Cell phone boosters are a handy and economical way to enhance the performance of pretty much any smartphone. The basic way cell phone boosters work is by finding an existing signal that is outside of your home or business and amplifying it indoors.
This amplified signal is then used to provide strong signal availability to an area that would otherwise have little or no cell phone signal available. What this means is that by using cell phone signal booster your home or office will have no more dead spots and no more dropped calls due to weak signal strength.
A cell phone signal booster setup is fairly simple, consisting of a signal boosting amplifier, an external antenna, an internal antenna, and a cable that’s used to connect all of these components together electrically.
Some models combine the internal and external antennas into a single antenna, but in most instances a cell phone booster will come with separate antennas for internal and external placement.
Now let’s take a closer look at the details of the components that make up your cell phone signal booster and what they will do for you.
Cell Phone Signal Booster Capabilities
As mentioned above, the purpose of cell phone signal boosters is to amplify an existing signal to an area with little or no signal reception. It’s important to note that your cell phone signal booster does not create its own signal; It amplifies an existing one.
If you’re not going to be placing your cell phone signal booster’s external antenna in a location that already has an existing stable signal, it’s not going to work. It doesn’t have to be an incredibly strong signal, but there must be something for the booster to amplify and transmit to your area of need.
Cell Phone Signal Booster Strength Details
While it only takes a small amount of stable signal strength for your cell phone signal booster to work its magic, the strength of the source signal will be directly proportional to how much area in your home, office, or vehicle will be covered by the amplified signal.
If the source signal is strong, this will be ideal. A strong source signal will allow you to experience the optimum coverage your signal booster is capable of providing. On other hand, a weak source signal will lead to your coverage area being less than advertised. This degradation of internal signal strength will be greater as proportional to the weaker source signal strength. It is important that you understand this and do not just assume the published square footage coverage is what you will necessarily experience.
The published coverage for a cell phone signal booster typically considers ideal conditions (i.e. optimal source signal strength).
This begs the question of how you determine how strong your source signal strength will be.
As you might have guessed, one of the best ways to determine the source signal strength your cell phone signal booster will have access to, is to use your cell phone. All you have to do is stand in the location you plan to place your external antenna and make note of how many signal bars are being displayed on your phone.
There's no official standard for the strength of signal that is represented by each signal display bar on a cell phone. Nevertheless, a general rule you can use is that each bar of signal strength displayed on your cell phone represents approximately 5 to 10 times the signal strength of the previous bar.
It is important to remember that you can place your external antenna in a location with less than ideal source signal strength. Just keep in mind that it will be a good idea to pair weaker signal strengths with stronger cell phone signal boosters to make sure your coverage area is adequate for your needs.
To gauge the source signal strength of a particular location, simply put your phone in field test mode. Once in field test mode, your phone will display the decibel reading of the strongest signal available in your exact location.
Click here for a guide on placing your iPhone or Android phone into field test mode and checking for signal strength.
Cell Phone Signal Booster Coverage Area
When shopping for a cell phone signal booster you will notice that they are generally priced in proportion to the square footage of coverage they are able to provide. As mentioned earlier, remember that the published coverage of the booster will be under ideal conditions with a strong source signal.
The ideal scenario is to have very strong source signal strength where the external antenna is located, an unobstructed location for the internal antenna, and no major obstacles that would prevent the signal from being degraded.
Most situations are not ideal, unfortunately. This is why it is usually better to err on the side of caution and get a cell phone signal booster that is at least a level above your perceived needs in terms of coverage.
If you have questions regarding the right booster kit for your application, please contact us and we will help you make sure you get the solution that is right for you.
Outside (External) Signal Booster Antennas
When purchasing a cell phone signal booster, there are actually two different types of external antennas you're likely to come across. One is called an omni-directional antenna and the other is called a yagi antenna.
Let us now look at features of each of these antennas individually.
As their name implies, omni-directional antennas are designed so that they can receive signals from all directions. This allows them to reach multiple cell towers within a given radius.
Omni-directional antennas are suited more for locations where a moderate to strong signal source is present. They have a relatively limited radius of reception, but can receive signals from all directions.
Click here to read more about omni-directional antennas on Wikipedia.com.
Yagi antennas are also known as directional antennas. Yagi antennas are designed to only receive signals coming from a very specific direction. They can cover a much greater distance than omni-directional antennas, but must be pointed in the general direction of the source signal in order to pick it up.
Yagi antennas are better suited for applications in which the external antenna will be in a location deemed to have weak signal strength or where there is only one cell signal provider. In other words, yagi antennas help you do more with less in terms of source signal strength.
Click here to read more about yagi (directional) antennas on Wikipedia.com.
As far as internal antennas are concerned, you have two options to choose from. You have the choice of a dome antenna or a panel antenna. Let us quickly look at the differences between these two options.
Like external yagi antennas, panel antennas are designed to receive its signal from one specific direction. As such, they are best suited for long rectangular areas in which the signal must span a large distance in one direction.
Panel antennas can be mounted on the wall facing in the direction of your external antenna. If you need your signal to travel between multiple floors of a building, you can also mount your panel antenna facing downward.
Dome antennas are designed to cover a smaller area of signal coverage, but can receive signals from all directions. Dome antennas are great for large square areas where broadcasting and receiving signals in all directions is desirable. Dome antennas should never be used for multiple floors of coverage.
The Signal Amplifier
All the pieces of your cell phone signal booster setup are essential, but the amplifier is where the magic happens. The amplifier is what takes the external signal and boosts its strength so that it can be broadcast through your internal antenna and to all of your areas of need.
Amplifiers are rated in decibels (dB). The greater the decibel rating of your amplifier, the greater the signal boost it will provide.
Remember that decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale. What this means is that the amplifier doubles in boost strength with every rating increase of 3 dB.
The main thing you want to keep in mind is that if your source signal is not exceptionally strong, you will want to make sure you get an amplifier with a relatively high decibel rating to compensate for it and make sure your signal needs are covered.
Cell Phone Signal Booster Connector Cable Types
In case you're curious, the cables that come with your cell phone signal booster are used to connect your signal amplifier to your external and internal antennas. In other words, they are the conduit through which the signal travels from point A (external antenna) to point B (internal antenna).
No cable is 100% efficient, because no conductor material is 100% efficient. So your signal will be degraded by a certain degree as it travels from the external antenna, through the amplifier, and to your internal antenna.
The magnitude of signal loss will vary depending on the type of cable, quality of cable, and length of cable. Ultra Low Loss cable loses around 2dB of signal strength over a 50-foot length. For comparison purposes, standard RG6 coax cable (like what is used with cable television transmissions) loses approximately 5dB of signal strength per 50-foot length of cable.
So you can see that the type of cable you're using can certainly make a difference in the strength of signal you ultimately receive.
To mitigate the losses in signal strength caused by your cables it is best to use the highest quality cables possible, while also using the shortest length of cable possible. As a general rule, you want to use a length of cable that is as close to the exact length you need as possible.
We have not talked much about the original source of the signal your cell phone signal booster will receive and then amplify to meet your signal needs.
Cell phones communicate with cell towers that use radio waves to transmit information. These radio waves operate on specific frequencies that are specific to the carrier who owns and operates the cell tower.
Unfortunately, this means that cell phone signal boosters usually come in a one-size-fits-all solution. However, most of our cell phone signal boosters work on all Carriers in Canada and USA except Nextel. You will need to make sure that you get a cell phone signal booster that is specifically designed to operate on the specific radio frequency you need - For example, if your phone and your carrier's wireless network is capable of supporting 4G or 4G LTE data transfer speeds, we would recommend purchasing signal booster kits that are capable of boosting 4G LTE reception (for simplicity sake, they contain the term, "4G" in their name).
If you don't, you won't be able to realize the fast data transfer speeds that your smartphone and Carrier's signals are capable of producing for your benefit.
This is why it is important that you know what frequencies your cell phone uses, so you can get a signal booster that matches it (3G or 4G?). Most major carriers use one of two frequencies for their 2G and 3G networks.
Actually, these two frequencies of 850 MHz (cellular) and 1900 MHz (PCs) are so common that most of our amplifiers are dual-band and fully capable of boosting signals from either of these frequencies.
To help you select the right amplifier for your needs, here's a quick reference of the frequencies used by today's major carriers:
AT&T's 2G, 3G, and HSPA+ 4G networks all operate on the standard dual-band frequencies referenced above, so any dual-band amplifier will work.
Nextel uses a technology called iDEN for their network, which is incompatible with all other networks and requires a special signal booster and antennas. For Nextel users, we encourage you to contact us before purchasing a cell phone signal booster. We will walk you through the process of making sure you select one that will work with your provider.
T-Mobile's 2G service operates on the standard dual-band frequencies so any dual-band amplifier will work. Their 3G and 4G HSPA+ service currently runs on the AWS frequencies (1700/2100 MHz) and requires an AWS booster for which most of our newer amplifiers have full capability.
MetroPCS runs some 3G over 1900 MHz so a dual-band amplifier would help in that situation. They also use the AWS frequencies (1700/2100 MHz) for some 3G and for their 4G LTE network. If you're not sure which frequency your phone is on, try calling their customer service and asking for clarification.
Sprint's 2G and 3G services operate on the standard dual-band frequencies so any dual-band amplifier will work. Sprint's 4G service is a mix of WiMax and LTE, which uses different frequencies. So, if you need 4G support, you'll need to figure out which service you're using and what frequency it runs on before proceeding. The best way to receive this information is by calling Sprint's technical support to find out what technology you're using and what frequency it runs on.
Verizon's 2G and 3G networks all operate on the standard dual-band frequencies so any dual-band amplifier will work. Verizon's 4G LTE network operates on the 700 MHZ frequency on Band 13 so if you need Verizon LTE data support, look for a 4G LTE specific booster.
Hopefully, this guide has made clear exactly what a cell phone signal booster is, how it works, and how to select the right one for your needs and application.
If after reading through this guide, you still have questions you need answers on before purchasing a cell phone signal booster, please do not hesitate to contact us with your questions.
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