Cellular Yagi Antennas 101 – Understanding the Basics
Cellular signal loss is annoying, especially in the age of working from home and Zoom-ing all the time. It’s the grinch that steals your fun, family time, and work productivity.
If your home or business suffers from cellular reception bellyaches, there’s a solution: Cellular Yagi or Yagi-Uda Antennas. These are best used in fixed locations, such as homes, offices, and commercial buildings. When paired with a signal booster, hotspot, or cellular router, it’ll help get rid of the grinch pronto.
In this article, we’ll explain the concept of Yagi antennas, and how they can banish the undesired signal grinch for good. Although Yagi antennas can be used with TVs, radios, and more, we will focus only on cellular Yagis for signal boosters, hotspots, and cellular routers.
1. What is a Yagi antenna?
Simply put, cellular Yagi antennas are directional antennas that radiate signals in one direction. Though, you probably know them as "that funny thing on someone's roof”, which isn’t totally inaccurate. They're designed to point in the direction of your closest cell tower to send and receive the strongest signal possible.
2. How did the Yagi Antenna Get its Name?
“Yagi” seems like an unusual term, almost like a technology geek made it up from thin air. However, the name makes sense when you consider the formal name, Yagi-Uda antenna. The antenna got its name from the individuals who invented it, Hidetsugu Yagi and Shintaro Uda.
Yagi and Uda were two pioneers of the Japanese radio industry back in the 1920s. While Shintaro Uda was the initial developer of the Yagi, Hidetsugu Yagi wrote papers in English about the invention. As a result, people called the antenna “Yagi”, and it stuck.
Because the Yagi antenna was highly efficient, the device immediately became a success. Nowadays, you can find old-style, large Yagi antennas on many building roofs.
3. What is a Yagi antenna used for?
Yagi antennas are used in TV reception, ham radio, WiFi, cell phone signal boosters, and more to bridge a connection with a base station or access point.
Originally, the Yagi was a champion of the early radio industry. Later on, many Yagi antennas popped up on the roof of private homes to catch over-the-air television signals. If your grandmother had those strange rabbit ear antennas on top of her TV and lived in a rural area, there’s a high chance that she owned a Yagi. Soap operas were that important!
Of course, Yagi antennas aren’t just for your TV-loving grandmother. They are still used for radio, and for those of us in the internet age, signal boosters and hotspots. For these applications, they are used to reach relatively far cell towers to provide cellular devices with a stronger cellular connection.
Yagi antennas are commonly used in areas with weak outside cellular signal. The antenna laser focuses its energy in one direction and picks up as much cell signal as possible, delivering a stronger signal for your cellular devices. Think of it like a tractor beam, radiating out from your ship-er-building and drawing in the smaller spacecraft (we mean the cell tower signal). Genius, right?
4. How does a Yagi antenna work?
For those who don’t care about the technical stuff, basically, you point the antenna in the direction of the base station (aka cell tower), the antenna captures the cellular signals radiating from the base station, and feeds it to the amplifier, cellular router, or hotspot.
For those who want to know all the dirty little details, here is a more technical explanation. Yagi antennas are made with a long pole, called the “Line” that points in the desired direction. The “Line” holds the “Directors” and “Reflectors” and connects to the “Driven Element”.
- The Driven Element provides electricity to the antenna and helps transmit information. It’s the mitochondria of the antenna if you will.
- The Directors branch off like tree branches, only at a right angle. They help direct the signal, as well as provide the antenna with power and gain. The more directors there are, the more directional and powerful the antenna.
- The Reflector reflects energy in the direction the antenna is pointed at, allowing the antenna to send a stronger signal.
Since the elements work together to focus all their energy on sending and receiving cell signal from one direction, the antenna filters out signal noise coming from every other direction. If you’ve used an old-style car radio or even one inside your house, you’ll quickly understand why this is important.
Radio signals come through the clearest when you have the precise frequency on the dial or when you're closer to the radio station. If your dial is slightly off, you might get a large percentage of the signal, but you’ll hear static. And as you get too far from the station, there’s a lot of static and dropped sound. Finally, you’ll sometimes hear multiple stations when you’re too close to one and not far enough from the other. Yagi antennas on cellular frequencies “tune in” to the right signal, while ignoring the others. This reduces or eliminates static and interference, providing you with a clear, crisp signal.
5. How does the range of a Yagi antenna compare to an Omni Antenna?
One of the questions we get when people want to know about Yagi antennas is how they compare to Omni directional antennas. If you’re scratching your head, an Omni antenna is the cylindrical one you sometimes see on top of buildings. They can send and receive cellular signals from every direction, hence the name.
Since Yagi antennas are designed to only send and receive signals from one direction, they naturally have more gain, making them more powerful than an Omni antenna. For the non-geek, “gain” refers to the amount of power the antenna can send or receive in a specific direction.
Think of a Yagi antenna as a flashlight and an Omni antenna as a lantern. The flashlight can illuminate a longer path in one direction, while the lantern can illuminate around you but not as far. In other words, the Yagi antenna can communicate with fewer towers that are farther away, while an Omni can’t reach as far but can communicate with multiple cell towers from every direction.
On average, Yagi antennas have a range of about 5 miles but will provide the best results within 3 miles, primarily due to obstructions between the antenna and cell tower. Omni antennas have a range of about 3 miles, with the best results within 1.5 miles. So, if you live in an urban area with a lot of cell towers, an Omni might be all you need. On the other hand, in the suburbs or rural areas, there’s a high chance you’ll want a Yagi.
6. Which cell phone antenna is stronger: Yagi or LPDA?
LPDA, no question about it. LPDA antennas are more directional, meaning they have more gain and are more powerful. For a practical illustration, if an Omni antenna is a lantern and a Yagi a flashlight, your LPDA is like a laser beam.
Because they are more directional, LPDAs have a narrower radiation beam making them slightly more challenging to perfectly point at a cell tower. Though, the struggle is a small price to pay for superior cell signal, especially in areas where outside signal is extremely poor. LPDAs are especially useful farther out in the country, or in situations where the signal is stronger but with a lot of inference or noise.
7. Is a Yagi antenna directional?
Yes, they are directional. In fact, the directionality of a Yagi antenna is one of its most important features. A Yagi knows where it’s going, unlike the out-of-town driver who’s trying to decide where they need to turn off your street.
8. How far can a Yagi antenna reach?
A typical cellular Yagi antenna is effective up to 5 miles, but generally speaking, will work best up to around 3 miles. More precisely, the effectiveness of a Yagi antenna increases or decreases based on the number of obstructions between the antenna and your target cell tower. There are many kinds of obstructions, such as trees, hills, bad weather, and even your neighbor's end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it concrete bunker.
9. The Pros and Cons of Yagi Antennas?
We know cellular Yagi antennas sound like the be-all-end-all solution to ending spotty cellular signal, and even though they are for many, it’s recommended to weigh the pros and cons when deciding if a Yagi antenna is right for you.
Yagi Antenna Advantages
- Can reach farther cell towers than Omni antennas
- Feature higher gain, which is one of the reasons they can communicate with faraway towers
- Fine-tune incoming signal, eliminating signal noise that decreases the quality of the signal
- Perform great in areas with weak signal
Yagi Antenna Disadvantages
- Take some time to set up, in contrast to a plug-and-play Omni
- Only receive signals from one or two cell towers
10. What is the front of a Yagi antenna?
The front of the antenna is the narrowest part. While “narrowest” does mean the needle end of the "Line", for many cellular Yagi antennas the directors vary in length – shortest first.
Your driven element and reflector are always at the back. For this reason, even the smallest Yagi antennas will typically be a bit wider at the back than the front. Still not sure which end is up?
11. How do I aim a Cellular Yagi antenna?
For best results, the antenna must point in the direction where you receive the strongest cell signal from your carrier, which will typically be in the direction of your closest cell tower. If you don’t know where your closest cell tower is, you can use apps like OpenSignal to locate it and point the antenna in that direction. You can also find your closest tower using your carrier's coverage map, or even your cell phone’s native antenna. Of course, having a smartphone instead of a dinosaur flip phone from the last millennium will help.
Alternatively, you can point the antenna in different directions and see which one yields the best results. Testing out options is sometimes advantageous when you have signal obstructions. However, it can be time-consuming.
No matter how you find the tower, you might need to fine-tune the antenna's position for optimal results. Patience is sometimes necessary. When pointing your antenna, remember that the smaller end, or front, of the antenna, is what needs to point at the cell tower. Think of this as your cellular Yagi antenna pointing towards the desired signal.
12. Does a Yagi antenna need to be grounded?
No, they do not need to be grounded. But since it’s made of metal components, it’s recommended. After all, you don’t want your cellular Yagi antenna to turn into the lightning rod that brings down the house. Everyone wants to “rock on” during those storms!
In addition to grounding the antenna itself, we recommend an in-line lightning surge protector. This does need to be grounded. It protects your signal booster system, hotspot, TV, and other gadgets in the event of lightning surges. Power surges are a major problem for electrical equipment in general, which is one reason why people often buy grounded power strips. A surge protector adds to the protection.
Luckily, at Bolton Technical, we don’t like to leave our customers hanging without the right accessories. For that reason, we have surge protectors available in our shop. These do have compatibility requirements. In particular, 75-ohm surge protectors are for 75-ohm systems, and 50-ohm surge protectors are for 50-ohm systems. Generally, a residential system will be 75-ohms, and commercial ones 50. However, if in doubt, always check the specifications.
13. How much do Yagi antennas normally cost?
The price of a Yagi antenna varies depending on its intended purpose, such as TV, WiFi, Cellular, and so forth. As with most things in the tech world, the more recently your targeted technology was invented, the deeper you’ll have to dig into your pocket, all other things being equal. With that said, the price of a Yagi antenna will also vary depending on power/gain. A quick Amazon search for Yagi antennas shows that cost can vary from as low as $30 to a little over $100.
Here’s how it works. Yagi antennas are designed to work with specific frequency bands, and those change across TV, Wi-Fi, Cellular, radio, and more. What this means in practice is that you need to choose your Yagi based on its specifications. You should only consider pricing once you’ve found an antenna that’s compatible with your devices and cell carrier.
Looking at some antennas from Bolton Technical should help you see pricing differences in action. Our 4G cellular Yagi antenna with up to 11 dBi of gain, The Quicksilver, for example, covers frequency bands ranging from 697-2700 MHz. It costs $60.95. On the other hand, our 5G cellular Yagi antenna with up to 11 dBi, The Quicksilver 5G, covers frequency bands 617-6000 MHz. It costs $78.95. So, if you want to access the latest and greatest in cell tech, it’ll cost you an extra $18.
14. What are the best Cellular Yagi antennas?
Strictly speaking, the best cellular Yagi antenna is the one that best meets your needs. To decide which one is best, you should consider the specifications, quality, and price. Overpaying for technology stinks and buying an antenna that won’t stand up to a mild windstorm is equally awful. Of course, the wrong technology can ruin your day with a run back to the electronics store… or worse.
Naturally, we believe that a Bolton Technical cellular Yagi antenna will be excellent for most users. For instance, we have an excellent, yet affordable, 5G antenna that lets you experience the latest technology without regrets. When compared to competitors, it simply performs better. It even looks discrete hanging out of a window. Not ready for the latest thing, or still waiting for your phone company to get with the times? We have a 4G Yagi model as well, which also performs better than the competition.
Finally, be sure that a cellular Yagi antenna is the best choice for you. Depending on how far your cell tower is, it will dictate how much gain an antenna should have. If a cell tower is more than 3 miles from your home or office with obstacles in the way, or more than 5 miles without obstacles in the way, you'll need an antenna with more gain, like an LPDA. You can find our selection of LPDAs on our website.