4G LTE Antenna – What Do I Need to Consider? 

If you are using a 4G LTE broadband connection, or plan to, then you’ll need to be considering your external antenna. 

 

4G broadband is a fantastic option if you struggle with a standard broadband connection, especially if you live or work in a more rural area. Over the past few years we’ve seen a big uptake in 4G and mobile broadband options – For homeowners as well as businesses. 

 

What you don’t want is to switch to mobile broadband, and then end up with download speeds that are lower that what you were expecting. Whilst this may simply be down to poor reception, there are some other factors that can come into play. 

 

So, with you as the user, what considerations do you need to make to ensure your 4G mobile broadband connection will be the strongest it can be?

 

Did you know that LTE is MiMo technology?

LTE, like 11n Wi-Fi, is a multi-stream radio, multiple in/multiple out (MiMo) service. So similarly to 11n Wi-Fi, LTE uses multiple radio data streams to and from the end client – Which means the more streams of data the client can take, the faster the broadband. 

Just like in 11n Wi-Fi, the number of streams is T (the number of transmit radio streams) multiplied by R (the number of receive streams the connection can support) so TxR. This means that if something supports 2×2 streams, it can support twice the upload and download speed of a device with 1×1. In 4G LTE, you get anything from 1×1 to 8×8 stream capability (including all the possible mixes in between them). 

The number of transmit and receive streams dictates how many antennas the client needs. So for a 1×1 service, you would only need a single antenna. For a 2×2 service you would need 2 antenna. You get the idea. 

A connection can only support the number of streams the service provider is capable of via their masts. It is also dependent on the client device and its radio capabilities. 

The majority of devices – Like phones and routers – have dual stream capabilities. 

 

Choices of Antenna

If you’ve already been looking for a 4G LTE antenna then you’ll likely already have realised that there can be a difference in price. One of the main differences between antennas will be, as we said above, the number of connections they have. 

 

As you’ll have probably guessed, the more connections they have, the picier the get. So a 2×2 (or 2×1 or 2×2) device will cost more than a 1×1 device. You’ll typically see a choice between single (1×1) and dual connection (2×2) antennas. 

 

In most scenarios, you will be wanting a dual connection (2×2) antenna so that it supports the functionality of your router and other devices with dual stream, MiMo functionality.

 

But how do you know if the antenna will be any good? 

 

That comes down to polarisation. There needs to be a physical difference between the radio streams so that the receiver can differentiate between them. This can be as simple as mounting the antennas, leaving a physical gap between them of a few inches. 

 

It’s also a good idea to have each antenna at a different angle – Ideally at 90 degrees to each other. This is because although the radio waves might leave the mast in a lovely vertically polarised fashion, after a few reflections they will likely not be like that any more. Setting up the antenna so that they can also receive radio waves that are no longer vertically polarised will mean you will better receive the signal – A cross shape would achieve this. 

 

Do I need a Directional or Omni-Directional Antenna Set Up? 

Whilst it might be tempting to just opt for the highest gain directional antenna, this isn’t actually always the best choice – For 4G LTE or Wi-Fi. 

 

If you imagine a radio wave travelling from the mast to your receiver, with nothing in the way, it would have a straightforward route and an uninterrupted signal. In real life, this is unfortunately not the case. The signal cannot go through anything solid, so whenever something gets in its way, it reflects and scatters from those objects until it reaches the antenna. This means that the radio signal could come to your receiver from all different directions. 

 

Directional antenna, although high gain, have limited coverage in terms of their angle. So with radio waves potentially coming in in all directions, the directional antenna is going to cause you problems. 

 

The best situation for a directional antenna is when there is a clear line of sight between the mast and the mount of the antenna – Which is not a very common thing. 

 

The omni-directional antenna might well be lower gain, but it should pick up the signal regardless of what directional the radio waves are coming from. 

 

The best way to improve the signal you receive is to mount the antenna outside and as high up as possible.

 

Directional Antenna Pros

  • Can occasionally give a better, stronger and cleaner signal when carefully aligned with line of sight 
  • With a clear line of sight (and no ambiguity) then a directional antenna would be preferred choice

Directional Antenna Cons

  • Careful alignment with line of sight can be very tricky
  • Without line of sight, you have to rely on how it reflects and scatters
  • Changes in environment can result in how the signal is reflected (e.g. something as simple as a dry wall reflects better than a wet wall)
  • It is harder for the system to switch to a different mast (this could be dictated by the provider)

 

Omni-Directional Antenna Pros

  • Easy and quick installation (no tricky, careful alignment needed)
  • It is easy for the system to change transmitter masts
  • Antenna can be mounted outdoors, making a significant improvement in signal despite the lower fain

 

Omni-Directional Antenna Cons

  • In comparison to the directional antenna, the omni has lower gain
  • Can be more susceptible to radio frequency interference coming from different directions

 

Frequency Bands

There are a number of frequency bands that are used for 4G LTE in the UK. There’s the 800MHz band, the 1400MHz / 1.4GHz band, the 1800MHz / 1.8GHz band, the 2100MHz / 2.6GHz band, the 2300MHz / 2.3GHz band, and the 2600MHz / 2.6GHz band.

 

Although not set in stone, you generally find that the lower frequency bands are used more in rural areas due to them having longer transmission range than the higher frequencies and having to cover a larger geographical area. The higher band would likely be used more in built up towns and cities. 

 

What does this mean for antenna? Well, it means that you, as the end user, need to ensure that your antenna will support the service and frequency band of your provider. If you are sensible and savvy, you will choose an antenna that can cover the different frequency bands in case your service/provider changes. 

 

Stream Bandwidth

The available spectrum is divided and allocated between providers into sub-bands. The connection you get as the end client will depend (and vary) on how many clients the local signal mast can support as well as the bandwidth. 

 

If you live or work in a high user area, the density will mean that you may struggle with throughput speed or even getting a connection in the first place! 

 

What high user density situations could impact your 4G connection? Well, if you live near a football stadium or a busy motorway, you may find that on match day or during a bad traffic jam, your internet connection comes to a standstill as well! 

 

Which Antenna Do I Need for my 4G LTE Connection? 

 

How do you choose? Let’s take a look again at the main considerations you need to think about to ensure the best possible connection. 

 

Single or Dual Antenna

 

Does your router only have a single antenna connector? If so, then you should probably choose an external antenna with a single connector. 

 

If your router has a dual stream connection then you need to choose an antenna with 2 connectors. You could also choose two single connection antennas. 

 

Remember – If the local signal mast sends out a 1×1 service, then that’s all you’re going to get, even if you have a router and antenna set up that supports 2×2. Having the 2×2 compatible service won’t see you any difference if it’s a 1×1 signal service.  

 

Directional or Omni-Directional Antenna? 

We’re not trying to tell you what to do… But our Wi-Fi expert’s advice would be, in most scenarios, to go for an omni-directional antenna. As we mentioned above, it’s tempted to just go straight for the antenna with the biggest gain, usually the directional, when you could face very tricky alignment issues. Very few properties, business or home, have a clear line of sight between their local mast and their antenna. Unless you have this clear line of sight, then an omni is the best option.  

Correct frequency

Remember to ensure that your choice of antenna will work with the frequency range coming from your service provider and local mast. It’s only going to work if your frequency band matches what your antenna supports! 

 

To avoid potential issues when services or providers change, you should aim to choose an antenna that covers all the 4G LTE bands here in the UK. That means that your antenna should always work, even if you change provider or your local service changes. You might have to pay a little more, but it could save you problems in the future. 

 

Location

You should always mount the antenna wherever it has the best line of sight to the local mast. Sometimes you might not be able to see the signal mast, especially if you live or work in a very built up area. Even if you cannot see the mast, bear in mind the direction it’s in – Does your antenna need to be at the front or the back of your building? Even without a clear line of sight, this will vastly improve the signal you get. 

 

Generally speaking, the higher up you can mount the antenna the better! 

 

Also make sure that you’re not locating it close to a thick wall or anything metal. Even an omni-directional antenna would struggle to get a good signal in these situations! You want to make it as easy as possible for the signal to reach the receiver on your antenna. 

 

I’ve followed the advice but still don’t have good download speeds? 

You could have the perfect signal – And still not get good download speeds. This could be down to a few different reasons:

  • The service capabilities of your provider (the frequency they are allocated)
  • The service provided from the local mast
  • The capabilities of your router
  • If you live or work in a high user density area with lots of people trying to connect at the same time

 

Whether or not this matters depends on what you are using your connection for. If you are a business and are relying on your 4G LTE connection for your business operations, then this is going to be an issue. 

 

Trust the Experts

 

Here at Geekabit, our Wi-Fi experts can tell you just how reliable a 4G (or 5G) mobile broadband connection would be with one of our surveys. 

 

If you’re struggling with wired broadband, and not getting the reliable internet connection you need in your rural business or home, then 4G / 5G could be a fantastic option for you.

 

It can feel like a big jump to give up on your wired broadband connection and opt for 4G – Which is where our Cell Coverage 4G survey comes in.

 

We can tell you exactly whether 4G broadband would work for you, and which network would be most reliable.

 

Which Ubiquiti airMAX product should I choose?

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Ubiquiti products here at Geekabit. We often recommend their devices and bits of kit for our clients and business Wi-Fi installations.

This blog is going to look at some of the different Ubiquiti airMAX products there are and which ones might be suited to your business and Wi-Fi needs. There are lots of different options that cover various outdoor wireless scenarios.

 

Point-to-Point or Point-to-Multipoint?

Let’s start at the beginning. First you need to ascertain whether your outdoor Wi-Fi would be best suited to a Point-to-Point (PtP) or Point-to-Multipoint (PtMP) network. These are the two primary deployment methods for distributing any fixed outdoor wireless communications.

Point-to-Point (PtP) – This method connects two locations, usually at a distance of multiple km, and essentially forms an Ethernet bridge.

Point-to-Multipoint links (PtMP): This method can connect three or more locations, via one Base Station (or Access Point) and multiple CPE devices (Stations) connected to the Access Point.

 

Point-to-Point (PtP) Links

Here are some of the Ubiquiti airMAX products with specifications on what wireless environment they would cater for. Whilst there are distances listed below, these are meant as a reference. It’s important to bear in mind that all real-life results have influencing environmental factors, for example, interference and Line of Sight.

Short distance (0-5 km)

NanoBeam 5AC-G2: This is recommended for short links, and exhibits superior performance which is due to the latest airMAX AC technology. It is able to deliver up to 450Mbps of throughput.

NanoStation 5AC Loco: Another good option for short distance links, this is the lowest cost PtP solution that has airMAX AC technology.

NanoStation 5AC: This one is a popular choice when it comes to short link Wi-Fi, and is commonly chosen for video surveillance due to its dual-Ethernet port capability. It also has airMAX AC technology.

Medium distance (5-15 km)

LiteBeam 5AC-23-G2: This is recommended as Customer Premises Equipment (CPE – any device accessing the internet) for most cases. Thanks to the latest airMAX AC technology, it has superior performance and can to deliver up to 450Mbps of throughput.

PowerBeam 5AC-G2: Recommended as CPE for medium or long distance links. Once again it has superior performance thanks to the latest airMAX AC technology. It can to deliver up to 450Mbps of throughput.

PowerBeam 5AC ISO:  This one is very similar to PowerBeam 5AC but offers an alternative for high-noise environments.

 

Point-to-Multipoint (PtMP) Links

When it comes to PtMP outdoor wireless networks, it’s really important to remember that the performance is dependent on both sides of the link. If you are trying to get across long distances, you’ll need to make good choices when it comes to the Base Station and CPE for each case. We’ll be looking at these options below.

The release of Ubiquiti operating systems airOS 6 (for M devices) and airOS 8 (for AC devices) provides backwards compatibility and means that you can upgrade your M sector by simply swapping the M AP for an airMAX AC radio as the AP.

 

Base Stations

You will usually find the location of a base station on the top of a tower, building or mast. Your maximum coverage will be determined by the height of that tower.

Low Capacity and Short distance Base Stations

For short distance base stations with low capacity, take a look at the following Ubiquiti airMAX products. These are ideal for areas with low interference.

Rocket M + airMAX OMNI antenna: This could be a great option for more rural Wi-Fi needs, particularly as it is susceptible to interference. It can support up to 60+ concurrent stations when all devices are airMAX capable.

High Capacity & High-Performance Base Stations

Rocket 5AC PRISM G1/G2 + airMAX AC Sector Antenna: This one’s for the highest performance base stations with carrier-grade system. Eight 45° antennas give 360° coverage. Co-adjacent noise is significantly reduces with airPRISM technology.

Rocket 5AC Lite + Titanium Sector Antennas: For medium-high density areas, this is a high-performance solution. It uses the latest airMAX AC technology plus variable beamwidth (60-120°) antennas for scalable growth.

LiteAP AC: This one is an ultra-lightweight airMAX AC sector + radio. It has incredible performance and disruptive pricing, plus 120° coverage.

 

Customer Premise Equipment (CPE)

One of the great things about Ubiquiti is the range of products and how they can work together to support your wireless network as a whole. If you go for the airMAX CPE to support your Ubiquiti products, you’re also getting centralised SDN management, hotspot/guest portal, advanced SSID/WLAN configuration, routing, switching and more. It’s well worth looking at the whole range available. Or call the experts (that’s us) to see whether Ubiquiti wireless devices could help with your wireless network.

Short distance (0-3 km)  

NanoBeam 5AC-G2: This has slightly greater range than the NanoBeam 5AC-19 M and is more directive.

Medium distance (3-7 km)

LiteBeam 5AC-23-G2: This low-cost CPE has very narrow beamwidth, and MIMO technology. This one is the new industry-standard for airMAX AC CPEs.

PowerBeam 5AC-G2: This option is a highly directive CPE, with better range and lower noise.

Long distance (7+ km)

PowerBeam 5AC-500/620: This one is a higher power device, with a super directive antenna, better range and lower noise. If you’re a design buff then you might also like how it’s more aesthetically pleasing compared to bulky dishes.

Rocket 5AC-Lite + RocketDish LW: You’ll likely find this one the best performing option. It’s higher cost than integrated designs, and can be unsightly as a CPE. It supports IsoBeam accessory for better isolation, which comes with RF chokes.

 

Frequency Options

Let’s talk about frequency. Due to physics and utilisation, each frequency has different characteristics.

Lower frequencies have better propagation characteristics than higher frequencies. You may find that they work better in environments where the Line of Sight is obstructed (for example, by trees). However, these bands may also have higher levels of noise and interference, so it’s very important to select the frequency that works best for your wireless environment.

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of some frequency bands.

900MHz (M900) – Pros and Cons

  • Better tolerance for trees and small obstacles in comparison to higher frequencies
  • Tends to have higher noise levels
  • Only has a 26MHz bandwidth

2.4GHz (M2) – Pros and Cons

  • It is unlicensed worldwide
  • It only has 3 over-lapping 20MHz channels (1, 6, 11)
  • It tends to be a very crowded band with interference from other devices such as cordless phones
  • 40MHz channelse are not recommended

3.x GHz (M3-M365) – Pros and Cons

  • 300MHz bandwidth in countries where 3.4-3.7GHz band is available
  • It is noise free in most areas
  • Only 25MHz bandwidth in countries where 3.65GHz can be used
  • It requires a license

5 GHz (5AC/AF5/AF5X) – Pros and Cons

  • It is unlicensed worldwide
  • Higher EIRP limits allow higher gain antennas, and long distance links
  • Large amounts of spectrum available, easier to co-locate nearby devices
  • Weaker propagation in comparison to lower frequencies when there are obstacles like trees or walls are present

10 GHz (M10) – Pros and Cons

  • It is noise-free in most cases and is very useful when the 5.8GHz band is crowded
  • It has a very small Fresnel zone
  • It is only available in a few areas
  • It is a licensed band
  • It needs a perfectly clear Line of Sight

11 GHz (AF11FX) – Pros and Cons

  • It is noise-free in most cases and is very useful when the 5.8GHz band is crowded
  • It has a very small Fresnel zone
  • It is only available in a few areas
  • It is a licensed band
  • It needs a perfectly clear Line of Sight

 

Antenna Types

We spoke about the important of each side of the link being effective to ensure the highest performance possible. Now it’s time to talk about the antennas.

High gain antennas also play an important role when deploying a high performance outdoor wireless network. There are two main reasons:

  • They provide high gain amplification of the signal power resulting in higher signals and better link quality.
  • They are highly directional, which gives them spatial filtering characteristics that can help to block noise. This is especially important in noisy environments.

When thinking about the antenna for the base station, you might think it’s best to go for the one that offers the largest coverage area. However, it’s actually better to choose the antenna that covers the smallest amount of coverage that covers your range area. An antenna covering a larger area than needed could be more susceptible to interference due to a wider beamwidth, causing a decrease in scalability and performance.

Here are the categories of antenna.

Yagi: Directive, used for PTP and CPE applications. Frequently used in low frequencies, such as 900MHz, due to size

Grid: Directive, used for PTP and CPE applications. Great wind-loading properties. However, this type only works in one polarity (1×1), so lower performance than 2×2 antennas (Dish, Panel, etc.)

Panel: Directive, used for PTP and CPE applications. Compact design is very attractive in situations where dishes are not preferred.

Dish: Most Directive, highest performing airMAX antennas for PTP applications. Usually larger and heavier.

Omni: Provides 360 degrees of horizontal coverage (omni-directional). Ideal for low capacity and wide-coverage AP / Base Station applications)

Sector: Ideal choice for high performance Base Stations. Offer higher gain and directivity than omnidirectional antennas. Usually offered in 45, 60, 90, or 120 degree options.

This list is not conclusive. You can find all of the current airMAX antennas here by looking at the antenna section.

For more information in general about Ubiquiti airMAX options, head to their website.

 

No idea where to start?

Here at Geekabit, our expert wireless network engineers have the knowledge and experience to help you deploy a high performing outdoor wireless network in Hampshire, London and Wales. If you would like to discuss your Wi-Fi network requirements, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Our Wi-Fi experts are only a phone call away!

 

UniFi vs Meraki vs Aruba

If you’re in the market for a bit of wireless kit then you’re rather spoilt for choice nowadays. Whilst it’s great to have a choice of products, it does beggar the question, how do I choose the right wireless product for my business?

Some of the big players when it comes to wireless network products are Ubiquiti, Meraki and Aruba. But which one is right for your specific deployment? Let’s have a look at them one by one.

Ubiquiti Network Wireless Products

We’ve spoken a lot about Ubiquiti and their range of wireless products – They are a firm favourite with our Wi-Fi experts here at Geekabit. Ubiquiti provide a range of wireless networking products including access points, wireless controllers, antennas and wireless bridges. Whatever your Wi-Fi requirement, they’re likely to have a product solution.

Product Portfolio

  • Ubiquiti have the product range to meet a complete enterprise network
  • They cover both wireless and wired products
  • They have the management and security systems to go alongside

The Benefits for Small to Medium Sized Business Networks

  • They are easy to deploy and use
  • Lots of features
  • One intuitive User Interface to make the human-computer interaction as simple as possible
  • Unbeatable value

The Benefits for Enterprise Networks

  • All access points, switches and routers are easy to manage from one Use Interface
  • It has central management capabilities and troubleshooting
  • It is straightforward to use for network admin staff, with no certification needed
  • Cloud and on-premises management available
  • Very high access point performance
  • Good HD Wi-Fi control capabilities

The Benefits for Arena / Stadium Networks

  • They can provide arena access points with integrated high gain antennas
  • One access point can have up to 3 5GHz client serving radios
  • Multi 5 GHz radio access points save in installation and cabling costs
  • Outstanding performance in a high traffic environment

User Experience

  • Quick and easy deployment with no licenses required
  • A single, intuitive user interface for all Ubiquiti elements with secure remote access
  • It’s easy to expand the network if and when needed without additional licenses
  • They provide free support (without needing a support agreement) plus a community of Ubiquiti users for extra support, buffered by Ubiquiti employees

Price-point

  • The price-point for Ubiquiti wireless products is low compared to other brands, offering fantastic value for money

Meraki Wireless Products

The Meraki MR series from Cisco delivers Wi-Fi 6 access points, faster access point deployment, simplified administration, and richer visibility.

Product Portfolio

  • Meraki have the product range to meet a complete enterprise network
  • They cover both wireless and wired products
  • They have the management and security systems to go alongside

How it Fares for Small to Medium Sized Business Networks

  • They are easy to deploy and use
  • You have to pay a subscription fee, which renders the product useless if not paid
  • It works well for smaller businesses and enterprises, apart from it being expensive
  • For better prices, you need to commit to several years and pre-pay

How it Fares for Enterprise Networks

  • It is easy to deploy and use cloud infrastructure
  • There is no on-premises option
  • Performance falters with high traffic
  • Ongoing licensing is expensive

How it Fares for Arena / Stadium Networks

  • There are no capabilities specifically targeted to venues of this size or type
  • For focused radio frequency, external antennas are required which will incur extra costs and will need mounting
  • There are no multi 5 GHz radio products, and RF tuning capabilities are weak
  • HD Wi-Fi performance is weak

User Experience

  • Quick and easy deployment but a lack of flexibility may cause problems
  • Licensing is required, but all features are included
  • It has a single, intuitive user interface
  • Support services are available from Meraki, but a service subscription is required. Without it there is no support
  • Additional support is available at an additional cost

Price-point

  • The price-point for Meraki MR wireless products is high compared to other brands, with licensing and subscription fees pushing it up.

 

Aruba Wireless Products

The range of Aruba Access Points deliver a fast, reliable Wi-Fi solution with great performance levels and a boost to network efficiency. They will also support the growing mobile and IoT density demands on your network.

Product Portfolio

  • Aruba have most of the product range to meet a complete enterprise network need
  • They cover both wireless and wired products
  • They have the management and security systems to go alongside

How it Fares for Small to Medium Sized Business Networks

  • Controller based products can be difficult to deploy and use
  • Instant access points lack features unless you have other Aruba products such as Aruba Central or Aruba AirWave licenses
  • Aruba Central has a good cloud-based product for small to medium sized business, but it is very expensive

How it Fares for Enterprise Networks

  • Large configurations can handle large networks
  • The base product is a traditional single tenant hardware controller which can make it difficult to deploy and use
  • For adequate reliability, you will need redundant controllers which are pricey
  • The Aruba instant access points are not sufficient for larger enterprises or multisite premises
  • Aruba Central provides a cloud alternative but uses separate licenses for features. This means that you may require additional licenses for future functionality which could prove very expensive
  • The ongoing admin of handling expiring licenses is time consuming

How it Fares for Arena / Stadium Networks

  • As with Meraki, for focused radio frequency with Aruba products, external antennas are required which will incur extra costs and will need mounting
  • There are a maximum of 2 5 GHz radios per access point
  • The Aruba multi 5 GHz access points have filtering
  • HD Wi-Fi performance is weak

User Experience

  • Deployment is difficult, with added complexity of ensuring you have the right licenses which can be time consuming
  • Depending on the products used, you may require multiple user interfaces
  • Expanding your network or adding new features may require additional licensing and subsequently more costs
  • Aruba does provide support within a 90-day product failure warranty. Additional support after that requires a paid support agreement. If you don’t pay, you don’t get support

Price-point

  • The price-point for Aruba wireless products is lower than Meraki but medium compared to other brands. As with Meraki, the costs involved with licensing and subscription fees with Aruba pushes the price up.

 

Still not sure what wireless products you need for your network?

If you’re unsure what wireless products would be suitable for your network – Whether it be small or arena sized – Our Wi-Fi experts would be happy to chat through the options. Our experienced Wi-Fi engineers can match the right wireless network products with your requirements to get you the most reliable Wi-Fi possible. Let’s strengthen your connections today – Get in touch now.