Ultimate Guide to
What is a Cell Phone Booster?
A cell signal booster is just what it sounds like – a device that boosts cellular voice and data signals so you have fewer dropped calls and lost connections, and you get faster data uploads and downloads in weak-signal areas.
Most signal boosters have 3 components, plus coax cable to connect them.
The components are:
- Tower Antenna – usually mounted on the roof of a vehicle, or the roof or side of a building. This antenna communicates with the cell tower.
- Booster Unit – this component amplifies cell signals
- Device Antenna – this antenna is installed indoors or inside your vehicle and communicates with your phone or other cellular devices in your vehicle, home or office.
Top 10 signal booster benefits
Stronger cell signal – up to 32x
Fewer dropped calls and lost connections
Faster data uploads and downloads
Fewer no-signal ‘dead zones’
Improved audio quality for voice calls
Longer battery life on a single charge
Texts and voice mails hit your inbox sooner
Larger indoor signal coverage area
Extended signal range from the cell tower
Peace of mind – you know you’re connected
How a cellular booster works
Tower Antenna Receives signal
The powerful antenna reaches out to access a voice and 3G, 4G, and LTE data signal, and delivers it to the booster.
Booster Amplifies signal
The booster receives the signal, amplifies it, and serves as a relay between your phone and the nearest cell tower.
Device Antenna Broadcasts signal
Your devices get increased cell reception, and calls and data are fed through the booster back to the network.
Types of Cell Phone Boosters
Home & Office
Car, Truck, RV and Boat
Cell phone boosters fall into two main categories:
Many cell signal boosters are universal – they work with all carriers, with all services and with all cell devices. Other boosters may work for only one specific carrier (like 'Verizon' only), or work on one (or perhaps two) specific frequency bands, boosting all carriers that use that frequency or frequencies.
Boosters may also be identified by the generations of technology they support – like 3G and 4G. A booster identified as 3G typically will boost signals on both 2G and 3G networks. A 4G booster typically boosts signals on 2G, 3G and 4G networks.
Still other boosters are hybrids, for example boosting all carriers’ 2G and 3G services but only one specific carrier’s 4G services. Before purchasing a cell signal booster, make sure it will work for the signals, network(s) and carrier(s) you need to have boosted. See the Frequency Bands section below.
Signal boosters typically allow multiple simultaneous connections across multiple carriers, but some vehicle boosters like the Drive 4G-S, may provide boosted signals for the driver only.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
How a cellular booster works
Mobile phones are really two-way radios. Your cell phone, at least the communications function, is essentially a two-way radio operating behind a 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:
- detecting and collecting very faint cell signals (much fainter than your phone can detect)
- helping those faint signal bypass various obstructions
- amplifying the faint signals to a useable level
- broadcasting the amplified signals to an interior space – like your home, office or vehicle – so they can be picked up by your phone or other cellular device
When you use your phone, the process works in reverse to send amplified signals back to the cell tower to complete the communication loop. To learn more, read our blog post How Does a Cell Phone Booster Work?
Or watch this short video.
The Stronger the Signal, the More Indoor Coverage Area
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 postDo Cell Phone Boosters Actually Work?
Or watch this short video.
Why you have trouble getting a reliable cell 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 Your 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.
- 1. If you’re moving, stop.
When you are stationary, your phone and the network don’t have to constantly adjust for your changing location. This makes it easier to get and hold a strong signal.
- 2. If there’s a case on your phone, remove it.
Test to see if the signal is better without the case. A case can block cell signals from reaching your phone’s internal antenna, so removing it may improve your reception. Also, don’t block the internal antenna with your hand while holding your phone.
- 3. Go outside, or get clear of any obstructions.
Building materials block cell signals, so if you’re inside a building go outside to get better reception. If you’re already outside, find an open space like a plaza or a park where cell signals are more likely to reach you.
- 4. Keep your battery charged.
A low battery can negatively impact your phone’s ability to get and hang onto a cell signal.
- 5. Change location to see if reception is better.
Move to another room of the house or into your office corridor. Or try next to a window, where cell signal may better penetrate the walls. If in a vehicle, drive a mile down the road.
- 6. Increase your elevation.
Move to the top floor of your home, office building or even the roof of your apartment building you reduce the chance of obstructions between you and the cell tower. If driving, find a high spot and park there.
- 7. Use the Wi-Fi network instead.
All newer smartphones, and all major U.S. cell carriers, allow native Wi-Fi calling and texting. There also are a bunch of messaging apps now for audio and video calling. So if you have solid Wi-Fi coverage in your location, it may be a perfectly good substitute for a spotty cellular network.
- 8. Locate the nearest cell tower.
When you know where the cell tower is located, you can move to the side of the building nearest the tower to see if reception is better. If you’re outside, you can move clear of any signal-blocker obstructions between you and the tower.
- 9. Try switching from 4G to 3G service.
Turn off your LTE service to see if you can get a better connection and improved coverage by using the 3G network. How you turn off 4G service varies by carrier and phone model. A ‘how to turn off 4G’ Web search will return plenty of results.
- 10. Get a femtocell.
These function almost like a tiny cell tower, creating a localized cell signal. But be aware they require a broadband Internet connection, and compete with any other network traffic. To learn more about these devices watch our video at https://blog.weboost.com/news/blog/cell-phone-signal-booster-or-femtocell/
- 11. Get a cell phone signal booster.
These devices work in virtually any situation where there is an existing cell signal to amplify. Some models don’t even require an antenna outside the building - a big advantage for apartment dwellers.
I want to see cell phone boosters for my car, truck or RV
I want to see cell phone boosters for my home or office
- 12. Cautiously switch carriers.
This works for some, but be careful about switching your cell carrier in hopes of getting better coverage. The last thing you want to do is to exchange poor reception with one carrier for even worse reception from another. Be sure before you switch that your coverage will be better with the new carrier.
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.As a general rule:
- a 3G signal booster will cost less than a 4G booster designed to cover an equivalent area:
- a booster designed to provide signal coverage for a larger area will cost more than one designed to cover a smaller area:
- for vehicle boosters, a one-user cradle booster costs less than a wireless multiple-user model.
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 the same time?
Yes. Anyone within range of the booster’s signal immediately gets boosted and no logging into networks or checking carriers is required.