What is a Cell Phone Booster?

What is a cell phone signal booster?

A cell signal booster does just what it sounds like – it boosts voice and data signals so you have fewer dropped calls or lost connections and you get faster data uploads and downloads. There are cell phone boosters for vehicles and for indoor spaces like your home and office.


Most signal boosters have three components, plus coax cable to connect the components.

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. It can detect cell signals at levels up to 30 times fainter than the faintest signals your phone can detect.
  • 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.

What a cell phone signal booster is not

It’s not a source of cell signal. A cell phone booster amplifies and redistributes existing signal. That means a signal booster must have an existing signal to work with. If there is absolutely no detectable signal in a location, a cell booster will not work there.


A signal booster does not require an Internet connection. As explained in the previous bullet, a signal booster works with existing cell signals. It does not need an Internet connection to work.


A cell phone booster does not require “pairing” or “syncing” with any phone or other device in order to work with that device. The booster simply boosts signals and makes them available to any cell device within range.

Do cell phone boosters actually work?

Yes they do. Cell phone signals are carried by radio frequency (RF) waves, in the same way as terrestrial radio signals. 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.


Cell phone signals operate on a different part of the RF spectrum. But a cell signal booster uses similar technology to collect, amplify and retransmit signals inside your vehicle, home or other indoor space allowing you to enjoy on your cellular devices the voice and data traffic the signals carry.


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 (a) cell signal boosters work as they are supposed to, and (b) that they don’t cause harmful interference on the cellular network.


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.

How Do I Know How Strong My Signal Is?

Of course you can look at the bars on your phone screen to see the relative strength of your current mobile signal. The key word is “relative.” The truth is, there are no standards for signal strength bars. Each mobile phone manufacturer uses their own algorithm to sense the strength level of available signal. And then they show you however many, or few, bars they choose. Of course that means it’s impossible to 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 respective bars graphics. 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, -88 for example. 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. If the signal gets much weaker than that, you likely won’t have service.


Virtually every smart phone out there can take a signal strength reading in dBm. We’ve posted on our blog How to Find a Signal Strength Reading on an Android Phone, and How to Find a Signal Strength Reading on an iPhone.


Click through to the appropriate post to find out how to see your signal strength reading in dBm. You can also watch this short video.

Cell service providers allow booster installation

In the U.S. and Canada all cell service providers have given their customers permission to install a cell phone booster as long as the following conditions are met:

  1. The installed booster is certified by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission or Industry Canada respectively. Of course all weBoost, zBoost and WilsonPro cell signal boosters are FCC and IC certified.
  2. The booster is registered with the cell service provider.* Most service providers have set up online registration pages where a booster purchaser can register. For a list of links to the registration pages for the largest U.S. carriers, visit https://www.weboost.com/support/carrier-registration/ If your cell service provider is not listed on that page, contact your service provider to find out how to register your booster.

*As of this writing, condition (2) above was not yet in force in Canada. However, it is anticipated that Canada will require registration of cell phone boosters beginning during calendar year 2016. If you are in Canada, please contact your cell service provider to find out about signal booster registration requirements.

Benefits of Cell Phone Boosters

Top 10 signal booster benefits

  1. Stronger cell signal – up to 32x

  2. Fewer dropped calls and lost connections

  3. Faster data uploads and downloads

  4. Fewer no-signal ‘dead zones’

  5. Improved audio quality for voice calls

  6. Longer battery life on a single charge

  7. Texts and voice mails hit your inbox sooner

  8. Larger indoor signal coverage area

  9. Extended signal range from the cell tower

  10. Peace of mind – you know you’re connected

No recurring fees

Unless an ongoing maintenance plan is specifically purchased, a cell phone booster is a one-time expense with no recurring fees.

Compatibility with networks and devices

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.


Most signal boosters have three components, plus coax cable to connect the components. The components are:


Click to shop AT&T signal boosters

Click to shop Sprint signal boosters

Click to shop T-Mobile signal boosters

Click to shop U.S. Cellular signal boosters

Click to shop Verizon signal boosters

Coverage area

A cell signal booster for vehicles will provide boosted signal for either (a) the driver only, if it’s a cradle booster, or (b) driver plus passengers. Indoor signal boosters are typically described by their approximate signal coverage area in square feet.


Two factors impact the size of the indoor coverage area a booster is able to provide: (1) the strength of the unboosted signal available outside the building, and (2) the system gain supplied by the booster. The stronger the available outside signal, the larger the indoor coverage area a booster can provide. And the higher system gain supplied by the booster, the larger the indoor coverage area. So, all other factors being equal, a booster with specified system gain of 70 dBm will cover a larger indoor area than one spec’ed at 50 dBm gain. Ideally, a high gain booster and a strong outside signal would always provide the required indoor coverage area. Unfortunately, few situations are ideal. It’s best to have a good idea how large an indoor area you need to cover with cell signal, and how strong your outside signal is, before deciding which booster system to install.

How Cell Phone Boosters Work

How Cell Phone Signal Boosters Work

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:

  1. detecting and collecting very faint cell signals (much fainter than your phone can detect)
  2. helping those faint signal bypass various obstructions
  3. amplifying the faint signals to a useable level
  4. 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.

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.


Obstructions are not so well understood. Below is a list of the most common signal blockers:


To learn more about this topic, read our blog post Why Do I Have Such Poor Cell Phone Reception? You can also watch this short video.

Signal Strength

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.

Tower Antenna

Sometimes referred to as the “outside” antenna because it’s typically located on the exterior of a vehicle or building, the tower antenna is the part of a cell signal booster that communicates with the cell tower, which is the signal source.


Most signal boosters have a stand-alone tower antenna connected to the booster unit by coax cable. But in some booster models the tower antenna and the booster are integrated into a signal unit.


There are two types of tower antenna – directional and omnidirectional. The more common type is the directional antenna. This type receives signals from a specific direction and must be pointed directly at the signal source for best performance.


In contrast, the omni antenna has a 360-degree beam width and receives signals from all directions. All signal boosters are certified by the FCC and Industry Canada with their specific model of tower antenna, unless the antenna and booster are integrated as described above. Substituting any other antenna for the one that came with your booster may violate FCC and IC regulations.

Device Antenna

Sometimes called the “inside” antenna because it’s located inside a vehicle or building, the device antenna is the part of a cell signal booster that communicates with phones and other cellular devices. Most signal boosters have a stand-alone device antenna connected to the booster unit by coax cable. But in some booster models the device antenna and the booster are integrated into a signal unit.


There are multiple designs of device antennas. All signal boosters are certified by the FCC and Industry Canada with their specific model of device antenna, unless the antenna and booster are integrated as described above. Substituting any other antenna for the one that came with your booster may violate FCC and IC regulations.

Types of Cell Phone Boosters

Different types of cell signal boosters

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 below, may provide boosted signals for the driver only.

Which cell phone booster would you recommend for my home or office?

Please review the Coverage area section regarding the factors that impact indoor coverage area. Your actual coverage area with any booster can vary as described.


If you need enhanced cell coverage for an area larger than 7,500 square feet, please see our commercial grade cell signal boosters at www.wilsonpro.com

Which booster is best for my vehicle?

Additional Info

Cell tower location

One of the simplest and most helpful things you can do to improve cell reception is to find the location of your cell tower. Typically if you know where the cell tower is located, you know which direction your signal is coming from. Once you know that, you can effectively aim a directional antenna or take other steps to improve cell reception. Knowing the origin of your cell signal can help you understand why you have poor reception, and how you may be able to improve it.


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.


Another very useful site is cellreception.com/towers/. Enter your zip code and click Go. The search results are a Google Maps display with all nearby towers plotted. An awesome feature of this site is the filtering capability. You can filter the plot display by carrier. So you can show only the locations of Verizon towers plotted on the map, for example.


To learn more about this topic, read our blog post How to Find Cell Tower Locations.You can also watch this short video.

Power / Gain

Gain is simply the measure of a booster or antenna’s signal output relative to its signal input. Gain is usually expressed in decibels (dB), a standard unit of measure for signal strength.


If a booster provides a maximum 50 dB gain, then the boosted signal coming out of the unit is up to 50 dB stronger than the unboosted signal that went into the unit.


In practical terms, gain represents the relative level of signal boost that a booster and/or antenna is capable of providing. All other factors being equal, a booster with a higher gain value will provide a stronger signal and/or a larger coverage area than one with a lower gain value.

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.

Frequency Bands

As explained above, cell phones use the radio frequency spectrum to communicate. Specific frequency bands (or ranges) of the RF spectrum are assigned either to a specific cell carrier (Verizon, AT&T, etc), or to specific services (3G voice and data). See the Different Types of Cell Signal Boosters section above.


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.

Installation

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.


The eqo Home Cell booster, designed specifically for quick set up, can be installed in as little as 60 seconds.


A simple installation of the Home 4Gindoor 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.

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.


But if you need 4G LTE coverage for up to 7,500 square feet, the weBoost Connect 4G-X will retail for around $800.


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.

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weBoost, formerly Wilson Electronics, is there when you need to boost your cell phone signal.

Ever experience dropped calls on the road, at home or in the office? Tired of slow data rates on your smartphone, tablet, data card, or modem? Are you just out of reach from the nearest cell signal?

weBoost's cell phone signal boosters and accessories overcome these problems by amplifying weak cellular signals in the car, at home, or in the office. Learn how you can stay connected anywhere with weBoost's line of proven life and work products, by reading one of our many case studies or by contacting us today.