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Will an Antenna or Amplifier Help Me? Find out BEFORE You Buy!

One of the most common questions we hear at 5GStore is, "how do I know if one of your antennas or amplifiers will help my situation?" The answer to that question depends on whether a better signal is available nearby and whether improving the signal results in better performance. Even the best outdoor antenna or amplifier kit can only increase your signal if there is a signal available to draw in. On the other hand, if your signal is already strong, a signal booster might not add enough to be cost-effective.

When considering any type of booster, you should first accurately identify what your current signal strength is. Then, you’ll need to conduct a few simple tests in and around the area where you use your device. By doing so, you will be able to predict whether an antenna or amplifier will improve your device's performance before you order expensive equipment.

The testing we recommend to determine whether signal-boosting equipment is appropriate for you is called a "site survey". This process involves comparing your signal strength and performance in a few different locations. Doing a site survey is easy — just follow the steps below. Review the first section if you are conducting a modem/router site survey or skip to the next section for phones and PDAs. These cellular broadband site testing procedures are appropriate for both home and business users who want to determine if they need a signal booster.

Doing a Site Survey:

RSSI vs signal bars: RSSI, or "Received Signal Strength Indicator", and RSRP, or "Reference Signal Received Power", are simply a numerical representation of your signal strength that is much more accurate than the bars or percentages. It shows up as a negative number, and closer to zero is better: -90 is better than -100, and so on. In most cases, RSSI is used for 3G and RSRP for 4G, though some devices use RSSI to represent both 3G and 4G. For LTE, a good target RSSI/RSRP is -70.

If you aren't able to find the RSSI/RSRP from your device's user interface/admin, doing a site survey using the signal bars as a reference is fine. At a minimum, the signal bars will give you some data to compare with (e.g. signal is 2 bars inside and 3 bars outside).

Answer the below questions and then select the "Interpret the Results" tab above to analyze your site survey results and determine what equipment (if any) is appropriate for you! 

  • What is the RSSI/ RSRP indoors, at the location you use your device?
  • At that location, what are your speeds? You can use a site like speedtest.net to check your download and upload speeds.
  • What is the best RSSI/ RSRP you could find immediately outside and around the building?
  • At that location outside, what are your speedtest results?
  • If the signal outside the building is not significantly better than it is inside, walk or drive in the direction of better signal until you find significantly better signal. At that location, what are your speedtest results?
  • What's between you and that optimal signal? Trees? Elevation? How far away is it?

Interpreting Site Survey Results

Once your site survey is complete, we need to analyze the results to determine if an antenna or amplifier will be helpful. The following general rules will apply for most situations*:

  • If significantly better signal is available immediately outside, and the speedtest results outside were also significantly better, an indoor or outdoor antenna will likely help.
  • If signal and performance are only slightly better immediately outside, but significantly better signal and performance is available nearby (within a quarter mile), an antenna mounted on the exterior of your home/office will likely help (if the better signal is more than a quarter mile away, you may also need an amplifier).
  • If better signal is not available within a mile or so, an antenna or amplifier is unlikely to help you.
  • If better signal is available outside or nearby, but your speedtest results are the same as what you see indoors, an antenna or amplifier is unlikely to help you (because the problem is not signal-related; this kind of result would indicate that the speeds you're seeing are the best speeds the tower can provide.)
  • If your starting signal is better than -80dBm (for 3G) or -70dBm (for 4G), it is unlikely that an antenna or amplifier will help you much, if at all (you may be able to improve your signal, but you are most likely already getting the best possible performance the tower can offer).

*DISCLAIMER: It is very important to understand that these guidelines and hypothetical recommendations may not apply to every situation, and your results may vary. Because there are so many factors that effect cellular signal strength and performance, we CANNOT guarantee that signal boosting equipment will help you.

Need help deciding which equipment is right for you? Contact 5Gstore with your site survey results, and we'll be happy to assist!

RSSI/RSRP & Site Survey FAQs

Below are the answers to some commonly asked Site Survey-related questions:

  • Why do you want me to do a Site Survey?
    • Doing a site survey will help you determine whether an antenna or amplifier will help you draw in better signal and if your performance will actually improve as a result. A site survey is for YOUR benefit, so you pick out the right equipment, understand what kind of results to expect from it, and not waste your money on something you don't need. 
  • Do I have to find my RSSI/RSRP? Can I do the site survey with "signal bars" or "percentages"?
    • RSSI and RSRP are a much more accurate representation of your signal strength than bars or percentages. However, if your carrier's connection manager software does not have a way to view RSSI/RSRP or you cannot find out how to display RSSI/RSRP on your phone/PDA, doing the site survey with bars/percentages will still be better than nothing!
  • Do I have to do the speedtests?
    • Performing the speedtests at each location that you're testing is very important, as it allows you to compare the way your performance changes when signal changes. Typically, better signal results in better speeds, but not always - for example, if the problem is with the tower itself or if you are already getting the best speeds your tower can provide, improving the signal won't help with your speeds. Doing the speedtests allow you to determine whether improving your signal will result in better speeds.
  • My device is not moveable (e.g. a router installed in an office) - how can I do the site survey?
    • In this case, obtain as much information as you can and we will help you make a "best guess" about whether an antenna will help you. If you have a phone from the same carrier as your device, you can use your phone to do the site survey.
  • I'm looking for an antenna for traveling - do I still need to do a site survey?
    • No, doing a site survey is only helpful if you are trying to boost the signal in one location and can do the testing to confirm whether an antenna will help you at that location. Travelers can simply select an antenna to help them get better signal wherever they roam.
  • How much will an antenna improve my signal?
    • This depends on how poor your signal is to begin with and whether better signal is available nearby. There is no set percentage or number of dB's that an antenna can be guaranteed to boost your signal. Complete the site survey and contact 5Gstore to discuss what you can expect from an antenna.
  • What if the device I want to boost signal to doesn't have an antenna port?
    • If your device doesn't have an antenna port, you can use a wireless repeater to boost your signal. You should still complete the site survey to determine whether one of these options will help you.
  • What if I want to boost the signal to more than one device?
    • You can boost the signal to more than one device simultaneously using a wireless repeater. You should still complete the site survey to determine whether a repeater will help you (if you're hoping to boost the signal to devices on different carriers - e.g. a Verizon router and AT&T cell phone - do the site survey for each device).

More questions? Need help? Contact 5Gstore, and we'll be happy to assist!