Short of switching carriers, there are basically two ways to boost your cell phone, aircard, or mobile hotspot data speeds: passively and actively. Passively would be to physically attach an external antenna to your device (thus basically extending your device’s internal antenna). While this can certainly work, more people prefer to actively boost their data speeds using a wireless amplifier or booster. An amplifier is a device which electronically amplifies and rebroadcasts the incoming signal from the provider. That way, your mobile device can stay mobile, the way the good Lord intended! This article will focus on actively boosting data speeds, but more importantly, determining if actively boosting the signal will even help with your current data speeds.
It is important to note that many factors are responsible for your aircard, modem or smart phone download/upload speeds. The two that I will focus on in this post are 1) received signal strength at your device and 2) cell tower capacity/performance.
Generally, if you are able to increase the signal level in the environment that your device is in then you will have better download/upload speeds, but this is not always the case. Your speeds will also depend on the capacity and bandwidth of the cell tower your device is currently connected to. You could have 5 bars of signal strength but a poorly or under-equipped cell tower at maximum capacity could limit your data throughput.
I recommend performing a site survey to help determine whether a booster will help your situation prior to purchasing any equipment.
Step 1) Perform an RSSI measurement both inside and outside the home.
RSSI, or received signal strength indicator, is a decibel value (dBm) that reflects your received signal strength from the tower. This is based on “bars” of signal, but is much more accurate as a single bar can represent a very large signal level range. This number will be a negative value and should be somewhere between -50 and -110. The closer to “0”, the better the signal. ( -70 dBm is a better signal than -85 dBm). If you are using a data card or modem, the carrier’s software will often display this value if you hover over the signal strength indicator or it will be in a hardware menu. If using a phone, you may use a search engine of your preference to search for how to put your specific phone into test mode (sometimes called field test mode) and get these numbers. When using test mode, please make sure your phone is connected to the network that you are interested in boosting. Ex. If you live in a 4G LTE area, please make sure LTE is enabled on your phone and that you are connected to an LTE tower before entering test mode. You will know you’re connected to an LTE equipped tower when “LTE” is displayed next to your signal bars.
Step 2) Go to www.speedtest.netand perform speed tests both inside and outside the home.
Perform a speedtest at multiple locations inside your home and write down the average results for ping, upload, and download speeds. Using the same wireless device, walk outside your home or to an area up to ¼ mile away where there is better signal and perform the same test. Make sure you perform at least a few tests and average the results. If using a smart phone as the device, speedtest has apps for both iOS and Android platforms.
Interpreting the Results
If the starting signal inside your home is better than -80 dBm on a 3G network or better than -70 dBm for a 4G network, chances are a signal booster is not going to help you because you are already getting the best possible performance your tower can offer. Likewise, if you do not see a noticeable increase in data speeds from your “in-home” speedtest results and your “outside-home” speedtest results a signal booster is not likely to help because your poor performance is not signal level related, it is cell tower/carrier network related.
However, if there is a significant difference between your indoor and outdoor RSSI levels and your speedtest results, chances are a signal booster will increase your data speeds. How much is determined by a number of factors but you should be able to achieve, at the very least, the speeds that you get outside your home. It is important to note that if your signal levels are roughly the same both inside and outside your home, but you can travel up to a ¼ mile away and achieve a better signal and faster data, a booster will still generally help as an external yagi antenna will be able to grab a stronger signal than the internal antenna on your device can.