The short answer to the title question is “Yes, of course microcells (or femtocells) work to boost cell signal.”
All major U.S. cell service providers distribute microcells for their customers who need a signal boost at home or in an office. That‘s a good indication that microcells work.
But the important information about microcells is in the details. Let’s take a closer look at how they work.
Scroll down to see the video about microcells. Two models of microcells are shown above.
How a Microcell Works
A microcell is a low-power cellular base station. Connected to a router, it works with a broadband Internet connection to provide cell phone coverage by creating a signal source – a “micro” cell site – inside a home or office.
For consumers, cell signal coverage from a microcell is typically provided for one to three rooms in a house. Some enterprise-level microcells can provide a cell signal to an entire building.
Voice and data traffic moves across your cell carrier’s network and is delivered to the microcell via an Internet gateway. Your cell phone communicates directly with the microcell, with signal from your phone then relayed to the Internet gateway.
A microcell typically has a signal range of up to about 50 feet. Residential microcell models usually support up to four or five simultaneous connections, while enterprise models can support a dozen or more.
The Pros & Cons of Using a Microcell
The big advantage a microcell provides is the ability to create a cell signal indoors even if there is absolutely no detectable cellular signal anywhere in the area.
To do this a microcell requires a high speed Internet connection. If no broadband connection is available, a microcell is not an option for providing a cell signal in building.
Because a microcell uses an Internet connection to operate, it competes for Internet bandwidth with data traffic from other connected devices. Depending on a router’s capabilities, Internet data speeds and the amount of available bandwidth, using a microcell could disrupt other data services like streaming video. This competition for bandwidth can also result in poor audio quality for cell calls.
Microcells are carrier-specific. That is, a microcell will only support cellular devices of the specific carrier that supplied the microcell. Anyone who uses a different cell carrier, even when within range of a microcell, cannot benefit from the microcell’s improved cell service.
Click to watch the microcell video
In addition, to benefit from microcell coverage all phones must be logged in or synced to the microcell. That means family members, roommates or coworkers with compatible but unsynced phones can’t benefit from the microcell’s cellular signal.
A microcell is a fixed site solution only. It won’t work to boost cell signal inside a vehicle. Instead, that will require the use of a cell phone booster.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage is that a microcell and the carrier’s cellular network do not always work in concert to “hand off” a connected call smoothly.
Here’s an example. Let’s say someone at home dials a call on her cell phone that connects through the microcell. But as she dashes out the door to her waiting carpool for a ride to the office, she’s now out of microcell range and may drop the call.
In order to maintain her connection she must depend on the microcell to hand off her call to her carrier’s nearest cell tower. Sometimes the hand off works fine. Sometimes the call drops.
So back to our original question, “Do microcells work?”
Yes, they absolutely do. If your specific situation fits within those described in this post, a microcell may be a good solution to cell phone reception issues at home or in the office.
Check out this article here on the AT&T Microcell.
To learn more about enhancing cell signal, check the weBoost collection of cell signal boosters.