Nothing's worse than a slow-loading webpage or waiting for a buffering video.
Many households are opting to use 4G or 5G cellular connectivity instead of cable or fiber broadband. People choose cellular for various reasons: sometimes due to the expense of wireless broadband, but most often because in rural areas cell signal is simply the fastest option available.
But LTE and 5G NR have their limitations. Slow LTE and 5G data rates are common. In this article we discuss exactly how you can improve 4G LTE and 5G data rates.
There are three things you can do to improve your data rates:
If you're using an old device, a new phone or hotspot may allow you to connect to new bands. Newer devices support newer versions of the LTE or 5G specification and allow for faster data rates.
Many hotspots from major carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile support external antenna ports. If you have a hotspot, check out our hotspot antenna guides and our 2x2 MIMO Panel and 2x2 Log Periodic antenna kits. External antennas can improve both signal strength, signal quality, and help you access bands that aren't making it indoors.
Some hotspots and almost all phones don't have external antenna ports. If you are using a phone, the best option for improving data rates is a signal booster. Cell phone signal boosters amplify your signal, increasing the signal strength (RSRP). When used in tandem with external antennas, they can allow for wireless rebroadcast of improved signal indoors.
Each of these options has a different set of effects on your 4G/5G signal, and thus your data rates:
w/ External Antennas
|Signal Quality||No effect||May Improve||May Improve|
|Conencted Bands||May Improve||May Improve||May Improve|
|Tower Congestion||May Improve||May Improve||May Improve|
|MIMO Support||May Improve||May Improve||No effect|
If you want the very best data rates, and don’t mind relying on WiFi for distributing indoors, use the latest hotspot from your carrier with external antennas mounted outside the building or vehicle.
If you don’t have a hotspot, or can’t afford the monthly charges associated with adding a line of service, or if you simply want wireless LTE/5G coverage indoors, use a cell signal booster.
A cell phone signal booster amplifies the signal from outdoors, rebroadcasting indoors wirelessly to get you the best data rates. Check out our in-depth review of the best cell signal boosters to find the right model for you.
There are five factors that affect the LTE/5G data speeds you experience.
Roughly by order of importance, these are:
In 4G LTE and 5G networks, signal quality is measured as SINR. Increasing your SINR can have a dramatic impact on your connection speeds. The best way to improve SINR is to use a directional outdoor antenna, either connected to a signal booster or directly to an LTE or 5G hotspot.
Your phone or hotspot can use multiple bands to connect simultaneously to the tower. This is called “Carrier Aggregation.” The more bands you’re connected on, the higher your data rates.
Many people think this is the most important factor, but it isn't. Signal strength, which is called RSRP in 4G LTE and 5G networks, definitely matters. But it’s often not the most important factor. If your RSRP signal is stronger than around -100 dBm, then a stronger signal won't help increase your data rates.
The more users on the tower, the lower your data rates will be. In reality, tower congestion varies by band. Generally higher frequencies penetrate buildings less than lower frequencies. As a result, higher frequency bands are generally less congested. Using outdoor antennas connected directly to a hotspot or to a signal booster can help get you access to less-congested bands.
Both the tower and your LTE/5G device use multiple antennas, in a configuration called “Multiple Input Multiple Output,” to increase data rates by around 30%. Most cell phone signal boosters are SISO – "Single Input Single Output" – though you can install two systems in parallel to get a MIMO booster.
If you're on an "MVNO" like Tracfone, Straight Talk, or others, you're treated as a second-class citizen on the main carrier's network. Even if you're on AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint directly, you may be throttled if you use a lot of data each billing cycle. Throttling is a process by which carriers de-prioritize certain users or even cap their connection to a certain speed.
Have more questions that we haven't covered here? Or have a tip on an app we should try? Please leave a comment or reach out to us!