Helium Hotspot Antenna Upgrade Guide – 8dbi vs 5.8dbi vs 3dbi – Which cables & connectors to choose to reduce signal loss?

Sharing is caring!

Update – I have updated this content to be more clear about the effective range.

I have previously written a post on upgrading my Helium Hotspot with the MikroTik LoRa 6.5dBi Omni Antenna.

Since then, I have made a lot of changes, obsessing about finding the best performance. Sadly my performance has dropped due to a large number of hotspots in my town. I wish I had used the optimal set up from the start.

It turns out antennas are more complex than you think. It is not just a case of buying the most powerful one you can find and placing it as high as possible.

8dbi vs 5.8dbi vs 3dbi Antenna – Different antenna gains have different degrees of coverage

Update – My original explanation below is not very clear and a bit misleading. The above diagrams show the effective range on the verticle plane, so the 9dbi has a sort of pancake or doughnut-shaped coverage pattern, while the 2dbi is a perfect sphere capturing everything around it.

This is why a lot of people choose to use something around 5dbi or 6dbi because this will offer a good balance of range and being able to connect to nearby antennas at different heights as yours.

Omnidirectional antennas are not quite as omnidirectional as you think when you increase the antenna gain. So you can’t just buy a Taoglas Barracuda 12dBi antenna and think it will cover a huge distance with 360-degree coverage – trust me, I tried, and it is a super expensive antenna.

The lower the gain, the better the coverage, at 2dbi, you get 360° coverage, but at 5dbi, it drops down to 40° then 7dbi is 30°.

So in a city with a lot of hotspots around, you might be best off with a lower gain antenna.

Then, of course, is the placement; higher with fewer obstructions is better, obviously. In hindsight, I wish I had paid to get an aerial company to come around and fit my antenna on my chimney.

Also, remember, you will need an antenna that is compatible with your specific region. Some antennas cover multiple frequencies, which is fine, as long as it covers your frequency.

  • For the UK this is 868Mhz
  • For the US this is 915Mhz

Helium Hotspot Antennas for the UK 868Mhz models of the Helium Hotspot

Be warned, the Taoglas 12dbi option is not likely the best choice unless there are not many hotspots near you.

I wouldn't personally buy from Nebra anymore, the way they have dealt with the Helium Hotspots is poor. But the below antennas are still worth considering. I personally use the Paradar 8.5dBi which I reviewed here and is available on Amazon.

Helium Hotspot Antennas for the US 915Mhz models of the Helium Hotspot

Signal loss through the cable

You also need to consider how the signal degrades on the way back from the antenna to your hotspot. The longer the cable, the bigger the signal loss. Again, in hindsight, I messed up here, buying cheap cables on Amazon.  Similarly, if you use the SMA adaptors you buy on Amazon, you can potentially introduce further signal loss.

You can get low loss cable, Amazon has lots of these listings, but a decent low loss cable is LMR-400 which is harder to find and much more expensive.

Just be warned, the LMR-400 is very thick, I had an old hole coming through into my office for a TV antenna, and I only just managed to squeeze it through. I had previously run cables through a small window, leaving a small gap with the window partially closed, but this cable would have left a huge gap.

Custom cable and which connectors to use on your antenna  

Antenna with N-Type connector going to RP SMA MALE

You can get cable made up to custom lengths, this will be your ideal option allowing you to select the minimum length required to reach your hotspot.

To avoid using adaptors, you will need to work out which cable end you need. For the MikroTik LoRa 6.5dBi Omni Antenna I use, it has an SMA female end while the Helium Hotspot has an RP-SMA Female .

So for the MikroTik, I needed the opposite connectors, which are RP SMA MALE (Helium hotspot side) to an SMA Male (Antenna side)

I ended up buying off  McGill Microwave Systems on eBay. I think it was this cable but then I messaged them asking for the RP SMA MALE & SMA Male cable ends.

Some antennas use the larger N-Type Male connection, this includes the RAK 5.8dbi Fiber Glass Antenna Kit, so this would require a N-type female 

If you get a cable made up I would suggest confirming with the company the exact ends required, I get easily confused with all the connector types and it is easy to get mixed up. A professional will know best.

Some of the options on Amazon are available below, but you may need to buy the adaptors to fit things properly.

Last update on 2022-01-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

53 thoughts on “Helium Hotspot Antenna Upgrade Guide – 8dbi vs 5.8dbi vs 3dbi – Which cables & connectors to choose to reduce signal loss?”

  1. Hi thank you for this as it is informative, but can I make one additional note. An antenna works on both horizontal and vertical planes. What you highlight which is right, is the he higher the gain of the antenna it reduces propagation on the vertical plan, but still provides 360 degrees on the horizontal plane.

    What this will mean is that you are likely to send or receive signals to or from further away but will miss the ones that are close by you. Therefore as you mention above you need to decide wisely in the case of a miner to which will provide you the best coverage.

    There is a whole science around antenna’s which I admit not to a specialist picked up enough to do a radio course some time ago but thought it would help to support your article.

    Reply
      • Hi bro,
        I have 2 questions:
        1) I live in area where near hotspot is 4km through air in the map so should I go with 3dbi or more dbi antena?
        2) if 8dbi antena which cover 25° range and not 360° how do I know which way to point the antenna on the city area where are the hotspot so I cover the 25° range? is there some point marked on the antenna how should we point it?

        thx

        Reply
        • I’d probably go with the 8dbi.

          I thought I had updated this post to be more clear about the effective signal, sorry. My information is slightly confusing, the effective range is on the verticle plane, so if you look at the diagram the antenna drawings are verticle as you would mount them. Therefore the 9dbi will achieve further distance but there is a good chance it will not pick up on hotspots closer by if you have positioned the antenna too high or low. So it is still 360-degrees but the effective area is more a flat doughnut shape rather than a ball.

          So a high-density area is best off with the lower gain antennas ensuring you connect to everything close by, while sparsely populated are best off with high gain.

          Reply
  2. Hi, this is a great review of the Helium Hotspots.

    I’m in the UK and have a Bobcat Miner and RAK V2 on the way. Can you confirm which antenna upgrades you would say are best to be placed outdoors on the roof?

    Thanks in advanced.

    Reply
  3. I enjoyed your post. The links to the right cabling for upgraded hotspot antenna will prove useful. I am still on the lookout for a comparison table of the antenna that are shipped by default with a hostspot. This would help me identify the brand of my neighbours hotspots. Which out performs my own although being at a lower elevation and lower dbi !!

    Reply
  4. Great post thanks very much. Could have two miners on the same wifi router but both 300 meters apart in separate hexagons? Will this work? Just a thought.

    Reply
    • In the UK it is likely that they will be breaking regulations. The new PoC v11 update that is or has rolled out will scale down the power to fit a regions regulations, so 12dbi and 15dbi could be pointless depending on where you live

      Reply
  5. Hello. I cannot thank you enough for this information. I wanted to share my situation.
    My hotspot is ‘Acrobatic Wooden Beetle’. When you look at it, you will see that I live in a suburban area. Sub divisions here and there and no homes over 2 stories. Most homes are just 1 story.

    I ran a 400LMR cable to a 10 dbi antenna 7 meters high (attached to my chimney)

    Im frustrated because I still cannot witness anyone. Meanwhile I can do everything else. Any suggestions would be most welcomed. Thank you kindly in advance.

    Reply
  6. Hi I looked at your area on the Helium Map and I can tell you 2 things. 10 dbi is overkill for that area. Your missing all the people close to you since you are probably transmitting over their heads. This higher dbi you go the further you transmit but its beam is more narrow. Your antenna is at a good height. Try using a 5dbi antenna for that area. You will probably do much better. But theres another problem. You are registering as poor transmit scale on the map because your area is oversaturated. That means too many people in that area have hotspots.

    Reply
    • Thank you very much for the reply which is extremely helpful. I am glad to say that I am using Amazon Prime and ordered a 4.5, 5 and 8 dBi antenna. I’ll test all of them and see which one gives me the witnesses I need and return the other ones. 😀

      As for the transmit scale, I wish I could do something about that but it seems it’s one of those ‘It is what it is’ scenarios. Again, thank you for the guidance. Cannot wait to get this optimized.

      Reply
      • Your welcome. Hope that the next antenna you use gives you better results. Let me know how it works out. Im setting up a few locations so love the real world data feedback results from other users. Just curious. What company did you purchase from on amazon ? Do you have a link to the amazon page ?
        Thanks

        Reply
  7. Thanks very much for the information I have been looking to optimize my own setup and just pondering which antenna to go for.
    My hotspot is “Fancy Turquoise Seagull” and on the standard setup is doing roughly 0.01 day if im lucky. Im really hoping to add change my setup to reach 6miles away where there is a city.
    any information is much appreciated.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • It is because there are not many hotspots near you for you to connect to. If you look at Real Punch Mantis which you connect to, they have a 10 dBi antenna with placement at 9m allowing them to connect much further out.

      It is worth noting that the effectiveness of high dBi antennas may be reduced in the future, but you’d likely get better performance from a 6dbi antenna and try and locate it higher up ideally clear from any obstacles (so on your chimney and maybe with a pole to extend the height a bit further)

      Reply
  8. Hi, thank you for the information it’s really helpful. I do have a question. I have purchased a bobcat miner and I want to put an 6dBi antenna on my roof. I’ll need a cable around 8 metres long, can you suggest the best one to use? Thank you in advance.

    Reply
  9. Hi,

    I am ‘Glorious Mandarin Robin’. My elevation is low compared to my surroundings and I am unable to witness nearby hotspots on a stock bobcat. Should I switch to a lower or higher gain?

    Reply
    • 4 dBi should be good enough to connect to the hotspots in your area. It is probably antenna placement or the quality of your cable. Get the antenna on your room for the best performance, or stuck it on your window outside. The very expensive and thick LMR 600 cable will provide the least loss, if you can keep the cable reasonably short then LMR 400 is fine.

      Reply
  10. Hi,

    Thanks for all the info, much appreciated.

    I have a quick question, I want to put the antenna at the roof of my building, around 15M high, which cable I can use to get the best quality and reduce the loss ? or is better to think putting the hotspot in the roof with a PoE ? and as I will be high which antenna you recommend me.

    Another question is, that where I want to place it is just outside one of the green hexagons on the map, and the right place of this one [ Huge Stone Cow ] is that an issue ?

    The hotspot that I will get in the next 4 weeks, is the MerryIoT Hotspot Miner V1

    Again thanks in advance for your support and help, really appreciated.

    Reply
    • If you can do it outdoors with POE that would be best. If not, you want LMR600 cable which is incredibly thick but about as low loss as possible. I buy mine from https://mightygadget.co.uk/go/mcgillmicrowave-lmr-600

      For the antenna, 6dbi is a safe bet, if you are in densely populated area then 3dbi is fine. If in the UK I wouldn’t bother going about 6dbi. I have had good success with Paradar and Nebra antennas

      If you are within 300m of another hotspot you won’t have quite as good earnings.

      Reply
      • Thanks James for the quick feedback, appreciated.

        if I use the distance meter from helium explore the one I mention is around 600m from where i want to place my hotspot but is an issue that I’m outside the green hexagonal, is this an issue or once i get my only i will create a new green hexagonal in the map ?

        for me, regarding the management, etc.. it will be easy if i pull the 15m cable from the roof to my huis and connect everything at home to avoid any damage with weather conditions, will check how expensive 15meters cable of this LMR600 if to expensive i may get it connected with PoE at the roof.

        and the antenna, will be looking for a 6dbi, either Paradar or Nebra as suggested.

        Reply
        • The green hexagons just mean there is at least one hotspot within that hex. So it is advantageous to set one up outside of them, as you will definitely get the full transmit scale.
          For the LMR600 cable, it will be too thick to route into the house, so you will want a short run of LMR400 attached to the cable and route inside to your hotspot – which will still need quite a big hole to fit through

          Reply
          • Thanks James,
            I will check once i have it what is the best solution, i may first test it with in the appartment around 3m high and then check all the necesary hardware and supply to move it to the roof, i think it will make diference placing this in the roof

          • Hi James, i do live in germany in a new energy efficiency building. I am not allowed to drill holes thru a wall to the outside of the building. Are there good connection cable available to lay it between Window and its frame with low Signal loss?
            Thanks

            David

    • Hey Farid
      Did you get your MerryIoT Hotspot Miner V1 already and can you maybe give a quick review about how it is working?
      Thinking about getting the same model, but can’t find much about it on the net.
      Cheers

      Reply
  11. Hi!
    I was just wondering what would be best for me in a situation where I have the height of roughly 30m. Is it better to use a lower dbi antenna or higher?
    Note: The other hotspots in my hexagon would all be within 300-500m and most of them are located at the height of 10m. I also live in Uppsala, Sweden where there are quite a few downtown which I also think I could reach, correct me if I’m wrong.

    Reply
    • Wow, that is very high. I can reach up to 36km with mine so I expect you won’t have an issue with reaching downtown.

      The 5.8dbi/6dbi are generally the best all-round antenna, that should give you both the range benefits of your height while still being able to see hotspots close by. It is hard to say though, if the vast majority of hotspots are 300-500m then a 3dbi may be better.

      Reply
  12. Hello,
    What do you think for Europe what distance can I reaches with 3, 5 and 8 dB. Most points around me are 10 km away, I can raise the antenna to a height of 25 m. Thanks.

    Reply
    • The 6dbi antenna on my house is currently witnessing a hotspot 38km away and is about 8m up. The 3dbi hotspot I have at friends, which is a bit lower down, is connecting to someone 39km away!

      Height does seem to help a lot, one of the hotspots in Blackburn is 8.5dBi and 20m and that connects to another hotspot 80km away

      Reply
  13. Hi,

    Thanks a lot for a great expatiation.
    Can you look at my gateway: ‘Alert Hotpink Skunk’.
    After recent problems and updates my Rak v2 does not have any witnesses 🙁
    Yesterday morning there were about 33 witnesses (no changes in setup).
    See discovery result
    Hotspot Name Packets Heard RSSI SNR
    fierce-cerulean-panther 3 -109 -19
    strong-banana-bear 2 -117 -15.5
    blurry-sepia-manatee 3 -119 -14
    vast-frost-cow 3 -107 -19.200000762939453
    oblong-sandstone-liger 5 -115 -20.5
    big-fuchsia-salamander 1 -116 -21.5
    innocent-steel-cat 1 -111 -22.799999237060547
    amateur-crepe-gazelle 3 -118 -13.199999809265137
    glamorous-emerald-panda 9 -105 0.5
    polite-aqua-reindeer 4 -112 -20.200000762939453
    clumsy-sepia-gerbil 4 -109 -5
    fast-denim-griffin 9 -119 -9.800000190734863
    polite-coffee-elk 1 -119 -14.5
    crazy-rose-sparrow 7 -118 -13.199999809265137
    striped-tan-ram 9 -111 -6.800000190734863
    trendy-aqua-troll 1 -111 -17
    proud-eggplant-wolf 9 -97 -7.5
    electric-clear-gerbil 3 -120 -18.200000762939453
    unique-tartan-bison 1 -118 -18
    handsome-mandarin-dalmatian 1 -117 -15.199999809265137
    square-tangerine-pangolin 1 -112 -20.799999237060547
    kind-ceramic-moose 4 -119 -17
    furry-maroon-lark 8 -106 -13.199999809265137
    skinny-chambray-wasp 4 -112 -19.799999237060547
    fierce-lilac-locust 4 -116 -11.800000190734863
    hot-tan-snail 3 -119 -9.800000190734863
    square-beige-kangaroo 2 -120 -21
    narrow-tin-flamingo 8 -114 -1.2000000476837158
    low-tangelo-bee 2 -119 -20
    calm-hotpink-lobster 3 -117 -13.800000190734863
    boxy-steel-hyena 7 -109 -22
    elegant-myrtle-albatross 1 -117 -17.200000762939453
    stable-concrete-bird 9 -114 -16.200000762939453
    straight-chrome-giraffe 2 -116 -19.200000762939453
    fun-punch-huskie 1 -116 -22.5
    cool-denim-tadpole 1 -120 -19.200000762939453
    sneaky-sepia-dolphin 4 -108 -23.200000762939453
    passive-watermelon-antelope 2 -120 -13
    great-cedar-albatross 5 -112 -8.199999809265137
    fit-viridian-pelican 2 -120 -12.199999809265137
    round-mango-kangaroo 2 -113 -21

    Reply
    • Hello, iam really thank You for your help, iam also using MikroTik 6.5dbi from 3 days mikro is on the roof around 12 meters, i really dont understend why some people in busy city where is 5-12 hotspots in one hexa minning 1+ hnt everyday, when i get 0.3 is good.. What can i do more..:( thank You!

      Reply
  14. The system don’t go to is full potential instantly. My Hotspot, (Mean Watermelon Cottonmouth), a linxdot. I start with the stock antenna, then add a 5dbi… Very rough simply tape to a windows at 8 meter, it improves but very poor compared to neibours who mine 15 20 hnt a month. So again I perform my last (in date) upgrade. 8dbi with 5 meter lmr 400. Apply properly to my chimney on the roof, something like 11 the 13 meters. For know 8 days. Since my Linxdot update yesterday. And I reach 100 witnesses. Around 350 beacons…. I think know I need to wait.
    2 questions
    1/ what is the effective range of a 5 dbi antenna, 8 dbi?
    2/ the Hotspot is connected by wifi. With a good connection, not excellent. Will it improves if I send a Lan cable?

    Reply
  15. Hi James, your comments are very useful. I have an antenna about 9 metres from the ground but in two weeks, have only found two witnesses. Can you check for me please? I am at Hidden Eggplant Mustang. Thank you, MIKE

    Reply
  16. Hi James, very interesting information.

    Are you aware of any information around how uk roof tiles affect transmission?

    I am thinking of installing my hotspot in our loft (attic) using the stock 3dbi antenna but am concerned the roof tiles may block the signal.

    Any information welcomed.

    Reply
  17. Thanks for the info. I made the mistake of ordering a cable with the wrong connector. I needed a female connection but got the male one.

    I was going to use a female to female connector to make it work. Is this likely to have much impact on my mining performance? Do you think i would be better off taking the loss and getting a new cable or would the difference be negligible do think?

    Reply
  18. Hi, very informative albeit a little confusing. Maybe you could give a bit of advise on th following situation.
    I live in the basement flat in a tall house in SE London. so there is a lot of housing around and a number of hotspots in the vicinity . I will definitely need an outside antenna and there just so happens to be a scaffold at the property so I can place an antenna quite hi although not on the roof. There is an open park in front on the house and high flats to one side and behind so I am thinking on mounting the antenna on the front of the property as high up as I can.

    I have calculated that I will need around 20M of low loss cable similar to lmr 400, so the attenuation will be around 2.5dbi. Am I correct in thinking that if I had a 5dbi antenna the attenuation would effectively turn it into a 2.5dbi antenna? Would it then have then same radiation profile as a 2.5dbi antenna?

    And what dbi would you suggest for my situation?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hello,
      Thank you for all the information, it helped a lot.
      However, I wanted to ask, if its going to be a problem for the antenna signal, when there’s a chimney next to it (all other sides are free).
      I wasn’t able to place it vertically on the roof, so the antenna is placed in a ~60° angle. I used an 8dBi antenna to reach bigger cities.
      Do you think the angle is problematic?
      Thanks!

      Reply
  19. Thanks James, I found your article very helpful since I am now the owner of a couple of hotspots. One antenna question I had is whether or not it matters if the antenna is completely vertical in its installation. I have an 8dbi antenna I am putting in my attic and I can put it higher up if I put it on a rafter, at an angle that matches the roofline. Do you think I would be better off if it was completely vertical, or does it matter? My hotspot is the Shaggy Carmine Walrus.

    Reply

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.