Monday, August 21, 2006

EVDO Antennas: Which one is the BEST?

People often ask "which antenna is the BEST one?", but a better question to ask would be "which antenna is right for MY NEEDS?" Verizon and Sprint offer several different EVDO cards (including the new ExpressCard, yay!), and most of them are equipped with an antenna port for attaching an external EVDO antenna (the Audiovox 5740 card does not have an antenna port). sells 3 different types of antenna, all of them road-tested and chosen for their proven reliability and signal-boosting power. Since EVDO is not currently available in every area of the country, many people find themselves requiring an antenna to help draw in the signal or boost their 1xRTT speeds, but they are not sure which one is right for them. Antenna choice is based on where you use your EVDO, how strong your signal is without an antenna, how much you are willing to spend, whether you desire to travel with it, and many other factors. Read on for more information!

Indoor Antennas:
The classic Booster Antenna (right) is by far the most popular EVDO antenna sold at It is perfect for users who get 1-3 signal bars (if you're already getting 4 bars it won't improve the signal significantly; if you are getting NO signal it will also not help). Customers have reported increases from 45% signal strength all the way up to 100%. Its small size (about 6" tall) make it easy to travel with, and it doesn't need to be pointed directly at the tower to operate (although performance can be improved by testing it in different areas/directions). It can be used on a desktop or attached to a window via the included suction cups. The Magnetic Mount antenna (left) is also small and portable (12" tall), but requires a magnetic surface to stick to AND to act as a ground plane!

Outdoor Antennas:
Both the Omnidirectional and Yagi antennas are mountable, outdoor-use antennas; they are not portable like the booster and the mag-mount. The omnidirectional antennas work for structures, boats and cars/trucks/RVs. The yagi antennas are generally only used for static mounting on structures, though some die-hard RV'ers don't mind the setup and enjoy the benefits where the have good line of site. The best external omni dual-band antenna (right) tested so far is the one we carry -we wouldn't carry it if it wasn't the best. In all but one case (marine omni) the Omni External Antenna surpassed the performance of all other outdoor omni antennas by a notable margin (the other antennas could not connect to the nearby EVDO network, even with an EVDO-locked card, and when in 1xRTT-only mode had much lower signal levels and higher latency). Runner up was a dual-band marine omni (which costs nearly twice as much). After repeated tests the marine omni came in 2nd place because of 30-45% lower upload rates (with and without a signal amplifier). For marine environments the dual-band marine omni would be a good choice though, due to the sealed enclosure which eliminates salt corrosion on the antenna element and resulting loss of power.

Unlike the Omnidirectional antennas, which pull in the signal from all directions and do not have to be directed towards a particular tower, Yagi antennas only work if you have unobstructed pathways to the tower you're connecting to. Do not buy one unless you are certain you have a clear "view" of the tower! You might get lucky blowing through a narrow line of tall leafless trees, but you really ought to be clear of anything. Once those trees have leaves, moisture or snow on them your conditions will change drastically.
That said, the best yagi antennas tested so far are the Wilson Cellular yagis tuned for 'cellular'/800MHz or 'PCS'/1900MHz. Runners-up were the Digital Antenna yagis, also tuned to 800MHz or 1900MHz.

In addition to the Booster, Mag-Mount and Omni antennas, also sells a signal amplifier for people in serious need of signal improvement. Check out the antennas and amplifiers here, and make sure to check out the discussion at the forums!