How to boost cell phone reception in your apartment

Ken Perkins | May 20, 2016


Poor cell reception is a special challenger for apartment dwellers. We hear frequently, “You always talk about weak cell signal in single-family homes. How about some help for people in apartments.”

Point taken. This is your post, apartment people.

We’ve heard the stories of someone finding the perfect flat – great location and affordable rent. Then comes the dealbreaker – they have absolutely no cell service. Nothing. Zero bars.

Then there are those who move in with a friend, relative or roommate knowing that their cell reception in the apartment sucks. But the living arrangement is so desirable that they’re resigned to dealing with bad coverage.

Well, anyone currently living in, or considering moving into, an apartment with poor cell coverage – you don’t have to put up with bad signal. You have options, and we discuss them below.

Causes of poor cell reception As we have said before, there are two main causes for bad cell coverage; (a) you are too far from the signal source (the cell tower), and/or (b) there is something, or perhaps many things, between you and the tower that are blocking the signal.

Now your apartment building may or may not be too far from your carrier’s nearest tower for good reception. But there certainly are signal blockers between you and the tower. The most likely culprits are the materials your building is made of – concrete, steel, brick, masonry, drywall, low-emitting coated glass windows – even the electrical wiring in the walls! All these things and many other materials block cell signals and cause, or at least contribute to, your reception problems.

If there are other multi-story buildings near your apartment, they could be blocking your cell signal too. But don’t panic. Here are some things you can try to improve your reception.

1) Signal map your apartment

This a good way to find out if there is one particular spot that provides better reception than anywhere else. To do this all you need is your cell phone, a pen and paper. To map your signal:

 Put your phone in field test mode so you can view the incoming signal strength in decibels, abbreviated as dBm. Instructions to go into field test mode for Android phones and iOS devices are found here. Go into each room of your apartment and jot down the dBm reading on your phone. For larger rooms, you may want to take signal readings in two spots. Each time you move across the room or to another room to check the signal, it may take your phone up to one minute to update the dBm reading for the new location. You may be able to force a faster signal update by putting your phone into Airplane Mode for a few seconds once you move to the new location. Then turn off Airplane Mode, and the updated dBm reading should display.

Sometimes signal may be better next to a window, but not always.  Once you’ve signal mapped your apartment, you will know for certain which locations have the best and worst signal. If you find a “sweet spot” it may not always be convenient to dash there and answer an incoming call, but at least it’s free.

2) Try Wi-fi

All newer smartphones allow native Wi-fi calling and texting. And of course there are a bunch of messaging apps now that support audio and video calling. So if you have solid Wi-fi coverage in your apartment, it may be a perfectly good substitute for the cellular network. Click to Learn more about Wifi calling

3) A femtocell (microcell)

If you can convince your cell carrier that coverage in your apartment is unacceptable, they may provide you with a femtocell, or microcell. These function almost like a tiny cell tower, creating a very localized signal in your apartment. But they also have some distinct disadvantages. For one, they require a broadband Internet connection, and compete with any other network traffic including streaming video. So check them out before committing. To learn more about these devices watch our video at

4) A cell signal booster

These devices work in virtually any situation where there is an existing cell signal to amplify. Some models, like the weBoost eqo Home Cell Booster, don’t require an antenna outside the building. That can be a big advantage for apartment residents. This is the priciest solution on this list because signal boosters have cellular radios in them just like your phone does. And that also makes this the solution most likely to work for most people.

5) As a last resort cautiously switch carriers

This works for some, but be careful about switching your cell carrier in hopes of getting better coverage in the flat. The last thing you want to do is to exchange poor reception with one carrier for even worse reception from another.

If you, using Carrier X, always have poor reception in the apartment, but your roommate, using Carrier Y, always has excellent reception, then a switch to Carrier Y might make sense. Just be sure before you switch that your coverage will be better with the new carrier.

Conclusion We’ve given you some solid options so you don’t have to suffer with poor cell reception inside your apartment. To be clear, not all these solutions will work for everyone. But at least one of these should work for about 99 percent of apartment dwellers.

Here’s more information on how to increase cell signal.

How have you solved cell reception problems in your apartment? Post a comment below to let us know.


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