What is a Cell Signal Booster?
A cell signal booster does just what it sounds like – it boosts voice and data signals so you have fewer dropped calls and lost connections. You also receive faster data upload and download speeds. 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 weaker than the weakest 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 no detectable signal in an area, 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?
The answer is yes. 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 than the boosters do. Regardless, cellular signal amplification systems use similar technology to collect, amplify, and retransmit signals inside your vehicle, home, or any other indoor space.
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, follows the proper guidelines, and is safe to use.
Different Types of Cell Signal Boosters
Many cell signal boosters are universal – they work with all carriers, with all services and with all cellular 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 4G and 5G. A booster identified as 5G typically will boost signals on 4G and 3G and 2G 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 may provide boosted signals for the driver only.
No Recurring Fees
Unless an ongoing maintenance plan is specifically purchased, a cell phone booster is a one-time expense with no recurring fees.
Why You Have Trouble Receiving 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.
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.
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:
– 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.
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, 5G phones will work on a weBoost 4G cell signal booster, although the signal boost will be limited to the available 5G signal.
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 the indoor coverage area the system will deliver. This is a real-world limit that the laws of physics place on any boosted signal.
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 the indoor coverage area the system can provide.
How Do I Know How Strong my Signal is?
Obviously, 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. Then they show you however many, or few, bars they choose.
That means comparing signal strength bars between different phone models really isn’t going to provide much information. 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. A lot of smart phones are able to provide a signal strength reading in dBm.
Watch this short video for more information about signal bars.
A cell signal booster for vehicles will provide a boosted signal for either (a) the driver only, if it’s a cradle booster, or (b) driver plus passengers. Indoor signal boosters are typically rated 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 signal available outside of the building, (2) the amount of gain supplied by the booster. The stronger the available outside signal, the larger the indoor coverage area a booster can provide. Also, the higher the amount of gain is that is supplied by the booster, the larger the overall indoor coverage area becomes.
So, if all other factors are equal, a booster with a specified system gain of 70 dBm will cover a larger indoor area than one spec’d at 50 dBm gain. A high gain booster and a strong outside signal will always provide the required indoor coverage area. Of course, this is not always the case.
It’s best to know how large of an area you need to cover with cell signal and how strong your outside signal is before deciding which booster system is the best solution.
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. 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 the best resources for this 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 also filter the display by carrier to help narrow things down.
To learn more about this topic you can watch this short video below:
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 coaxial cable. However, some booster models have the tower antenna and the booster integrated into a signal unit.
There are two types of tower antennas – directional and omnidirectional. The most common type of antenna is the directional antenna. This type of antenna (also referred to as a Yagi) receives signals from a specific direction and must be pointed directly at the signal source for optimal performance.
In contrast, the omni antenna has a 360-degree beam width that receives signals from all directions. All signal boosters are certified by the FCC and Industry Canada (IC) with their specific model of tower antenna unless the antenna and the booster are integrated as described above. Substituting any other antenna for the one that came with your booster may violate FCC and IC regulations.
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 coaxial 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.
Power / Gain
Gain is 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.
Coaxial 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 coaxial cable. Substituting any other cables for those that came with your booster may violate FCC and IC regulations.
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 (5G 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 “5G” designation, you can assume it will boost 5G voice and data, and 4G LTE.
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.
Generally speaking, vehicle cell signal boosters can be installed quicker than indoor boosters. Installation of the weBoost Drive Reach might take between 5 and 10 minutes. While the installation of a Drive Reach Overland or Drive Reach OTR Fleet will take slightly longer.
A simple installation of the Home Multiroom booster might require 10 – 15 minutes, where with the Home Complete you would need to allow more time for the install. Of course, if the building requires a more complex installation, like multiple device-side antennas or pulling coaxial cable through an attic or crawl space, the job may take 2 or 3 hours.
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 Sleek can be purchased for around $200. Then there is the weBoost Drive Reach, which provides 5G and 4G coverage for multiple users and provides maximum uplink/downlink power for the most reliable connections. The Drive Reach base model is priced around $500.
If you need a booster for your home or office, a weBoost Home Room kit may cover up to 1,200 square feet (1-2 rooms) with signal for around $400. However, if you need coverage for up to 7,500 square feet, the weBoost Office 100 retails for around $1,200.
As a General Rule:
– 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.
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/us/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.
How Do I Know a Cell Phone Signal Booster Will Work For Me?
To determine if a cell signal booster will work for you, go outside of your home or office and make a call on your phone. If you cannot complete the connection because of weak signal, move to another location – like a different side of the building – and try again.
When you find a location where you can successfully make a call, that side of the building exterior is where you should place the tower antenna. A rule of thumb: if you are receiving a strong enough signal to make a call outside the building, then the cell signal is probably strong enough for a signal booster to amplify the signal and provide coverage inside the building.
If you cannot find an outside location where you can successfully complete a connection, then the available signal may be too weak for a cell phone signal booster to detect and amplify.