Mobile Broadband Network’s Signal Strength
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Test Your Mobile Broadband Network’s Signal Strength

By: Stephen Kota

To install an antenna correctly, you must, first, test the signal strength on your property correctly. Accurate signal readings can give you insight into the ideal location to install an antenna on your building. With a little background knowledge, it’s easy to tell where an antenna will give you the highest gains.

Alternatively, if you want faster mobile broadband service on your existing network, adjusting the direction that your directional (yagi) antenna faces is the quickest fix. If your directional antenna is off course, your signal strength will suffer massively. Luckily, all it takes is a phone to set it right.

Method

First, since cell phone bars are not the most accurate measurement of signal strength, to find the places where the signal is strong, switch your cellphone to “test mode”. Where the signal strength is strongest, run a speed test to determine the network performance in that spot.

“Test mode” represents signals as negative numbers of decibels (dB), where a closer proximity to 0 indicates a better signal. A signal of -0.25dB, for example, is better than a signal of -0.50dB. These numbers represent the signal to noise ratio. “Test mode” may also measure signal strength in the more absolute decibel-milliwatts (dBm). What these readings mean on 3G and 4G LTE networks, however, varies.

3G’s Received Signal Strength Indication

Over the 3G network, signal strength is measured as a factor of Received Signal Strength Indication (RSSI) in dBm. A reading of -50dBm indicates a perfect 3G signal and -110dB represents, typically, no signal.

A strong signal with clear voice and fast data typically falls between -50dBm and -75dBm.
A fair signal with good voice and reliable data typically falls between -76dBm and -90dBm.
A bad signal with good voice, but unreliable data typically falls between -91dBm and -100dBm.
A terrible signal with voice, but no data typically falls between -101dBm and -109dBm.

4G LTE’s Reference Signal Received Power

Over the 4G LTE network, signal strength is measured as a factor of Reference Signal Received Power (RSRP) in dBm. In general, at the same signal strength, RSRP readings are around -20dBm lower than RSSI readings. RSRP excludes noise, which makes it more accurate than RSSI. With the same reading in dBm, 4G LTE will be stronger than 3G.

A strong signal with clear voice and fast data typically falls between -50dBm and -105dBm.
A fair signal with good voice and reliable data typically falls between -106dBm and -125dBm.
A bad signal with good voice, but unreliable data typically falls between -126dBm and -136dBm.
A terrible signal with voice, but no data typically falls between -136dBm and -140dBm.

MIMO Antennas Boost Signal Strength

A MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antenna boosts data throughputs by transmitting multiple signals simultaneously via a series of small, embedded antennas. Because it consists of multiple antennas, MIMO technology multiplies the potential of a conventional antenna. This translates into a stronger signal strength.

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