GUIDE

3 Best Ways to Increase 4G LTE Data Speeds at Home

March 28th, 2020
By Sina Khanifar and Sarvesh Mathi

Nothing's worse than a slow-loading webpage or waiting for a buffering video.

Many households are opting to use LTE connectivity instead of cable or fiber broadband. People choose LTE for various reasons: sometimes due to the expense of wireless broadband, but most often because in rural areas LTE is simply the fastest option available.

But LTE has its limitations. Slow LTE data rates are common. In this article we discuss how you can improve 4G LTE data rates.

What Causes Slow 4G LTE Data Rates?

There are five factors that affect the LTE data speeds you experience.

Roughly by order of importance, these are:

  1. Signal Quality (SINR)

    In 4G LTE 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 hotspot.
  2. Number of Connected Bands

    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.
  3. Signal Strength (RSRP)

    Many people think this is the most important factor, but it isn't. Signal strength, which is called RSRP in 4G LTE 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.
  4. Tower Congestion

    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.
  5. MIMO Support

    Both the tower and your LTE 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.  
  6. Throttling

    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.

How Can I Improve My 4G LTE Speed?

There are generally three things you can do to improve your data rates:

  1. Get a New Phone/Hotspot

    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 specification that allow for faster data rates.
  2. Use External Antennas

    Many hotspots from major carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile support external antenna ports. Phones don't have external antenna ports. If you are using a phone, you can use a signal booster with outdoor antennas to get a similar effect. External antennas can improve both signal strength, signal quality, and help you access bands that aren't making it indoors.
  3. Use 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.

Here’s how each of these affects the five factors above:

New Phone
or Hotspot
External
Antennas
Signal Booster
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

Our Recommended Configurations

1. Latest Hotspot + Directional Outdoor Antennas

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 the outdoor signal is very weak, you can add an inline “M2M” booster. We specifically recommend the Wilson Pro IoT 5-Band.

Advantages:

  • Highly cost-effective if you already have a hotspot.
  • Easy to support MIMO (multiple antennas for improved performance)
  • Fastest data rates.
  • Directional outdoor antennas can improve SINR, enable you to access weaker outdoor bands, and improve MIMO performance.

Disadvantages:

  • Requires a hotspot.
  • Requires a line of service for the hotspot.
  • Your system is hard-wired - and any phones can connect via WiFi but won’t see better LTE signal.

2. LTE Signal Booster + Directional Outdoor Antenna

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 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.

Advantages:

  • Wireless coverage for multiple devices.
  • Works with existing phones.
  • Doesn’t require a hotspot or line of service.
  • Directional outdoor antennas can improve SINR.
  • Booster may enable you to connect to weaker bands.

Disadvantages:

  • Boosters are SISO (one antenna outside and one antenna inside), so you lose MIMO support (decreases max speeds by around 33%).
  • More expensive than external antennas.

Questions? Comments?

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!


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