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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 3Gstore is "how do I know if one of your antennas or amplifiers will help my situation?" The answer to that question depends on whether better signal is available nearby and whether improving the signal results in better performance. By accurately identifying what your current signal strength is and by doing a few simple tests in and around the area where you use your device, 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 in order to determine whether signal-boosting equipment is appropriate for you is called a "site survey" and involves comparing your signal strength and performance in a few different locations. Doing a site survey is easy - just follow the steps below!

Doing a Site Survey - 3G/4G Modems

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! If you're not sure where to find your RSSI, click the "Finding RSSI" tab above for instructions and screenshots; if you don't know how to do a speedtest, click the "Speedtests" tab above for more info.

  • What is the RSSI indoors, at the location you use your aircard?
  • At that location, what are your speedtest results?
  • What is the best RSSI 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 a -80 signal (for 3G) or -70 signal (for 4G). At that location, what are your speedtest results?
  • What's between you and that -80 or -70 signal? Trees? Elevation? How far away is it?

Watch the below video for a site survey demonstration:


Doing a Site Survey - Phones/PDAs

Doing a Site Survey with your phone will be a little different than testing with your 3G or 4G modem. 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 indoors, at the location you use your phone?
  • At that location, what is your performance like? (if you're using an iPhone or other smartphone you can do a speedtest just like an aircard user, but if you don't have a data-capable phone you'll have to use more subjective techniques to analyze performance - are you hearing a lot of static on calls, do your calls get dropped, etc)
  • What is the best RSSI you can find immediately outside and around the building?
  • At that location, what is your performance like?
  • 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 a -80 signal (for 3G) or -70 signal (for 4G). What is your performance like at that location?
  • What's between you and that -80 or -70 signal? Trees? Elevation?

What is RSSI, and how do I find it?

While doing a site survey, you'll want to use RSSI instead of the "signal bars" or "percentages" you're probably familiar with. RSSI, or "Received Signal Strength Indicator", is 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. For 3G, a -80 is a good target signal: with a solid -80 RSSI, you are most likely getting the best performance that the tower you're connected to can provide. For 4G LTE and WiMAX, a good target RSSI is -70.

TIP: While doing your site survey, make sure you are looking at the RSSI for the network for which you need improved signal! For example, if you have a Verizon 3G/4G device and you want to boost your 4G signal, make sure you are looking at the LTE RSSI rather than the 3G EVDO RSSI.

Click on your provider's name from the list below to view instructions and screenshots to help you locate your RSSI:


Verizon:

VZAccess Manager, Windows:

Verizon RSSI Windows
Select "Diagnostics" from the "Options" menu; you will need to scroll down in the "information" section to view RSSI

VZAccess Manager, Windows - Previous Versions:

Verizon RSSI Windows
Older versions of VZAM allow you to hover your mouse over the signal bars to view RSSI as a "tooltip"

VZAccess Manager, Mac:

Mac RSSI
Hover your mouse over the signal bars to view RSSI as a "tooltip"

VZAccess Manager, Mac - Previous Versions:

Verizon RSSI Mac
Select "About VZAccess Manager" from the "VZAcess Manager" menu; you will need to scroll down in the "hardware information" section to view RSSI

Pantech UML295:

UML295 RSSI
The UML295 doesn't use VZAccess Manager. To view RSSI, navigate your web browser to 192.168.32.2 and follow the prompts to either access the web app or install the full version (either way is fine). Once you're in the app, click on the question mark icon in the upper right, then click "About" in the lower right. Scroll down to view 3G or 4G RSSI (click image for larger view).

Novatel MiFi 4620L/LE "Jetpack":

MiFi 4620L RSSI
While connected to your MiFi via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (http://192.168.1.1) and log in with your WiFi/admin password (the default password is printed on the white label on the bottom of your device, unless you've changed it). Navigate to the Advanced -> Diagnostics section and scroll down to view 3G or 4G RSSI (click image for larger view).

Novatel MiFi 5510L "Jetpack":

MiFi 5510L RSSI
While connected to your MiFi via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (my.jetpack) and log in with your admin password (the admin password is the same as your WiFi password). Click "About Jetpack" on the left, then select the Diagnostics tab and scroll down to view 3G or 4G RSSI (click image for larger view).

Novatel MiFi 4510L "Jetpack":

MiFi 4510L RSSI
While connected to your MiFi via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (http://192.168.1.1) and log in with your admin password (the default password is "admin" unless you've changed it). Navigate to the Advanced -> Diagnostics section and then click on the "Modem Status" button in middle of the page (click image for larger view).

Pantech MHS700L Ellipsis "Jetpack":

Ellipsis MHS700L RSSI
While connected to your hotspot via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (http://my.jetpack) and log in with your WiFi/admin password. Click "About Jetpack" on the left, then click "Diagnostics" from the options along the top and scroll down to view 3G or 4G RSSI (click image for larger view).

Pantech MiFi MHS291L "Jetpack":

MiFi MHS291L RSSI
While connected to your MiFi via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (http://my.jetpack) and log in with your admin password (same as your WiFi password). Click "About Jetpack" on the left, then select "Diagnostics" at the top (click image for larger view).

Samsung SCH-LC11 "Jetpack":

SCH-LC11 RSSI
While connected to your hotspot via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (http://192.168.1.1) and log in with your admin password (the default password is digits 7 - 14 of the IMEI number; this is also listed on the label underneath the battery cover). Navigate to the Configuration -> Diagnostics section and then click on the "Modem Status" button in the "System Status" section of the page (click image for larger view).

ZTE 890L "Jetpack":

890L RSSI
While connected to your hotspot via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (192.168.1.1) and log in with your admin password (the default password is listed on the label on the bottom of your hotspot). Navigate to the wan settings -> wireless info section and you'll see your RSSI.

Novatel MiFi 2200:

MiFi RSSI
While connected to your MiFi via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (http://192.168.1.1) and log in with your admin password (the default password is "admin" unless you've changed it). Navigate to the Advanced > Diagnostics section and then click on the "Modem Status" button in middle of the page (click image for larger view)

ZTE Fivespot:

Fivespot RSSI
While connected to your Fivespot via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (http://192.168.0.1) and log in with your admin password. Navigate to the Wan Settings -> Wireless Info section and your RSSI will be displayed (click image for larger view)

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Sprint:

SmartView - Current Version:

SSV RSSI
From the "Tools" menu, select "Mobile Info", then select the "Network" tab. (click image for larger view)

SmartView - Previous Version:

SSV RSSI
Older versions of Smartview display RSSI right beneath the signal bars

SmartView - Older Version:

SSV RSSI
In this version, hover your mouse over the signal bars to view RSSI as a "tooltip"

Netgear 341U:

Netgear 341U
Navigate to the web admin (http://192.168.1.1) and log in with your admin password (the default password is "password" unless you've changed it). Navigate to Settings -> Network -> Status Details to view RSSI (note: if you're connected to 4G, it will be displayed as "RSRP" instead of "RSSI")

Novatel MiFi 4082:

MiFi 4082 RSSI
While connected to your MiFi 4082 via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (http://192.168.1.1) and log in with your admin password (the default password is "admin" unless you've changed it). Mouse over the signal bars to view RSSI (click image for larger view)

Sierra Tri-Fi Hotspot:

Tri-Fi RSSI
While connected to your Tri-Fi via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (http://sprinthotspot/home.html) and click on the signal listing on the left-hand side to view detailed signal information (click image for larger view)

Sierra Overdrive/Overdrive Pro Hotspot:

Overdrive RSSI
While connected to your Overdrive via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (192.168.0.1) and log in (the default password is "password" unless you've changed it). Click on the WAN tab and then select the network for which you want to view the RSSI (click image for larger view)

Novatel MiFi 2200:

MiFi RSSI
The Sprint web admin doesn't show RSSI by default... but 3Gstore has decided to let the Sprint MiFi community in on a "secret" that we discovered. While connected to your MiFi via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (http://192.168.1.1) and log in with your admin password (the default password is "admin" unless you've changed it). Once you are logged in to Sprint MiFi web admin, navigate to this URL: http://192.168.1.1/modemstatus.html and you will be presented with your MiFi's RSSI info!

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AT&T:

AT&T Connection Manager, new version:

AT&T RSSI
From the "Tools" menu, select "diagnostics" -> "mobile info"; then click the "network" tab (click image for larger view).

AT&T Connection Manager, old version:

AT&T RSSI
RSSI is displayed right below the signal bars

USBConnect Beam:

AT&T Beam RSSI
In the AT&T All Access program, click on the "Settings" icon and select "About" on the left

Sierra Elevate 4G Hotspot:

Elevate 4G
While connected to your Elevate via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (http://192.168.1.1) and log in with your admin password (the default password is "attadmin" unless you've changed it). Once you are logged in to the web admin, navigate to the "Advanced" section and click on the "WAN" tab. Your RSSI is the negative number under "RSRP"

Sierra Unite 4G Hotspot:

Unite Hotspot
While connected to your Unite via WiFi, navigate to the web admin (http://attunite) and log in with your admin password (the default password is "attadmin" unless you've changed it). Once you are logged in to the web admin, navigate to the "About" section and look in the "Network Status" section. Your RSSI is the negative number under "RSRP"

Novatel Liberate (MiFi 5792) 4G Hotspot:

MiFi Liberate
Tap the "about" icon on the Liberate's touchscreen, then tap "current status." Your RSSI is displayed as "signal strength."

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DataJack:

SmartView:

SSV RSSI
From the "Tools" menu, select "Mobile Info", then select the "Network" tab. (click image for larger view)

QuickLinkMobile:

DataJack RSSI
Hover your mouse over the signal bars to view RSSI as a "tooltip"

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Virgin Mobile:

Broadband2Go Connection Manager, Windows or OS X:

Virgin Mobile RSSI
Hover your mouse over the signal bars to view RSSI as a "tooltip".

Novatel MiFi 2200: Unfortunately, there is no way to view the RSSI for the Virgin Mobile MiFi. We encourage Virgin MiFi users to complete the site survey using signal bars instead of RSSI (signal bars aren't as exact as RSSI, but they are better than nothing!)

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Alltel:

QuickLinkMobile, Windows:

Alltel RSSI
From the "Help" menu, select "About"

QuickLinkMobile, Mac:

Alltel RSSI
From the "Help" menu, select "About"

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Cricket:

Cricket Connection Manager:

Cricket RSSI
open the connection manager and hold "Control + D" on your keyboard. Enter ##ftm* for the password and hit GO. This will bring up "Field Test Mode" and RSSI will be displayed

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Apple WWAN:

Apple WWAN RSSI
hold down the Option key while in the WWAN drop-down menu

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Phones/smartphones/PDAs:

Finding your RSSI on a phone can be a little tricky, since different manufacturers display it differently than others. View this chart for directions on finding the RSSI on many past and current cell phone models.

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My carrier isn't listed/I still can't find my RSSI:

RSSI is a much more accurate representation of your signal strength than bars or percentages, which is why we encourage users to refer to that instead of signal bars. However, if your carrier's connection manager software does not have a way to view RSSI or you cannot figure out how to display RSSI on your phone, doing the site survey with bars will still be better than nothing!

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How (and why!) to do a Speedtest

Besides looking at your signal strength, the other part of a site survey is the speedtest - remember, you're trying to determine not only if better signal is available in your area, but whether your speeds increase when the signal increases. This is important because improving signal does NOT always result in better performance. If the problems you're experiencing aren't caused by weak signal (issues with the tower itself, network problems, etc) or if you're already getting the best speeds your tower can provide, then an antenna or amplifier is not going to improve your performance - which is the primary goal when purchasing a signal boosting product!

To do a speedtest, go to www.speedtest.net and click on the "begin test" button on the map. Do NOT click on the "scan now" button above the map - that is an ad, NOT the test itself!!! The test will run and in about a minute you'll be presented with your upload and download speeds!

speedtest.net screenshot
This is what you'll see at www.speedtest.net

speedtest.net sample results
once the test is complete, your download and upload speeds will be displayed in an easy-to-read box.

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).

What do YOUR site survey results tell you?

Below are some hypothetical site survey results and recommendations - select the one that is most similar to your results to get a general idea of what equipment (if any) you may want to consider*:

  • Site Survey Results: -85 to -95dBm (for 3G) or -75 to -85dBm (for 4G) inside, -80 (for 3G) or -70 (for 4G) immediately outside, speeds improved significantly outside.
    • Recommendation: Indoor or outdoor antenna.

  • Site Survey Results: -95 to -100dBm inside (for 3G) or -85 to -95dBm (for 4G), -80 (for 3G) or -70 (for 4G) or better immediately outside, speeds improved significantly outside.
    • Recommendation: Outdoor/external antenna.

  • Site Survey Results: -95 to -100dBm (for 3G) or -85 to -95dBm (for 4G) inside, not much change outside but -80 (for 3G) or -70 (for 4G) within 1/4 mile, speeds improved at the -80/-70 site.
    • Recommendation: Outdoor/external antenna, amplifier might be needed.

  • Site Survey Results: -100 or worse (for 3G) or -90 or worse (for 4G) inside, -80 (for 3G) or -70 (for 4G) within 1 mile, speeds improved at the -80/-70 site.
    • Recommendation: Outdoor/external antenna and amplifier.

  • Site Survey Results: -110 (for 3G) or -100 (for 4G) or worse inside, -80 (for 3G) or -70 (for 4G) is over 1 mile away, speeds improved at the -80/-70 site.
    • Recommendation: Outdoor/external antenna (directional antenna if you know where the tower is or are willing to do some testing when installing the antenna) and amplifier.

  • Site Survey Results: -110 or worse inside, have to go at least 1/4 mile to see ANY signal improvement, -80 (for 3G) or -70 (for 4G) signal is several miles away, speeds improved significantly at the -80 site.
    • Recommendation: A Yagi/directional antenna (if you know where the tower is and have a clear line of sight) and amplifier will give you the best chance of improving your situation, but that still may not make a dramatic difference.

  • Site Survey Results: -80 (for 3G) or -70 (for 4G) or better inside.
    • Recommendation: Most likely, you are already getting the best speeds the tower serving you can provide - meaning an antenna or amplifier will likely not do anything for your performance. If you'd like to confirm this, find a spot where you get even better signal and do another speedtest - if your speeds do improve significantly, an indoor or outdoor antenna should help.

  • Site Survey Results: Signal improves outside or nearby, but the speedtest results are pretty much the same everywhere you tested.
    • Recommendation: Since the speeds do not increase along with the signal, an antenna will not help you. The problem may be on the carrier's side (overloaded tower, poorly equipped tower, etc) or you may already be getting the maximum performance the tower can provide.

*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 3Gstore with your site survey results, and we'll be happy to assist!

RSSI & 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. For a more detailed explanation, see this blog post.
  • Do I have to find my RSSI? Can I do the site survey with "signal bars" or "percentages"?
    • RSSI is 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 (click the "Finding RSSI" tab above for screenshots/instructions for most US carriers) or you cannot find out how to display RSSI 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.
  • I use my aircard in a desktop computer - how can I do the site survey?
    • If you're using your aircard in a desktop computer, obviously doing a full site survey is likely not practical (unless you want to cart your desktop outside and around town!). 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 aircard, you can use your phone to determine if better signal is available outside or nearby.
  • 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 3Gstore to discuss what you can expect from an antenna.
  • What if I'm not sure where my device's antenna port is?
    • Check this resource to see where your device's antenna port is. If you can't find your device on that list, contact 3Gstore to find out if your device has a port.
  • 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 either a wireless repeater or an antenna with a passive antenna adapter (typically you will also need a direct-connect amplifier with a passive adapter) 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 - i.e. a Sprint aircard and Verizon cell phone - do the site survey for each device).

More questions? Need help? Contact 3Gstore, and we'll be happy to assist!

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