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I'm using a Huawei B660 3G router at my house, with with a service provider called 8ta (in South Africa). I've been struggling for months to try and get them to troubleshoot and fix my connection, which was working fine for about a year.

I'm now daily struggling with download speeds of as little as 0.1Mbps to 0.5Mbps, especially after 5pm until about midnight. Upload speed off course is even worse.

8ta, has after months of me complaining agreed to install an antenna at my house, which will probably take another few more weeks for them to accomplish.

My question, is an antenna likely to fix my problem?

I often have 5/5 bars of signal on the router, so my argument is that signal strength might not be the problem. Since the connection is in a residential area, I would assume that their network is more likely to be a bit more congested after hours, but a technician explained to me that their network is never more than 30% "occupied".

Can the number of users connected on the 3G network/tower cause signal strength to attenuate for surrounding users?

Would it help replacing the B660 (7Mbps) router with a 21Mbps counterpart?

I'm contractually stuck with this provider for another few months, but it would be awesome to optimise the connection once and for all, since they are one of the most reasonably priced providers in South Africa.

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Radio frequencies by definition are shared, and obviously, the more users there are, the more contention there is for that frequency. The "bars" you are talking about are not signal strength, but signal to noise ratio. Radio noise is everywhere, the bars means it can hear more signal over the background noise. The bandwidth however is something else entirely, apart from the competition for the signal from the central antenna, the data will then be passed by a backhaul of some sort (wireless, wired) which will have a maximum amount of bandwidth which is also shared among the connected users. Most, if not all providers oversell their backhauls, as normal users aren't connected and downloading 24/7, but if you do happen to have multiple heavy users, you can see the limits of both the backhaul and the base station. I haven't even gone into the fact that only one user can talk at a time (though it can "talk" thousands of times a second) unless the base station has multiple radios.

So, long story short, it's very likely that the usage on your local base station is higher than the amount of bandwidth they've dedicated to it.

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As a general rule, the signal strength and overall bandwidth are essentially constants in relation to number of concurrent users, but as you have surmised, the band itself may be saturated, so no matter how strong your signal, the network still cannot process your connections any faster. where exactly the bottle neck might be would require more knowledge of their network, but yes, there is finite capacity. if you are looking for sources of interference however, look at your own devices.

an antenna may help, in that you may only be seeing part of the band, which would likely be the same part everyone else is using, so while it may be only at 30% capacity, the subscribers may be fighting over a smaller subset of the band.

in terms of your router, it may be a new one helps, as it may lock onto a wider chunk of the bandwidth, and potentially avoid the congestion in other sub-bands, but the increase from 7mpbs to 21mbps is not meaningfull unless you have greater than 7mbps service.

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