Hotspot Signal Strength

One of the coolest things that smartphones can do is act as a Wi-Fi hotspot. This really comes in handy when there is no Wi-Fi available and you need to connect your laptop to the internet. It even helps in situations where multiple devices need to connect to the internet such as at home.

Question is how far does a smartphone’s Wi-Fi hotspot coverage reach? If your smartphone is in your bedroom, can you still access the hotspot from the kitchen? Or if you’re downstairs, can it reach upstairs? What about outside?

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Hotspot Signal Strength
  • WiFi signal strength is indicated in decibels per milliwatt (dBm), and a signal strength higher than -70 dBm is generally considered to be good enough for most basic tasks. For bandwidth- or latency-intensive tasks such as high-definition streaming or online gaming, you should aim for at least -67 dBm.
  • Connectify Hotspot virtual router software allows you to create a WiFi repeater in order to increase WiFi signal strength with just a few clicks. It uses your laptop’s wireless card to give your existing WiFi network the signal boost needed to reach that out-of-signal place in your home or office. Click here to get Connectify Hotspot MAX.
  • 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.
  • Move your router to a more centralized location. Here’s a “rule of thumb” to go by: your average.

Unfortunately, most smartphone manufacturers don’t provide much detail around their devices’ Wi-Fi specifications, besides the different wireless protocols the phone supports. But after some digging, I have found some answers, though it’s nothing definitive.

Essentially, the range of a mobile phone Wi-Fi hotspot is potentially anywhere between 20 meters and 100 meters in ideal conditions. But that’s just in theory. In reality, a smartphone’s hotspot coverage range is affected by multiple factors including the Wi-Fi protocol used, the environment you’re in, and the strength of the signal. Because of that, the coverage of a smartphone Wi-Fi hotspot can be much lower than the theoretical range.

Wi-Fi works on the same principles as TVs, radios, walkie-talkies, and other wireless devices. It uses radio frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum to send signals between devices.

But unlike radios that receive frequencies in the kilohertz (kHz) and megahertz (MHz) range, Wi-Fi transmits and receives data in the gigahertz (GHz) range, particularly 2.4GHz or 5GHz. The higher frequency allows the signal to carry more data.

For a smartphone to connect to a Wi-Fi network, it needs to have a Wi-Fi transmitter and receiver that communicate with a Wi-Fi access point (AP). An AP can be a modem/router, smartphone, or any other device that can broadcast a Wi-Fi signal.

Once an AP starts broadcasting the signal, it creates a Wi-Fi hotspot, which is basically an area where that’s within the Wi-Fi signal’s reach.

To communicate with each other, devices connected to Wi-Fi (or WLAN) use the IEEE 802.11 protocol, which comes in a variety of version. The version a device supports can impact how far the Wi-Fi signal can reach.

Strength

Wi-Fi protocol refers to the rules and standards that govern the communication of devices on a wireless local area network. The protocol for Wi-Fi is IEEE 802.11, but there are several versions of it. Each version has its own pros and cons relating to data speed and signal interferences.

ProtocolFrequency (GHz)Indoor rangeOutdoor rangeMax linkrate
802.112.420m/60ft100m/330ft1Mbps – 2Mbps
802.11a3.7/535m/115ft120m/390ft6Mbps -54Mbps
802.11b2.435m/115ft140m/460ft1Mbps – 11Mbps
802.11g2.438m/125ft140m/460ft6Mbps – 54 Mbps
802.11n2.4/570m/230ft250m/820ft72Mbps – 600Mbps
802.11ac535m/115ft433Mbps – 6933Mbps
802.11ax1/6 and 2.4/5600Mbps – 9608Mbps

There is no record of the 802.11ac protocol’s outdoor range. There is also no record of the 802.11ax indoor and outdoor range.

Note, these numbers are theoretical. There is no guarantee that a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot will reach the ranges mentioned above because of such factors as the environment and the connected device. However, the emission power of the smartphone’s wireless antennae plays a big role in the signal’s strength and reach.

What the table above shows is how the different versions of the wireless protocol have varying ranges of reach compared to each other. How far a smartphone’s mobile Wi-Fi hotspot will reach depends on the wireless protocol version it uses.

A lot of recent smartphones, including entry-level ones, use the 802.11b/g/n protocols. Higher-end devices, on the other hand, are known to be compatible with all versions of the wireless protocol. The 802.11ax protocol is the most recent in smartphones and has the largest coverage of them all.

Being indoors greatly affects the range of a smartphone’s Wi-Fi hotspot. Most often, the signal is reduced, thanks to three factors: signal reflection, refraction, and absorption, and interference.

Similar to light, a wireless signal is just radio waves. And just as light waves can bounce on smooth and shiny material such as glass and metal, so do the radio waves of a wireless signal. If there are a lot of reflective surfaces nearby that reflect the Wi-Fi signal, it can be weakened and might not reach as far as it would.

Refraction is when light waves and radio waves bend as they pass through a medium where the speed is different. Glass and water are a perfect example of this. You can literally see an object appear to bend as you put them in water.

So, if there is a massive fish tank between the phone that’s acting as the Wi-Fi access point and the device that wants to connect, the reach of the Wi-Fi signal will be impacted by how it’s refracted by the glass and water of the fish tank.

Signal absorption refers to what happens when something dense such as a wall is between your smartphone and the device connecting to its Wi-Fi signal, but the molecules in the wall can’t move fast enough to keep up with the RF waves passing through it.

What results is that the material in the signals path absorbs some of it, while letting some of it pass through. And of course, different types of material will attenuate or decrease the signal differently.

Material

Attenuation

2.4GHz

5GHz

Interior drywall

4 dBm

5 dBm

Brick wall

6 dBm

10 dBm

Concrete wall

20 dBm

30 dBm

Wood door

4 dBm

7 dBm

Steel door

20 dBm

30 dBm

Glass

3 dBm

8 dBm

Double-pane coated glass

13 dBm

20 dBm

Bullet-proof glass

10 dBm

20 dBm

Wi-Fi hotspots are not the only things that operate at the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum. Other things such as microwaves, baby monitors, poorly wired satellite dishes, and many other devices that transmit or receive a wireless signal are capable of causing frequency interference.

Frequency interference is when one wireless signal crosses paths with another on a similar bandwidth and overpowers it. That can lead to limited mobile hotspot reach.

When indoors, there many factors that can affect how far a mobile phone Wi-Fi hotspot can reach. What’s more, some materials can impact the signal in more ways than one. For example, glass can both absorb and refract a Wi-Fi signal.

It is, therefore, very difficult to say exactly how far a smartphone’s hotspot can reach indoors because it depends on the space and the material in it. The best thing to do is to position yourself as close as possible to the Wi-Fi AP (access point) created by your smartphone.

Protocol

Frequency (GHz)

Indoor range

Outdoor range

Max linkrate

802.11

2.4

20m/60ft

100m/330ft

1Mbps – 2Mbps

802.11a

3.7/5

35m/115ft

120m/390ft

6Mbps -54Mbps

802.11b

2.4

35m/115ft

140m/460ft

1Mbps – 11Mbps

802.11g

2.4

38m/125ft

140m/460ft

6Mbps – 54 Mbps

802.11n

2.4/5

70m/230ft

250m/820ft

72Mbps – 600Mbps

802.11ac

5

35m/115ft

433Mbps – 6933Mbps

802.11ax

1/6 and 2.4/5

600Mbps – 9608Mbps

There is no record of the 802.11ac protocol’s outdoor range. There is also no record of the 802.11ax indoor and outdoor range.

If we look back at the table that shows the different wireless protocols and their coverage, you can see that the outdoor range is far greater than the indoor range. Again, these figures are theoretical, but they do highlight a remarkable difference between the two. And for good reason.

Depending on where you are outdoors, there are usually far fewer walls around you and concrete barriers. Unless, of course, you’re in the middle of the city. There, you also have to contend with human bodies that can get in the way of your signal.

But if you’re in a more open landscape outdoors, be it out in an open field or spacious backyard, a smartphone’s Wi-Fi hotspot signal can travel further.

However, how far it can travel depends very heavily on the strength of the signal.

How far a smartphone can broadcast its Wi-Fi signal depends on two things: the strength of its mobile network connection, and the power output of the phone’s wireless antenna.

For a smartphone to be able to broadcast a Wi-Fi signal, it needs to be connected to a mobile network. Once it has access to data, only then can it be able to be turned into a hotspot.

The strength of the connection to the mobile network is important. If the signal from the network is weak, so will the smartphone’s W-Fi signal. And a weak Wi-Fi signal means a shorter coverage range.

The stronger the connection to your mobile service provider’s network, the stronger and further the reach of the mobile phone hotspot coverage will be.

Test Hotspot Signal Strength

So, even if you’re outdoors with no walls or other objects to interfere with the signal anywhere nearby if the nearest cell tower is very far, you probably wouldn’t get as much coverage as you would indoors.

The other big player in how far a smartphone Wi-Fi signal can reach is its wireless antenna. The more power it can output, the further the signal can reach. How powerful it is, is expressed in mW (milliwatts) and dBm (decibel-milliwatts).

The power output of the average wireless router found in a home is 20dBm. This allows the Wi-Fi signal to travel as far as 100 meters in ideal conditions. The power output of a smartphone wireless antenna is significantly lower than that of, as shown in the table below.

Strength

Best Way To Boost Hotspot Signal Strength

The above table shows the power output of the Samsung Galaxy S4’s wireless antenna output. It may be an old phone, but its power output is consistent with some of today’s smartphones. There are some smartphones, however, particularly the more higher-end ones, that have an output of between 20dBm and 30dBm.

But even with the maximum power output a smartphone wireless antenna can have to reach further, it helps nothing if the receiving device has a low power receiver. What ends up happening is an inability to connect to the Wi-Fi despite having a good signal.

Wi-Fi connections are bidirectional, so both devices have to communicate with each other. If the phone that’s serving as the Wi-Fi access point can reach far but the other device’s radio is too weak to respond from that distance, there won’t be a connection.

For a Wi-Fi signal to reach far, you need a smartphone with a powerful transmitter to act as the Wi-Fi access point, but you also need a smartphone with a powerful wireless antenna on the receiving end so that it can communicate back.

Yes. The speed of the Wi-Fi connection and its coverage go hand-in-hand. They are inversely proportional, meaning that when one value goes up, the other goes down. You cannot have the maximum speed at the far reaches of the signal’s strength.

So, in other words, if your smartphone’s maximum Wi-Fi hotspot reach is 35 meters, the Wi-Fi speed will not be as fast from that far as it would if you were much closer to the access point.

Is it possible to extend a smartphone’s Wi-Fi hotspot reach?

To extend the reach of a smartphone’s Wi-Fi hotspot, you need to invest in a Wi-Fi extender, which serves to extend the range of the phone’s wireless signal. The Wi-Fi extender takes the mobile phone Wi-Fi’s signal, creates its own signal, and then broadcasts it to areas where the phone couldn’t reach.

Essentially, a Wi-Fi extender serves as a bridge between a smartphone’s Wi-Fi hotspot and devices that are out of the hotspot’s range. What the extender does NOT do is amplify the strength of the signal, it just extends its reach.

Wi-Fi extenders come in wired and wireless varieties, so they can be used easily in the home and office, as well as in the great outdoors.

So, although in theory smartphones use wireless protocols with long-reaching signal ranges, there are many factors such as the environment and how strong the phone’s wireless antenna is. As a result, a smartphone’s Wi-Fi hotspot reach is not as great as that of a dedicated wireless router.

However, in all fairness, smartphones aren’t meant to be used as permanent Wi-Fi access points. In most cases, people use their smartphones as Wi-Fi hotspots while remaining in very close proximity to the device.

But if you need your mobile phone Wi-Fi hotspot to reach further than it does, at least there is a way in which you can do so.

Just remember, using Wi-Fi and setting up a hotspot on your phone consumes quite a bit of power. So, if you’re outdoors and nowhere near a plug point, make sure you have the best power bank with you.

Hotspot signal strength poor

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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.

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.

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 QualityNo effectMay ImproveMay Improve
Conencted BandsMay ImproveMay ImproveMay Improve
Tower CongestionMay ImproveMay ImproveMay Improve
MIMO SupportMay ImproveMay ImproveNo effect

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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

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!