Let’s face it; our cell phones are our lifelines. We spend more time with and on our phones than practically any other device. It’s also not surprising that more and more people are getting rid of their landlines. They may not want to pay for something they no longer need, finding that cell phones meet all the same needs and more.
However, often times, we experience dropped calls due to poor cell phone reception, making the phrase "Can you hear me now?" an all too real part of our lives. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Cell phone signal boosters can help ease -- and often cure -- the pain of dropped cell phone calls and slow 4G LTE data speeds.
What Causes Poor Cell Phone Signals and Dropped Calls?
Building MaterialsWhile advancements in the construction industry have led to building materials that are environmentally friendly and make homes more energy efficient, they often prevent cell phone signals from penetrating indoors, which leads to the aforementioned problems. Buildings that are constructed primarily of concrete also block cell phone signals from penetrating into interior rooms. New buildings, or new construction added onto an existing building, can be equally as inhibitive.
The EnvironmentMother Nature can also be a barrier to cell phone signals. Depending on where cell towers are located, any area -- like a hill -- where there is high land between your device and the cell tower may cause spotty or dropped calls. Cell phone signals also bounce off hills, so if an area is especially hilly, you’ll notice unstable cell phone reception. Trees are also dense objects which inhibit cell phone signals from passing through, also causing attenuation or weakening of cell phone signals.
Cell Tower CapacityHave you ever been at a sporting event or concert and wanted to post an update on social media or text your friend on a meeting point? Looking down at your phone, you see four bars of reception. But when you try to send that text or post, you realize it’s not going through.
Cell phone towers are typically placed based on distance and the number of people they will usually serve within that radius. However, when a large group of people gather in a space normally meant for fewer people, a “phantom signal” occurs. Think of it as if you’re stuck on the freeway, where four lanes merge into one. It becomes a bottleneck or huge signal traffic jam.
What Is a Cell Phone Signal Booster?
A cell phone signal booster takes an existing cellular signal, and amplifies or magnifies it to an area with weak or no cell phone signal for the cell phone user. Signal boosters are available for use in a variety of capacities and purposes, ranging from homes, small offices, commercial and industrial buildings, and even for vehicles. Variations depend on needs: square footage covered, the number of people that may be in the given area, and the environment. Boosters designed for commercial buildings often require professional installation, but those intended for use in homes, small offices and vehicles can be DIY installed or with the help of an installer.
All signal boosters, whether for a home, business, or vehicle consist of a booster, an inside antenna, and an outside antenna. The effectiveness of the booster is dependent on two things: location where you place the booster and install the outside antenna, and strength of the existing cellular signal where the outside antenna is placed.
It’s also important to note that a cell phone signal booster is not a femtocell or microcell. While a cell phone signal booster takes an existing signal and amplifies it, a femtocell requires a wired Internet connection and pairing with the device (like a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection). Most often, they are sold through a carrier, as they are carrier specific and, as mentioned above, the phone must be paired with the femtocell. Most cell phone signal boosters are carrier agnostic and anyone that is in range of a booster can benefit from it, regardless of the carrier.
Additionally, femtocells are susceptible to security vulnerabilities, as highlighted in this article.
How Do I Know If I Need a Cell Phone Signal Booster?
Back when landlines were our lifelines, when the phone rang, we’d run inside to pick it up. Nowadays, when our phone rings (or rather, plays a musical song to indicate you’ve received a call) we run outside to get a better signal and answer it. If that’s what you regularly experience in your home, chances are you need a cell phone signal booster. But if it’s not that cut and dry, here are some other ways to gauge whether or not you should install a signal booster in your home:
- Habitual drops. You are constantly dropping calls or have trouble sending through data messages or texts.
- Slow 4G LTE Data Speeds. While signal bars are a good indicator, they may not be true to the situation (see “phantom signals” and “stadium signals” above). Test your data speeds on a speed test website or app like SpeedTest to find out your actual signal strength. Putting your phone in Field Test mode will also indicate what level of decibels (dB) your phone is currently receiving. Decibels are measured in the negatives, and a score closer to zero indicates you have a better signal. A signal of -120 dB indicates you have no service, while a score of about -50 dB means you have excellent signal strength. Here’s an article on how to access the Field Test mode to test your dB signals.
Which Booster Is Best For Me?
The short answer to this question is, it depends. A few factors will contribute to the type of booster you pick for your needs:
- Coverage Area Desired: Many signal boosters call out the size of area that they are capable of boosting signal for: a designated area inside a house or building, large sections of a building and sometimes throughout an entire building. Be sure to have an estimate of the square footage of the area where you’re looking to improve your cellular coverage. It’s best to choose a booster that touts a little more coverage area than you need to offset any unforeseen obstacles that can affect booster performance.
- Coverage Area Layout: Signal boosters work best in single floor areas and open spaces. Unfortunately, we don’t live inside bubbles. There are walls, floors, ceilings and other obstructions that impede cell signals from penetrating throughout the desired coverage area. Cell phone signal booster kits with internal Omni antennas (360 degree signal distribution) work best in open spaces. Cell phone booster kits with internal directional panel antennas work best for penetrating walls, ceilings and floors.
- Outside Signal Strength: Signal booster performance is directly related to the strength of signal received by the external antenna. In areas where the outside signal is strong (full bars), a booster kit with an external Omni antenna is best. In areas where the outside signal is weak (2 bars or less), a booster kit with an external directional antenna is the best option. If the outside signal is too weak to make and hold a phone call there is likely not enough signal for a cellular signal booster to properly boost indoors. Best practice in this case is to purchase a booster kit with an external directional antenna from a seller that offers a money back guarantee.
- Voice and 4G LTE Data: Most cell phone providers use a mixture of 5 frequency bands to transmit all voice and 4G LTE data communications. Boosters come in dual-band, tri-band, and 5-band compatibility. Although the dual-band and tri-band boosters are often cheaper than 5-band boosters they may not be compatible with frequencies your carrier is using in your area. It’s best to choose a 5-band booster knowing that it will be compatible with all carriers voice and 4G LTE data signals.
For more information on which cell phone signal booster is right for you visit one of our select online resellers below.