5G external antennas for routers: all you need to know

9 June 2021

Contents list

  1. Overview
  2. What are 5G external antennas?
  3. Why are external antennas needed?
  4. Directional or omni-directional antenna?
  5. Which antennas support which frequencies?
  6. Router to antenna connection
  7. DIY antenna tips
  8. 5G external antenna ratings
  9. FAQs

1) Overview

The need for 5G external antennas is growing, as are the different situations in which one may be needed. Fibre broadband, for whatever reason, may not be available in your location, and speedy 5G home broadband could resolve that problem.

5G external antennas come into their own when you experience low 5G signal strength or an unreliable connection. They can provide a much-needed signal boost to achieve the speeds and reliability needed these days. But be aware, it may sound simple to hook up a 5G external antenna to a router, but a certain level of knowledge is required to avoid buying an antenna that is not fit for purpose.

Before you purchase an antenna, it’s important to see which antenna is likely to work in your location and that the router and antenna are compatible with each other.

You need to choose either a directional or omni-directional antenna, look up which 5G frequencies are supported, and ensure your router also supports the antenna.

This article helps with all of that while outlining the pitfalls to avoid, things that work well, and the best 5G antennas for you to buy.

2) What are 5G external antennas for routers?

5G external antennas for routers are small antennas that plug directly into your 5G router. As the name suggests, these tend to be mounted to the outside of your property - preferably nice and high up - where they will serve to boost the mobile signal to your home.

3) Why are 5G external antennas needed?

AF9E 5G antennae

Opting for a high speed mobile network connection for your home broadband can be a viable alternative to fixed broadband. And with 5G home broadband now a possibility, you don’t even need to make any compromises when it comes to speed or latency.

There are potential pitfalls with a mobile broadband solution, however. Your property might not get a strong signal if it’s too far from a mast, while interference from other signals and physical obstructions like buildings (a particular issue with 5G) can also hamper your home broadband performance.

5G networks are designed to overcome these limitations by employing lots of small signal relays rather than a single large emitter. But signal disruptions will still occur - especially this early on in the 5G revolution where the infrastructure is still being built out.

In these cases where you’re struggling with a poor connection for your 5G home broadband package, an external antenna can be the best solution.

4) Directional or omni-directional antenna?

There are two basic types of external antenna: directional and omni-directional. The difference is pretty self-explanatory - a directional antenna will receive signals strongly (also known as higher gain) in a single direction (or in a narrow cone), while an omni-directional antenna will receive signals moderately well from many or all directions. As a general rule, the higher the gain, the more directional an antenna is.

As you might assume, omni-directional is the safest bet for most people, as you’ll be more likely to get a signal, and won’t be overly reliant on a single source. However, those in rural locations who aren’t necessarily blessed with an abundance of strong signal sources might be better served going directional.

Directional antenna

Omni-directional antenna

Pros

Cons

Pros

Cons

Signal travels a long way

Offers narrow coverage

Potentially 360-degree coverage

Signal doesn’t travel as far

Good when you’re a long way from a mast

Usually only gets a signal from a single mast

Can connect antenna to multiple masts

 

 

Harder to install

Good when there are multiple nearby masts

 

 

 

Easier to install

 

5) Which 5G antennas support which 5G frequencies?

When buying your 5G external antenna, note which frequencies it supports. These need to match up with those employed by your 5G network provider in your area. Here in the UK, at the time of writing, 5G connectivity currently operates around the 3.4GHz and 3.6GHz frequencies for all four major network operators. However, in future this may change, with operators likely to start offering additional 5G frequencies sooner or later.

Network

5G frequencies used

EE (+BT)

3.4GHz and 3.6GHz

Three (+iD Mobile)

3.4GHz and 3.6-4GHz

Vodafone (+VOXI +Virgin Mobile +ASDA)

3.4GHz and 3.6GHz

O2 (+Sky +Tesco +Giffgaff)

3.4GHz and 3.6GHz

6) Router to antenna connection

If you’ve confirmed that you need a 5G external antenna, check with the manufacturer of your 5G router that the model actually supports such an extension. Most do, but not all.

Suitable routers will typically utilise 2×2 MIMO, which will mean that they feature two external antenna ports. You can either buy two separate antennas or a dual antenna system that will plug into both of these.

Also make sure that the antenna uses the same connection type (typically TS–9 or SMA). You can buy a simple and cheap set of adaptors to bridge the gap if you do find yourself with a mismatch, however.

7) DIY antenna tips

Before you commit to the idea of buying a 5G external antenna, it’s worth running a couple of practical tests. First, eliminate the possibility that it’s the connection between your device(s) and your 5G router that’s actually at fault.

Do this by placing the device and the router close to each other. If this fixes your connection problem, then you know you need to boost your Wi-Fi signal rather than your 5G signal, and that an external antenna is not the answer.

Also, take a look at the positioning of your 5G router. Is it possible to move this at all, preferably higher and closer to a window? If so, you might find that this will positively impact the strength of your 5G signal without the need to invest in an external antenna.

8) 5G external antenna ratings

As long as you follow the above guidelines, you shouldn’t go wrong picking out a 5G external antenna. If we were to offer a single safe and easy pick, then the Huawei 5G AF9E Antenna is a 5G antenna that will work well for the vast majority of UK 5G broadband users.

That’s because it has been designed to operate closely with the Huawei 5G CPE Pro. The name probably won’t be familiar to you, but the Three 5G Hub and Vodafone GigaCube are both rebranded versions of the Huawei 5G CPE Pro.

9) FAQs

Does 5G coverage affect my 5G broadband connection?

Yes. You need to be able to get a 5G signal in the property where you’re installing the 5G broadband to get a 5G connection at all. Beyond that, if the signal is weak then it could affect the performance or reliability of your 5G connection. But a 5G external antenna can help with both of these things – allowing your router to hook on to more distant signals, or to strengthen the connection.

That said, there’s more to getting good performance than just having a good signal. A strong signal on a congested band for example may prove slower than a weaker one on another band.

What location is best for your broadband router and antenna?

Your 5G router needs as few obstacles between it and a mast as possible, so it should be placed near a window, ideally on a windowsill, with no curtains or blinds in the way. It should also be away from electronic equipment like microwaves and baby monitors, which can interfere with the signal.

As for the antenna, this should be installed as high as possible (in a stable position) outside your home, so that it has a clear line of sight with no obstacles. If you’re using a directional antenna then you should also make sure it’s aimed in the correct direction to pick up a signal – this may take some trial and error. Coverage itself can be checked for all mobile operators via our own coverage checker.

Does cable length to the antenna affect my signal strength?

Longer cables can increase the signal loss between the antenna and the router, so you should keep the cable as short as possible. Of course, having both the router and the antenna ideally positioned can make a short cable impossible, but as a rule of thumb it’s best to at least keep the cable under 5 metres in length.

How is antenna power measured?

Antenna power is referred to as ‘gain’, which is generally measured in dBi (decibels relative to an isotropic radiator). A 10dbi antenna for example will typically be more directional (and longer range in that direction) than a 5dbi antenna, which will typically have a wider but shorter reach.

James Rogerson
About James Rogerson

Editorial Manager

James has been writing for us for over 10 years. Currently, he is Editorial Manager for our group of companies ( 3G.co.uk, 4G.co.uk and 5G.co.uk) and sub-editor at TechRadar. He specialises in smartphones, mobile networks/ technology, tablets, and wearables.

In the past, James has also written for T3, Digital Camera World, Clarity Media, Smart TV Radar, and others, with work on the web, in print and on TV. He has a film studies degree from the University of Kent, Canterbury, and have over a decade’s worth of professional writing experience.

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