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Curious about cell phone boosters? In this comprehensive guide, you’ll get answers to the most common questions about cell signal boosters, the benefits of having a cell phone booster, and the different types of cell phone signal boosters currently available for residential consumers.
A cell phone booster (also known as a cell signal booster) is just what it sounds like; a device that boosts weak cellular signals for use by cell phones, smartphones, tablets, hotspots, and other cellular-connected devices. By amplifying the existing cell signal, phone boosters help:
Regardless of which US carrier network you use, everyone has experienced weak cell signal. The reasons for poor coverage include distance from the nearest cell tower, the building materials in your home, or physical obstructions such as trees, local topography, or neighboring buildings.
Cell phone boosters fall into two main categories:
Home cell signal boosters are designed to enhance indoor signal conditions within spaces ranging from 1,500 sq. ft. and 7.500 sq. ft. in coverage area. Most home boosters support multiple users and multiple devices simultaneously and across multiple carrier networks.
For commercial buildings over 7,500 sq. ft., we recommend our WilsonPro brand of products.
Vehicle cell signal boosters are designed to enhance cell signal within a car, truck, van, or SUV. Some are made exclusively for RVs, towable trailers, semi-trucks, or fleet vehicles. Most vehicle boosters support multiple users and devices, while some boost signal for only one cellphone.
Our powerful outside antenna reaches out to access a voice and data signal, and delivers it to the booster.
The cell signal booster receives the signal, amplifies it, and serves as a relay between your phone and the nearest cell tower.
Your devices get increased reception, and outgoing calls and data are amplified through the booster and sent back to the network.
How weBoost works❯
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
How Cell Phone Signal Boosters Work
How cell phone boosters work is pretty simple. All the complexity operates behind the scenes to make them operate transparently and efficiently.
Your cell phone - at least the communications function - is essentially a two-way radio operating behind a very modern user interface. Your mobile phone communicates with the cell tower by means of radio frequency (RF) signals.
A cellular signal booster works like this:
When your phone transmits a signal back to the tower, the process is repeated in reverse order.
A cell signal booster system is comprised by just three basic components, and coax cables to connect those components.
1) First is the outside antenna. This antenna, mounted on the roof or an exterior wall, communicates with the cell tower. Signals are passed along coax cable to the second component . . .
2) The booster unit is normally mounted in a utility closet or storage space. This unit amplifies the signal and passes it along another length of coax cable to . . .
3) . . . the inside antenna mounted on an interior wall or on the ceiling which distributes the amplified signal to the interior space where cellular devices can use it.
Stronger Signal, More Indoor Coverage
The strength of the signal detected by your cell phone booster system is important because the stronger the signal is BEFORE it’s amplified, the greater indoor coverage area in square feet or square meters the system will deliver. This is a real-world limit that the laws of physics place on any signal booster.
Think of the booster system as a megaphone. A megaphone amplifies your voice, but if you whisper into the megaphone then that amplified whisper won’t be audible over much distance at all. However, if you yell into the megaphone, your amplified yell can be heard over a much further distance. And if you don’t say anything into the megaphone, there is no sound produced at all.
A cell signal booster system works much the same way. The stronger the cell signal is before it’s amplified by your booster system, the greater indoor coverage area the system can provide.
Do Cell Phone Boosters Actually Work?
They certainly do. Cell phone signals are carried by radio frequency (RF) waves, just like terrestrial radio signals are. Consider the FM radio in a car. Those signals are collected by the antenna, amplified and retransmitted inside the vehicle so you can enjoy music, sporting events or talk show programming.
A cell signal booster does the same thing: collect, amplify and retransmit signals inside your vehicle, home or other indoor space, allowing you to enjoy on your cell phone the voice and data traffic those signals carry. The booster also does the same process in reverse to send signals from your phone back to the tower.
To be sold in the U.S., signal boosters must be certified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In Canada the certifying body is Industry Canada (IC). These government certifications are assurance for consumers that cell signal boosters work as they should.
Make sure any booster you purchase is FCC or IC certified. That’s your proof the booster works as promised. To learn more about this topic, read our blog post
Do Cell Phone Boosters Actually Work?
Or watch this short video.
Why You Have Trouble Getting A Reliable Signal
There are really only two culprits that cause cell phone reception problems: distance and obstructions. Everyone understands distance – if your phone is too far from the cell tower, then the signal will be weak or perhaps undetectable.
Obstructions are not so well understood. Below is a list of the most common signal blockers:
Terrain – cell signal operates in line-of-sight fashion. Any terrain features between you and the cell tower – hills, mountains, ridges, bluffs, etc. – will block cell signals.
Man-made objects – in urban settings, buildings are the main blockers of cell signals. Radio frequency (RF) signals can’t easily pass through metal, concrete or oxide-coated glass. So when you are inside almost any building, you can have reception problems. Or conversely if you are outside and surrounded by tall buildings, like on the street in an urban city center location, cell reception can be spotty.
Vehicles – metal and safety glass, the materials making up the outer shell of most vehicles do an excellent job of blocking RF signals. When you’re inside a vehicle, it may be hard to get a good signal.
Vegetation – I know, right? It’s hard to believe, but trees, shrubbery, or almost any kind of foliage absorbs cell signals. Here’s the kicker – even dust particles in the atmosphere(!) can weaken RF signals.
How To Improve Cell Signal
Our best tips for improving your cell signal, collected over the past 20 years that we’ve been in the improved cell signal business.
How Do I Know How Strong My Signal Is
Of course you can look at the bars on your phone screen, but they can be misleading. The truth is, there are no standards for signal strength bars. Each phone manufacturer uses their own algorithm to detect the strength of the available signal. And then they show you however many, or few, bars they choose. We can’t compare signal strength bars between different phone models. My phone’s three bars may well represent a stronger signal than your phone’s four bars. But there’s no way to know that by viewing the bars on our phones. Bottom line – the bars just don’t mean much.
The only reliable way to determine how strong a signal is available for your phone is to take a strength reading in decibels, or dBm. Decibels are a standard unit of measure, so when you take a dBm reading you know the absolute strength of the available signal.
dBm is typically expressed as a negative number. The closer to zero the reading is, the stronger the cell phone signal. So for example, -79 dBm is a stronger signal than -88 dBm. A reading of -50 is one of the strongest signals you will see. When a signal is weaker than -100 dBm, that’s a pretty weak signal.
Virtually every smart phone can take a signal strength reading in dBm. We’ve posted on our blog How to Find a Signal Strength Reading on How to Find a Signal Strength Reading on an Android Phone and How to Find a Signal Strength Reading on an iPhone.
How Can I Find Out Where My Cell Tower Is?
One of my favorite resources is antennasearch.com. You can enter your location by street address and the search engine will return a list of all towers within a three-mile radius. The site also plots all the cell towers on Google Maps. For those towers that were registered with a street address, it will display the address. If no street address was entered at the time the tower was registered, you’ll have to make do with GPS coordinates. You also can see additional data like the tower’s owner, height and date of construction.
Can I Use Different Coax Cables?
Coax cable is used in all cell signal boosters to connect the antenna(s) to the booster unit. All signal boosters are certified by the FCC and Industry Canada with their specific lengths of coax cable. Substituting any other cables for those that came with your booster may violate FCC and IC regulations.
What Frequency Bands Do Cell Boosters Cover?
Cell phone boosters cover a wide range of signals. weBoost is able to support a full range of carriers and networks, because its boosters are able to read bands from 700mHz to 2100mHz and are configured for GSM, CDMA, LTE, HSPA+, FDMA, TDMA, OFDMA, and other variants.
For a cell phone booster to work with your device(s) and carrier(s), it must boost signal on the frequency bands assigned to your carrier(s). This is usually a simple process. All universal signal boosters will clearly state “Works with all North American carriers” or some similar phrase.
If a booster has a “3G” designation, you can assume it will boost 3G voice and data, but not 4G LTE. To boost 4G LTE service, you need a booster designated 4G.
If you are not sure a booster will work for your carrier and devices, ask the retailer which specific carriers and services work with the booster.
You can also read this blog post.
How Long Does It Take To Install A Booster?
Generally speaking, vehicle cell signal boosters can be installed quicker than indoor boosters. Installation of the weBoost Drive 4G-S booster might take between 5 and 10 minutes, and the Drive 4G-M or Drive 4G-X booster slightly longer.
A simple installation of the Home 4G indoor booster might require 10 – 15 minutes, and for the Connect 4G booster you would need to allow more time. Obviously if the building requires a more complex installation, like multiple device-side antennas or pulling coax cable through an attic or crawl space, the job may take 2 or 3 hours.
How Much Does A Booster Cost?
How much a cell signal booster costs depends on the model you need. If you need a cell phone booster for a vehicle, a driver-only booster like the weBoost Drive 3G-S can be purchased for well under $100.
The weBoost Drive 4G-X, which provides 4G LTE coverage for multiple simultaneous users and max uplink/downlink power for reliable connections at long distances from the nearest cell tower, will likely cost a little over $400.
If you need a booster for your home or office, a weBoost Home 3G indoor booster may cover up to 1,200 square feet (1-2 rooms) with signal for about $200.
Are There Any Recurring Fees?
Unless an ongoing maintenance plan is specifically purchased, a cell phone booster is a one-time expense with no recurring fees.
Which Phones And Carriers Is It Compatible With?
weBoost cell signal boosters boost voice and data signals on all North American cell carrier networks and on all cellular-enabled devices, including phones, tablets and cell modems. Also, 4G phones will work on a weBoost 3G cell signal booster, although the signal boost will be limited to the available 3G signal. And 3G phones will work with a weBoost 4G booster, again with the signal boost limited to the available 3G signal. For more information watch this short video.
Can It Handle Multiple Connections At Once?
Yes. Anyone within range of the booster’s signal immediately gets boosted and no logging into networks or checking carriers is required.
Read our Consumer Guide to Cell Phone Signal Boosters.More