenna can be useful when travelling with a data dongle or hotspot.  For example, the antenna can attach to a campervan window with its suction cup.  Check that the antenna has the correct connector to fit the data dongle or hotspot.  TS9 and CRC9 require different connectors despite looking similar.

This type of antenna will unlikely offer any improvement for desktop routers.  These routers have much more sensitive antennas than the tiny antennas in dongles and hotspots.  The exception would be to locate antenna in an area that the router cannot easily go.

The “rabbit ear” antennas that attach directly to the ports can also be hit & miss.  With routers that have internal antennas, external antennas can avoid interference from circuitry within the router.  The benefit is usually minimal, sometimes no better than repositioning the router, turning it or raising its height.

Single vs MIMO antennas

4G MIMO antenna (Xpol)All antennas with two cable connections are MIMO antennas.  With 4G MIMO, one antenna is polarised at a 90-degree angle to the other.  This effectively doubles the bandwidth by transmitting on opposite polarities simultaneously within the same band.  With 3G, the second antenna handles receive diversity.  The second antenna picks up signals that bounce from directions the main antenna misses and vice versa.

While 3G can operate with a single antenna, a second antenna can provide up to double the performance.  If the data device lacks a second antenna connection, consider replacing it.  Most 4G devices support diversity on 3G, with advantage of 4G support when it becomes available.  See my router advice article for further information.

MIMO Log pairWideband LOG antennas are typically available in a pair (right image), one coaxial cable per antenna.  As the Irish networks operate on vertical and horizontal polarity, mount one antenna vertically and the second horizontally.  The antennas can be up to several metres apart, however, both antennas must face the same cell tower.

Dual polarity LOG antennaFrom my own rural area testing, I find LOG antennas perform at their best a few metres apart.  LOG antennas are also available that handle both polarities in one unit, as shown on the right.  I suggest going for two separate LOG antennas over this type of antenna for fringe reception areas.  Based on my testing, a dual polarity LOG antenna tends to perform no better than using just one LOG antenna.

Omni-Directional vs Directional

Portable antennas and larger indoor antennas are generally omni-directional.  When the cellular signal penetrates the building, it will often bounce off various surfaces before reaching the antenna.  While directional antennas have higher gain, it may not be possible to achieve a stronger signal than omni-directional antennas.  An omni-directional antenna picks up the main signal as well as signals that bounce off objects from other directions.

Directional antennas generally perform better with clear line of sight of the cell tower.  Unlike indoor reception, the signals coming from other directions are likely unwanted signals from other cell towers.  A directional antenna will attenuate these unwanted signals that otherwise introduce interference.   The higher gain facing the cell tower will also provide a stronger uplink signal at the cell tower receiving end.

The best place to install an omni-directional antenna outdoors is against a wall or gable.  This will help attenuate unwanted signals coming from behind the antenna.  See the ComReg SiteViewer to see the locations of the mobile operator masts, which will give an idea which side to install the antenna and the direction to aim it.

Antenna gain and radiation pattern

With antenna manufacturers trying to outdo each other on marketing, a lot of antennas have false gain ratings.  If a wideband antenna gain rating is over 15dB, it very likely is a false rating.   For example, the Wittenberg LAT-56 is one of the most sensitive wideband LTE antennas I’m aware of.  Despite its 98cm length, its maximum gain rating is just 11.5dBi.

All omni-directional MIMO antennas have a maximum gain of 2.4dBi.  These antennas basically contain a pair of dipoles, cross polarised.  Even the popular “35dBi” portable antennas are typically 2dBi max.

When comparing directional antennas, look for the radiation pattern graph.  If the antenna does not have a radiation pattern graph, I recommend avoiding that antenna for trying to isolate a mast.  The exception would be for very long antennas (80cm+), which have a narrow acceptance angle.  Note that omni-directional antennas generally do not provide a radiation pattern graph.  The horizontal plane would be a circle and the vertical plane would be a figure 8 shape.

The following is an example from the Wittenberg LAT-56:

Wittenberg Lat-56 Gain Graph

This graph shows the radiation patterns for three LTE bands – 2.6GHz (band 7), 1800MHz (band 3) and 800MHz (band 20).  The ‘E’ plane (from the German data sheet) is for the vertical plane.

The top section of the graph shows the acceptance angle.  Going by these graphs, the aim can be 30 degrees off to the left/right or up/down before losing about 3dB of signal.

The pattern around the rest of the graph shows the signal rejection.  For example, if there is another mast anywhere between 60 degrees and 300 degrees to where the antenna points, this antenna will weaken the unwanted signal by over 18dB.

Panel and smaller LOG antennas typically have a larger acceptance angle and less rejection.  Their smaller size make them easier to install, particularly in areas where the user has clear line of sight of the mast.

Band-specific antennas are much more sensitive for the equivalent wideband antenna size.  For example, the Wittenberg LAT 22 offers 3dB higher gain than the above antenna for the 800MHz (band 20), has a narrower acceptance angle (more directional) and is 20cm shorter.

NOTE: Make sure you are using the 800MHz (band 20) band before considering the Wittenberg LAT 22 or any other 800MHz antenna.  This antenna does not work on 1800MHz (band 3), which some masts operate on.  800MHz antennas may also not work with 4G+ masts, which may try handing the router over to the higher band, in turn dropping the connection.  See the Single band coverage section below for further details.

3G and 4G band coverage

Portable and omni-directional 4G antennas are generally wideband and cover the main 3G and 4G bands in Ireland.  Directional antennas like group band TV antennas are available in both wideband and band specific.  Band specific antennas provide higher gain and directivity than wideband for the same antenna size.

Single band coverage

All mobile operators in Ireland currently operate on 900MHz and 2100MHz for 3G and 800MHz and 1800MHz for 4G.   The 800MHz 4G and 900MHz 3G bands have extensive coverage in rural areas due to the long signal propagation. The 2100MHz 3G and 1800MHz 4G bands mainly serve urban areas and larger towns due to the higher bandwidth.

LTE panel antennaFor users over a kilometre from the nearest town, an 800-900MHz antenna will generally be adequate.  An 800MHz panel antenna (right image) provides high gain, good directivity and is no larger than a typical grid TV antenna.  It can easily mount on a typical TV antenna wall bracket.

Within the town limits and urban areas, I strongly recommend checking what bands are available.  Many Samsung, iPhone, Android 7+ phones and rooted Android phones can display the bands in use.   On Samsung phones, dial *#0011#.  For iPhone, dial *3001#12345#*.  With other phones, install the CellMapper app.  It can read frequency information on many Android 7+ and rooted phones and look up the LTE band on others.  For phones that cannot read band information, go into the CellMapper’s Settings menu and turn on “Estimate Frequency Bands”.  It will look-up the LTE band # from its server, which requires an Internet/data connection.  If the phone shows ‘4G+’ on the network, then both 4G bands are in use.

LTE Advanced / 4G+ carrier aggregation

4G+ cell towers in Ireland operate on 800MHz and 1800MHz simultaneously to provide higher bandwidth.  LTE cat 6 and higher devices connect to two bands simultaneously in 4G+ mode, also known as carrier aggregation.

For regular 4G devices (LTE cat 4 and lower), the cell tower may determine the band the device can use depending on the physical distance from the router.  Some cell towers restrict devices within a certain range to the higher band only, while devices far away can operate on 800MHz only.  As a result, I recommend choosing a wideband antenna if 4G+ is available in the area.

Antenna types

The most common band specific patch, panel and Yagi antennas are as follows:

  • 800MHz – 4G bands 8 & 20 and 3G band 900MHz.
  • 1800MHz – 4G band 3, some also extend to cover 3G band 2100MHz
  • 2600MHz – 4G bands 7 & 38, not yet in use in Ireland
  • 1710-2700MHz – Upper 4G bands, including 4G band 3, 7 & 38.  These may cover 3G band 2100MHz.

LOG antennas are wideband only and generally cover all the 3G and 4G bands between 700MHz and 2700MHz.

4G Ready TV antennaBeware – So called “4G Ready” and “LTE Ready” antennas do not work with 4G!  These are UHF TV antennas with circuitry added to filter out the 800MHz 4G band, formerly used by UHF channels 61-69.

Cable connectors

MIMO SMA connectionsMost desktop routers include either SMA or FME connectors.  Huawei routers generally have two SMA connectors behind a removable panel on the back of the router.  Portable 4G hotspots and data dongles typically have two small CRC9 or TS9 antenna connectors.  The cable connectors must match to connect.

Adapters are available to connect from SMA to CRC9 or TS9 or from FME to CRC9 or TS9.  Most of these adapters typically include two screw-on ends to fit either CRC9 or TS9.

Cable and connector impedance matching

People often ask me if they can reuse their satellite coaxial leads, such as from an old Sky dish.  Unfortunately, satellite and TV cables are unsuitable for cellular antennas due to an impedance mismatch.  TV antennas and satellite dishes use 75 Ohm cable.  3G and 4G antennas and data devices require 50 Ohm cable.

The two types of cable and connectors may look very similar.  However, both have different characteristics such as inner/outer radii and the dielectric insulation in-between.  While 75 Ohm cable can carry the signals, a small portion of the signal reflects when it meets the 50 Ohm impedance mismatch at each end of the cable.

Besides signal loss, the reflected signals are particularly troublesome with 2-way transmissions such as a video call.  Each time the radio hardware transmits a signal, the reflections may obliterate the incoming transmissions.  This can severely affect the performance or cause frequent drop-outs.

See this article for in-depth detail covering the differences between 50 Ohm and 75 Ohm cable and connectors.

Coaxial cables

Coaxial cablesMost antennas are typically available as complete kits, which include one or two antennas, 5 to 10 metres of RG-58 coaxial cable and the connectors.  Some kits also include a wall mount bracket.

Try to keep the cable run as short as possible, preferably within 10 metres.  With short cable runs, the signal to noise ratio remains mostly consistent all the way to the radio hardware.  With long cable runs, some otherwise discernible signals will fall below the noise floor of the radio hardware.  Similarly, unwanted signals that penetrate the cable shielding will interfere with the weakened signal towards the device end.

50 Ohm cable also requires a suitable 50 Ohm SMA, FME or ‘N’ connector at each end.  Complete antenna kits typically include the proper matching connectors prefitted.  While twist-on ‘F’ connectors and adapters may be tempting for a DIY cable build, they are 75 Ohm rated.  As with using unsuitable cable, 75 Ohm connectors will introduce signal loss and reflections.

DIY with UHF TV antennas and satellite dishes

Older UHF antennas that handle UHF channels 61-69 can be modified to pick up LTE band 20 (800MHz).  This typically involves replacing the 75 Ohm balun/cable connector and dipole assembly with a small cellular dipole antenna.

See the following video on YouTube where someone modified a TV antenna to function as a high gain LTE antenna.

4G dish antennaSatellite dishes are a popular way of receiving the higher LTE bands 7, 38 (both 2600MHz) and 3 (1800MHz).  This typically involves replacing the LNB with a small LTE antenna or a USB data dongle with water proofing.

The image on the right shows a purpose built MIMO antenna installed in the “LNB” holder.  This type of setup generally does not work with the lower 800/900MHz bands.  Unfortunately, with Irish operators enforcing strict distance limits from newer and upgraded cell towers, the satellite dish method will unlikely work more than a few kilometres of the cell tower either.

305 thoughts on “3G/4G antennas – Types, directional, MIMO, cables & connectors”

  1. Hi Sean, So I had a huge improvement with my antennas and I was able to now connect to 1800 mhz and 800 mhz alternating between the two for my needs , I’d stream to twitch on the 800 Mhz frequency because it seemed to have a stronger signal and upload in comparison to the 1800 mhz freq. which was always weaker/further away (2 bars of signal) but it always had much much quicker download speed. I was using LTEinspecteur app I found on your blog to swap between the two and it was working great up until the last month or so. there was a lot of wind and the antennas arent perfectly aligned anymore, (I had one vertical one horizontal in the same direction like you said) so my problem is , which wasnt happening before, is the SINR reading goes from 14 or 15 , drops to 6 or 7 and goes back up again, majority of the time its in the 13-15 range, would them not being lined up properly anymore be the issue? or do you think its something else, mainly getting lag spikes is what made me wonder whats wrong, ping going from 30ms to 600 for about a second.

    1. Latency spikes are usually caused when the uplink is congested. Before adjusting anything, try a few upload speed tests on TestMy.net with their UK server, swap the two antenna leads around on your router and repeat to see if the swapped leads uploads quicker. The router only uploads over antenna port #1, so one polarity may provide better throughout than the other. Generally I recommend having the vertical antenna on port #1 as rain droplets on the horizontal antenna may attenuate the upload speed.

      If that doesn’t help, it’s worth adjusting the antennas the next time you get a chance. I suggest first tiling the antennas up a few degrees to see if it stabilises or improves the SINR as the shaking from the wind tends to affect the inclination more than the direction. This is especially true of satellite dishes as if you have one that needs adjusting.

      1. Hi Sean,

        I recently improved my home internet signal by using a sim card enabled router and an external antenna routed into the back of it. Iv used a three simcard just cos its the cheapest option, however where i currently live, vodafone seems to have a stronger signal. If i put a vodafone sim into my router instead of my three sim, would i be able to improve my routers speed?
        Or does the antenna pick up all signals equally regardless of provider??

        Thanks in advance

        1. If your router is an unlocked router (i.e. no Three branding on it or its web interface), you can swap the SIM for a Vodafone SIM. If you plan using a phone SIM, you will need to change the APN setting on the router to “live.vodafone.com”, otherwise it will consume any credit on the SIM as out-of-bundle data usage.

          If your antenna is an omni-directional or just a pair that screw directly to the back of your router, you don’t need to do anything with the antenna as they should pick up the Vodafone signal. However, if you have a directional antennae (‘V’ shape or rectangular shape with a metal back), you may need to realign it so that it points at the Vodafone mast. As your Vodafone signal is stronger, it is very likely it is coming from a different nearby mast. For example, if your antenna is pointing to a Three mast in the opposite direction to the Vodafone mast, it may not pick up the signal until it is realigned.

          1. The router is unblocked. I just bought all the gear independently so that shouldnt be a problem.

            The antenna i have is just a normal 4g LTE directional, pointing towards a cluster of antennas that occupy the same field, so technically the distance from those masts to my house are all the same, which is roughly 4km.
            Would there be any reason for a better vodafone signal considering three and vodafone has a mast in the same place?

  2. Hi Sean, I have been using 2 yagi antennas (about 1m long metal tv aerial looking kind) connecting to 800mhz band only to the only mast in range with some success as long as it doesn’t rain too much then I have to shake the water off. So I’m now trying to work out if I would be better off with a pair of the directional ones enclosed in what looks like plastic. Would they be any better for the rain or would the shorter antenna give less gain? Thanks

    1. If possible, tilt the two antennas up around 10 degrees. The main issue with rainfall is that water droplets get trapped between the main bars, particularly with the horizontal antenna. About 10 degrees of elevation is usually enough to let the water run off. I had this issue with mine before tiling it up.

      The plastic enclosed antennas are unaffected by rain, however, their gain and acceptance angle are lower than the longer 1 metre antennas. You may lose speed if they pick up interference from neighbouring masts that your current antennas reject. If tiling your antennas up makes the signal worse (e.g. the mast is lower down than your building), you can try covering the top of the horizontal antenna with plastic.

      Another thing you could try is sourcing 45-degree brackets to mount the two antennas 45 degrees to the left and right. 4G transmits in colinear polarisation (which I didn’t know until recently), which means that the angle doesn’t matter as long as one antenna is 90 degrees cross-polarised to the other. The 45 degree tilt should help rain droplets run off the bars.

  3. Hi Sean – thanks for the very informative article. I am considering a switch to 4G internet as I can probably get faster speeds for about a quarter of the price of my current contract. I am bout 1km or less from the cell tower but need height to get line of sight – so am looking at a mast mounted directional antenna with a B525 router – can you recommend anything? The Poynting 4G-XPOL-A0002 seems to keep coming up as recommended – is this as good as anything else out there? I know I may be over speccing it given the distance – but because it is mast mounted I would rather do it once and get it right.

    1. With that short range, that Poynting antenna should work just as well as the higher gain antennas. The only time I would suggest going for a pair of LOG antennas (such as these) that close would be if there are two masts in close proximity, e.g. <50 degrees apart to try isolating one from the other. Otherwise you'll be faced with spending more time trying to install and accurately aim the two separate antennas.

      With panel antennas, they can be out by around 20 degrees with little impact on the signal, which means you just need to roughly aim it at the mast and tighten the bolts. If you are looking for something a little cheaper, this one on Amazon is a good alternative with similar specifications to the Poynting.

      1. Hi Sean,
        Compliments, great articles, great info, I was looking to get an external antenna also, mast is roughly (LOS) 1.5 – 2km away, I have B315s-22 router, was looking originally at the Poynting 4G-XPOL-A0001. The Antenna you mentioned in the previous post looks to work also with the B315 and states 5g. The B315 doesn’t support CA. Living in a rural area what would you recommend. within budget not sure would a B525 or upward spec router offer much better with external antenna. Interested in your comments/advice. Many Thanks

      2. Thanks for the prompt advice and apologies for the slow response. I had ordered a Lowcostmobile 5G antenna (https://smile.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07WLSKK1X) thinking it to be an upgrade on the one you recommended which wasn’t available. However documentation suggests it only covers 3500mhz band and not other bands. Am I better to return it and go for the other one which is now available again. Thanks for your help

        1. Unfortunately, that antenna will not work as it only covers the 3.5GHz band. I am surprised they are even selling it as no 5G network in the UK let alone anywhere in Europe operates in standalone 5G mode yet. All the 5G networks in the UK and Europe still depend on 4G for control functions (e.g. establishing the connection) and all upload traffic. This means that unless the user has a very strong 4G signal from the cell tower (due to antenna not designed to operate on those frequencies), their connection will likely have a very poor uplink and possibly an unstable connection.

          As Amazon is unlikely to restock them during the Covid-19 Pandemic, these are another two alternative options on Irish sites, both with 5m of cable and similar gain: As these are IT suppliers (an essential service), they should be open during this Pandemic although I recommend contacting them to be sure:
          https://www.irishwireless.net/lte-diy/xpol-a0002 – This is the Poynting 4G-XPOL-A0002 you mentioned earlier and is directional.
          https://www.dipol.ie/cellular-systems/gsm-3g-lte-5g-antennas/lte/lte-mimo-antenna-trans-data-lte-kpz-8-8.html – Another alternative on the Dipol site.

          1. Thanks Sean. I’ll return the one I have. I think they will have the other one by 10th – part of the attraction for me was also the 10mtr cable which I will need to route down from mast into house. Thanks for all the other options if it doesn’t materialise.

          2. Sean – thanks again for all your help. I have the lowcostmobile 4g panel antenna up and running. Does it make any differrence which way round I connect the cables to a Huawei B525? Not sure how I tell which cable is which in any case. Thought I had a problem initially when my speeds suddenly slowed – but think it was just GoMo capping my speed at 1mb when I hit 80gb – still have to confirm.

          3. To test which way the cables work best, run a speed test, swap the cables and retest. Use whichever gives the highest upload speed. The cable configuration does not affect the download speed, just the upload speed as the router only transmits on whichever antenna is connected to port #1, the port nearest the signal bars.

            The next time the speed drops, check if there are rain droplets bridging between the two main bars of each antenna. If there are, it’s likely shorting out the signal. I’ve a post showing an example here and how to fix this. GoMo usually throttles after the 80GB mark, so that may also be the culprit. You can try changing the APN to “data.myeirmobile.ie” as I heard someone mention that this APN gets around the throttling. If this doesn’t work or you lose connectivity, change it back to the original APN “data.mymeteor.ie”.

  4. For info the response from the supplier was as follows:
    The 5G Antenna Panel Directional 15 dBi 3500 MHz is only compatible with the 5G 3500Mhz frequency. There is no universal panel antenna with all frequencies, because it is very complicated to make an antenna that has good gain with so many frequencies. We recommend to our customers to have both our 4G LTE 5G MIMO 700/800/900/1800/2100/2600Mhz antenna and the 5G Antenna Panel Directional 15 dBi 3500 MHz.
    Thankfully no issue with refund which was instant – within an hour after I dropped it into AnPost.

  5. Hi Sean,

    Great articles and information.

    I have a TP-link LTE router with a Three sim, after a much checking I managed to find the best position and funny enough its in direct line with a UMTS Band 1 mast about 3km away.

    Currently getting 2-6MB/s at peak times.
    RSSI -90dBm
    Cant find the other readouts that are mentioned above in the settings.

    My question is what would be the best antenna to get the best speeds with the current mast.

    Many thanks,
    David

    1. For 3G, you just need a single antenna. The following would be my suggestion for band 1 (2100MHz):
      https://www.dipol.ie/cellular-systems/gsm-3g-lte-5g-antennas/3g/umts-antenna-atk-16-2ghz-16dbi-outdoor-10m-cable-and-sma-plug.html

      This antenna does not work on 3G band 8 (900MHz), so double check that mast on the ComReg SiteViewer. If the site ID starts with “THREE_” and lists UMTS for services, it is a 2100MHz site. The site ID that starts with “3_” mainly provides 3G on 900MHz. During the current pandemic, ComReg has allowed Three to reprovision some of its 2100MHz sites for 4G, so if it fails to connect, switch your router to 4G mode.

      1. Hi Sean,

        I purchased the antenna you recommended and I was getting good upload/download speeds. But I am having issues with the router (I don’t think its related to the antenna). The router keeps dropping signal and disconnecting. I tried various APN’s but it will work for a while and disconnect again. I now think it could be an issue with the router itself. It looks like it is loosing signal, any ideas.

        Many thanks,
        David

        1. You can try setting the router to 3G only in case it’s intermittently switching back and forth between a weak 4G mast, especially since that’s a band 1 antenna. The APN is only used for connecting after it has a signal, so it’s not an APN issue.

          Another possibility is Three itself trying to nudge your router into 4G mode. I know someone who ran into this issue keeping their router in 3G only mode and it mainly seemed to disconnect when the connection was idle. One workaround you can try is run a continuous ping in the background to see if it remains connected, e.g. “ping -t 8.8.8.8” from the command line.

  6. Thanks for your reply.
    The site shows both “Three” and “3” masts at the site!
    I currently have the router on the “4G preferred” option.

    Will the speed drop once the provision for the 4G goes back to normal.

    Thanks,
    David

  7. Hi Sean,

    Was getting 2mb with sky. Went with three unlimited, B525 router and was getting around 10mb down / 10mb up.

    Tried omnidirectional Poynting and that creeped up to 30mb down / 10mb up.

    Finally got parabolic dish pictured in your post with a claimed 24dbi and now get around 50mbps down /30mbps and can finally game online. I am 2.5km from the tower with unobstructed line of sight.

    1. Is this the maximum performance I can achieve ?

    2. I found pointing the dish down improved performance. I aligned it only using the polling on the router and eye balling it. Is there software to improve the alignment

    3. Is there for example a higher gain attachment available for the dish that would improve things further still ?

    4. With no budget limitations is there anything else you could consider to improve the speed further between the tower and my router ?

    1. 1. The maximum speed will also depend on the upstream that feeds the tower. Many of Three’s rural sites are served by microwave feeds, which in turn can be the bottleneck. A lot of the sites around here (Co. Donegal) max out around 40 to 50Mbps even early in the morning due to limited capacity of the microwave feeds.
      2. You can try fine tuning it, e.g. move it left/right/up/down a few degrees and rerun the speed tests. This is best carried out early in the morning to avoid fluctuations from other traffic on the site. If the speed does not improve any, the bottleneck is likely at the mast’s upstream.
      3+4. At that short range, the satellite dish is effectively overkill, much like using a telescope instead of binoculars for bird watching. The dish is mainly intended for picking up very weak signals such as 10+km away with poor or obstructed line of sight. Usually with clear line of sight, I recommend going for a pair of LOG antennas as they are a lot easier to align and less less sensitive to accurate alignment that a dish requires.

      1. Hi thanks for coming back to fast, Glad to have found your site thought I was on this mission on my own 🙂

        The tower I’m pointed at has both the three_ and the 3_ on the same tower so does that mean it is capable of 4G+ ?

        THREE_LX0095
        3_LX0095

        My router is only showing 4G (no plus) With my dish being 1800mhz am I missing out on faster speeds ?

        I will do all the recommended tests get details and post on the forum tomorrow !

        1. Both sites would need to list LTE to indicate 4G+. With some sites, just one lists LTE. For example, in my area the ‘Three_’ one just lists GSM. As the Huawei only shows 4G+ with active transfers, you can try starting a large download and see if it shows 4G+. Another way you can check is see which band your router is connected to:
          https://confusedbird.com/thread-5.html

          If it’s on band 3, then it’s very likely 4G+ as nearly all Three’s band 3 sites also operate on band 20.

          1. Both sites show LTE. When I log into the router admin page (not the app ) it shows as 4G+

            RSRQ -13
            RSRP -71
            RSSI -51
            Band 20

            Test my London
            11 down. 9 up

            Test my LA
            8.4 down. 4.5up

            Have I maxed out what is possible or do you think there is anything I could change to eek out some more speed ?

            The dish I am using was specific for 1800 if My router is using band 20 @ 800, how am I able to receive anything at all ? I had the Poynting before but the dish is definitely better.

            Last question is there a more powerful thing I could add to the end of the dish to improve the performance ?

    1. With that much difference in speed between TestMy and Speedtest, it is looking like Three’s traffic shaping is limiting the speed. 40Mbps up seems to indicate you were picking up band 3 that time as band 20’s upload speed is only capable of 25Mbps. You can try doing a test download of the 100MB file here on this link. Multiply the download speed by 8 for Mbps, e.g. 5.0MB/s x 8 = 40Mbps. If it’s also much higher than TestMy’s London server, then that mast is affected by Three’s traffic shaping.

      For fine-tuning the dish, you can try forcing your router on band 3 using the utility LTEInspecteur (Link). That utility shows the signal readings in real-time, so you can adjust to try getting the least negative RSRP and SINR values.

  8. Hi Sean, great site and very informative.
    My own situation is as follows; I live in a blackspot in North County Dublin. I have poor mobile phone connection (Vodafone and Three) and Mobile broadband (Eir). Trying to work from home with both is proving very difficult and stressful of late. Looking at the ComReg site my nearest tower (MH_1636) is 2.5k away and it carries Meteor (Eir) Vodafone and Three. While the tower is quite close there are trees blocking line of sight on my neighbours property that probably don’t help the signal.
    With the Eir mobile broadband, we have a B315 located at the downstairs kitchen window, this picks up 3 bars of 4G signal which gives us about 2 to 3mbs download as long as you are near the router. Moving one room away or upstairs reduces this to an almost unusable level.
    If I locate the router in the attic pointing towards the tower I get 4 bars of 4G signal and significantly better speeds of 15/35mbs depending on the time of day. However, as soon as you move any connecting device away from the attic down to the 1st floor the speed drops away to make it worse than locating the router in the kitchen. On the ground floor the speed is unusable.
    My question is; should I be looking at some sort of antenna to boost the incoming signal (presume I would need the router in the attic as its closest to the roof for an antenna) or a wifi extender to better move what little I have in the kitchen about the house? Or maybe I need both. I have read that wifi extenders actually cut your signal before sending it wider (not great if all we get with router in the kitchen is 2/3mbs in the first place!)

    1. I’d suggest placing your router in the attic where you get the highest speed (preferably high up in the eave) and using either a Homeplug Wi-Fi kit or a Mesh kit:

      Home Plug Wi-Fi – This kit consists of two units, typically priced around £40-£60. Plug one unit into a power outlet near your router and connect it to the router with a network cable. Plug the second unit (that provides Wi-Fi) where you would like to provide Wi-Fi, such as in the hallway. This unit uses your home’s electrical network to connect to the unit near the router. Generally these can carry around 40Mbps across the electrical wiring from my experience (possibly 80Mbps with a 1Gbps Homeplug kit), however, if there’s a lot of electrical noise (from motors, etc.) this can drop the speed.

      Wi-Fi mesh – This kit consists of 3 units, priced around £100-£200. Plug one unit into your router, plug the second unit on the first floor and the third unit on the ground floor, preferably all in the hallway. While a Wi-Fi mesh repeats the signal, it is a lot more sophisticated than a repeater and uses separate Wi-Fi channels including 802.11ac to avoid reducing the bandwidth. For example, if you have a laptop streaming in the kitchen, it will connect to the ground floor mesh unit, which in turn will communicate with the first floor unit over a different Wi-Fi channel and finally to unit in the attic on another Wi-Fi channel. These generally perform a lot better than a Wi-Fi repeater and it’s what some of the ISPs provide when they claim to offer complete home Wi-Fi coverage.

      1. Thanks a million for the reply Sean.

        Any opinion good/bad on the TP-Link Deco M5 as a mesh option (£180 on Amazon)?

        1. That one or the cheaper TP-Link Deco E4 should be adequate. Both have the similar Wi-Fi 802.11ac Wi-Fi performance/coverage. The main difference is the Deco M5 has much smaller nodes and Gigabit Ethernet ports, so will be future proof for whenever Fibre reaches your area.

          1. I use the Tenda MW3 mesh wifi from Amazon. A three node kit costs around £80. It works well – more or less plug and play into your router. Have a Huawei B525 in the attic and use Tenda for WiFi distribution. The MW3 has 100mb lan/wan ports while the MW6 has Gigabit ports. Also allows two wired debvices to be connected per unit.

  9. Hi Sean,

    Thank for all the posts you’ve put together, they are a fantastic resource! If I could bother you with a few questions. I’m looking to install a setup at mobile home at Fanore (by the beach). The nearest mast is here https://siteviewer.comreg.ie/#site/CE032/53.0618440733/-9.2619418141/1/Site%20CE032 about 8k away and blocked by ‘the burren’ no less. If I used the Huawei b525 with the pair of log antennas you mentioned above would line of sight matter? The nearest other masts are on the Aran Islands or Spiddal in Co. Galway. Both about 25k away across water but clearer line of sight (I think).

    1. You can check the line of sight with the following website. Put one point roughly where your house is and the second where the mast is. For the heights, click each pin. I suggest putting in 2m for your antenna height and something like 10m for the mast height. Obstructions have a greater impact near the end points.

      If your phone is with Vodafone (based on that mast), try seeing if it goes into 4G mode outside or when held outside a skylight or upstairs window. Vodafone has a short 4G range limit on many of its masts, so if you don’t pick up 4G on your phone, an antenna may not overcome this. That 25km distance is quite possibly outside the range limit as I’ve heard someone else that could not connect to a Vodafone site just 14km away despite being able to connect to the Three site on that same cell tower mast. If you get at least 1 bar of 4G signal with usable data on your phone, this confirms you are within range of a usable 4G mast, in which case the LOG antennas should get a stronger signal when aimed at it. Depending on the LOG antennas, you may need a shelley clamp and a 1m pipe to mount the LOG antennas side-by-side so that you can tilt them up a few degrees, which can help improve an obstructed line-of-sight signal.

  10. Hi Sean,

    Thank you for your reply. Could you repost the details of the website to check line if sight to mast please.

    Regards,

    Eric

  11. Thanks for writing all this up. It is very much appreciated I’ve spent all day faffing around with Vodafone tech ‘support’ trying to unravel a 3G/4G issue and got absolutely nowhere. I recently moved a few km and having been having really annoying mobile broadband issues. 2 Vodafone mobile routers that worked reasonably well at the old location, but nearly continuous dropped connection issues at new location, plus relatively low connection speeds (2-4mbit). All while my phone (sitting right beside the routers!) is getting solid 4G at 20-27mbit! thought it was an antenna issue so bought an external Poynting. No joy. Reading the above it feels _very_ like it’s the 4G round-trip limit you mention. Switched the routers to 3G only and now they’re at least not continuously dropping the connection, which is a great improvement. Do you know what the roundtrip range limit is? I’m not sure what mast my routers are seeing, but the two most likely are c. 5km and 10km away.

    Anyway, thanks again for all the detailed information here and elsewhere on your site. Life saving stuff.

  12. Hi Sean,

    A truly excellent article which has filled in a lot of blanks for me – particularly as relates to the advantage of MIMO antennae and modems.

    I live on the Isle of Colonsay (postcode PA61 7YT) and I found your site researching a solution to our island’s problems with a simply awful BT broadband (BB) service. Being a new-ish resident with a new line, until recently I had the best BT BB speed on the island (6Mbps up and about 1 down) but most others get less than 1Mbps down and barely anything up. Hopeless. Some have resorted to satellite BB but this has its own issues, mainly cost and data restrictions.

    So, I finally ditched BT when they dropped my speed down to about 2Mbps and then, about 3 weeks later, sent me a letter offering a 4G upgrade (for another £10/m on top of the £50/m my existing landline and BB cost). Final straw for me and I got a 4G router with EE and a VOiP service and ported over my BT number.

    All pretty painless and 80Mbps up/35 down and costs about £35/m including my excellent quality ‘landline’. Outgoing VOiP call costs are relatively expensive to local and UK numbers (1.2pp minute+) but I use my free minutes on my mobile for that (doesn’t everyone?) and calls to relatives in Australia are 1/10th the cost of BT.

    Anyway, I now find myself in the position of sorting out my fellow islanders’ BB and have already set up a battery-powered 4G modem with wifi bridge to bounce BB around a particularly high hill to the most northern residence on the island – their BB speed has increased 80-fold.

    So my next challenge is to do the same for the island of Oronsay just south of us. Of course, the ‘customer’ sits at the foot of a fairly high hill at the north end of the island and on the south side of the hill – our only masts being north of that – about 6km away. I am going to do a field survey with a portable 4G modem and directional antenna soon but my main question is; if that fails to get a decent signal directly, would it be feasible to look to Islay for a signal? It is at least 15km away but LOS (probably) but I have no idea where the cells are there – we have no equivalent of your very useful ComReg SiteViewer here in the UK without paying a fairly hefty fee.

    I note your comments about Vodafone (more expensive anyway) so it’ll probably be EE and use 800MHz for the range.

    Your readers may find this youtube video useful “Amazing method to check your radio path between two points using Google Earth”… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqpNe3NdE6I

    Regards, Martin Winlow
    Isle of Colonsay

  13. Hi Sean,

    Great antenna so far-
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01E7CWNSI/?pldnSite=1

    This site is a great resource.

    The nature of the LTE network in my area seems to change enough every 9 to 12 months that I need to reassess my set up.

    I am testing the eir network again. Left because of the limited 250Gb per month but the new 750Gb will be plenty. Previously could only achieve 10 -12mb but just tested the antenna from Amazon you recommend- inside the house, downstairs, with the antenna still warped in plastic, resting on the window sill – jump to 45mb – 75% – 80% 4G signal!

    Have had a very good experience with rural WiFi but the three network seems to be throttling the evening data / streaming very hard the last two months. Sometimes we can load basic web pages, let alone stream. Still very good in the day for work but the family can’t stream Netflix reliably in the evening now. Mast overload maybe/ contention. Have been using eir / iPhones hotspots in evening and they work fine.

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