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Improving Three broadband - can I do any more?

sixtocks

Casual Member
Despite being in the middle of a town, my VDSL is a bit pants. So, I picked up a Three 4G broadband setup almost on a whim last week - despite reading all the horror stories on this forum before doing it...

Since then, I've spent far too long faffing about trying to optimise the connection, and I guess I'd like some outside input as to when good enough is good enough.

According to cellmapper, the tower it connects to is about 300m away. I'm in the overlap of two of its B3 cells, and there's another tower about 750m away which is also spreading B3 in this direction. No B1 cells nearby. B20 can come in real weak from miles away.

Router is the standard B535, so I downloaded H-Monitor to keep an eye on things. I currently have the router oriented vertically, up against the wall on my windowsill. This gives me the 'best' values for SINR / RSRQ / RSRP of 6dB-ish / -5dB-ish / -79dBm.

(Interestingly, the RSRQ drops to -10dB when I shove load on the connection and jumps back to -5ish when I stop. I assume that's expected?)

It can aggregate the B3+B20, but the B20 signal is poor. If I force the router to B20 only, I get a total of about 1.2Mb/0.9Mb down/up, and the signal stats are atrocious. I've actually disabled B20 because I figure any gains from the aggregation are probably lost in the effort of actually doing it.

Speeds are a bit variable through the day, but in the dead of night (I stayed up 'til 2am to check...) it will provide a solid 40Mbit pretty much continuously.

I know that an 'ideal' SINR is a higher value - 13+ or so, but I'm also unsure exactly how much extra capacity is there for me to grab by spending time/effort/money to achieve that, or even how achievable any improvements actually are.

So, I come for the wisdom of the forum - should I just stop now and be happy with what I have, or are there appreciable gains still to be had?
 

Buggerlugz

ULTIMATE Member
Aggregating b20 with band 3 is pretty pointless, it won't actually give your connection the extra 1.2Mbps you think it would.

I'd specify band 3 on its own.

I find personally that just band 3 provides a higher speed generally for me than using band 1 with it too, to provide 4G+.

You could also try some rabbit ears on the B535, it may help a bit.
 

Lucian

ULTIMATE Member
If you are in a town it's likely you can actually get good coverage from serious providers, pay a few £ more and you could get some great performance, if you're lucky maybe even some 5G.

My advice, as always, get giffgaff(02), voxi(vodafone), EE payg sims, test them in your phone[1] by the windows, outside the windows, see how it goes.

Three has some pretty good prices, but their network is seriously oversold in many places.

Which town are you in btw, can you share a partial post code?

[1] - as the modem in your phone is most likely significantly better than the B535
 

sixtocks

Casual Member
No 5G here unfortunately. It's a town, but it's not a great one!

This (cellmapper) shows the area I'm in. 2-3 towers. EE and 3 seem to be on the same ones, and there's an O2 in the middle of town that has B1 and B3 instead of just B3 like everyone else.

The router seems to get a better signal (better stats, higher throughput) than my phone - perhaps the router is better at rejecting interference? It's a Mate 20X, so apparently has a Cat21 radio.

With the maxing out at 40Mbit steady when everyone's asleep - is that anywhere near the maximum I should be able to get on a singular uncongested B3 link?
 

Lucian

ULTIMATE Member
Usually EE and Three share the same mast, given your radio signal values aren't too bad I expect you could get quite similar signal from them as well as good speeds, maybe go over 100Mbps most times of day, depending how good their backhaul is in that location, but usually it's pretty good.

The problem with Three is that it may be OK speed-wise at 3AM, but what about the rest of the day...
 

sixtocks

Casual Member
That's pretty much what I was trying to find out - where is my bottleneck right now.

Given that the 2am test with (I assume) no contention stayed steady at 40, I took that to mean that perhaps the radio link is good for 40 and no more. You reckon the same test on a less congested ISP would have better throughput? What even is the limit of non-aggregated B3 link?
 

Lucian

ULTIMATE Member
Don't know about b3, but with rsrp -73 and sinr 10 I was getting 140/40 mbps with EE on lte.
You're not that far off with those values, assuming you'll get similar signal from EE.
Of course, highly relative, based on location and mast capabilities, but warrants a try.
 

GavinAshford

ULTIMATE Member
That's pretty much what I was trying to find out - where is my bottleneck right now.

Given that the 2am test with (I assume) no contention stayed steady at 40, I took that to mean that perhaps the radio link is good for 40 and no more. You reckon the same test on a less congested ISP would have better throughput? What even is the limit of non-aggregated B3 link?
The theoretical speeds are very dependant on the technologies that are deployed at the mast you're connected to.

Given that the masts in your area don't seem to have B1 then I'm assuming they're still using Samsung baseband hardware and will more than likely be only 2x2 MIMO and 64QAM.

WIth that assumption, the maximum theoretical is 112.5Mbps down, 37.5Mbps up. You can probably take 20% or so off that theoretical to get the real-world maximums (80/30-ish).

As you're only getting 40 down, there is some more potential there, however as you say, it depends where the bottleneck is - it could just be the load on the mast (even at 2am) connected devices still apply load. What are you upload speeds like, anywhere near 30?
 

Buggerlugz

ULTIMATE Member
Whilst I can get bands 1 and 3 on my my mast i've noticed that the times when my download speeds <10Mbps there are usually the same times when upload is below 3Mbps, latency is >100ms and bufferfloat is high.

As I also found out using the same mast on EE for me, provided very little improvement.

So mast tech has a lot to do with quality of service.
 

sixtocks

Casual Member
As you're only getting 40 down, there is some more potential there, however as you say, it depends where the bottleneck is - it could just be the load on the mast (even at 2am) connected devices still apply load. What are you upload speeds like, anywhere near 30?
Appreciate the info! The upload will go quite nicely at 25-30, even when the downstream is suffering - which seems fairly close to the maximum you describe. Did a speed test just now, and it was ~27Mbit in both directions. Latency is a reasonable 46ms to 1.1.1.1.

I'm assuming the worsened download speeds are just contention? The signal stats don't really seem to change a huge amount during the day. I shuffled the router slightly this morning, bringing SINR up slightly to 8dB.
 

GavinAshford

ULTIMATE Member
Yeah, I'd be inclined to say the speeds you're getting are more than likely due to the constant load on the mast. You could try going closer to it and testing again, though you have to ensure you're connected to the same cell when doing so. The better metrics closer might result in better speeds, and if they are considerable then perhaps a higher gain directional antenna might be beneficial to try.
 

sixtocks

Casual Member
I took a wander out at lunchtime to test things out. This is my cell tower.
celltower.jpg


The unit facing me is the same one that I receive a signal from at home. Mentally plotting a line between my house and the way this thing is facing, I'll be coming in at it at a pretty shallow angle which I imagine doesn't help things.

On my phone, RSRP/RSRQ/SINR = -64dBm/-8dB/18dB. Speed tests gave me readings of 52-64Mb downstream, and 40Mb upstream steady.

Returning home (and using the router), RSRP/RSRQ/SINR = -78dbM/-9dB/7dB. Speed tests gave 35-40Mb downstream and 22-27Mb upstream.

I'm not sure that even the best antenna from this distance will be as good as 'standing right next to it', so I imagine that if I were to spend out on additional kit then the actual gains I'd get would be underwhelming.
 
Last edited:

GavinAshford

ULTIMATE Member
You're correct, the shallow angle won't be ideal, but you cant move either the mast or your house, so there's nothing you can really do about it!

If you take RSRP alone, you'd need an antenna with a gain of 14dBm (after any cable losses) to reach the same as your phone had at the mast - that is assuming your phone and router have the same sensitivity to begin with (which is unlikely).

However, it does show that there is possibly more potential speed available than you can currently tap into - again, assuming your phone was using the same bands and cell/sector as your router does.

It would be up to you to decide if attempting to get some more of that throughput (+50%-ish?) is something you want to invest your time, effort and money into.
 

sixtocks

Casual Member
assuming your phone was using the same bands and cell/sector as your router does
I noted the cell ID used by the router, and checked that's what the phone was using whilst I was there too. With that said, the phone was also doing the whole '4G+' thing, as I don't know how to force it to B3 only. B20 is rather weak back at the house - turning it off or on makes no statistically significant difference in speed test results, so I turned it off to keep things simple.

It would be up to you to decide if attempting to get some more of that throughput (+50%-ish?) is something you want to invest your time, effort and money into.
I think the amount of all of those I'd have to spend to get to that point would exceed the benefit of the additional 20Mb or so I could get as a result. Perhaps I'll revisit if/when the tower is upgraded and the potential is greater, or maybe next spring when various trees in the area start to grow a few more leaves!

I appreciate your input here - thanks!
 
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