A Guide to Improving Cell Reception in Apartments with a Signal Booster

A Guide to Improving Cell Reception in Apartments with a Signal Booster

Written by Wilson Amplifiers
16th Mar 2021

With so many people depending on their cellular devices to stay connected, a strong cellular reception is rapidly climbing up the list of apartment must haves. For an apartment seeker, there is nothing more frustrating than finding the perfect flat only to realize that they have poor cellular reception. Spotty service and dead spots are deal breakers for most.

What if they don’t have to be? There are multiple reasons why apartments are prone to poor cell service, and signal boosters are the best solution to improving your cellular signal inside your current or future apartment. Keep reading to find out how.

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What Causes Poor Signal in your Apartment?

Apartments are prone to poor cellular signal due to your carrier's cell tower being too far, or there being too many obstacles between you and your nearest cell tower.

The main obstacle is usually building material – most apartment buildings are not built with cellular signal in mind. Materials like steel, concrete, brick, plaster, drywall, low-e glass, and everything in between the thick walls, diminish or block the signal as it tries to reach your mobile device.

Another thing to consider is infrastructure and topography. Your carrier’s cell tower might not be located too far from your apartment, but foliage, hills, and even tall buildings blocking the tower are additional barriers.

Let’s put this into perspective. If your apartment complex is surrounded by tall trees, your unit is the furthest from the closest cell tower, and your balcony faces away from the tower's direction, imagine how much material the radio frequency waves have to travel through before they reach your device. By the time the radio frequency waves reach you, the signal will be weak, resulting in poor reception, spotty service, or dead zones.

The Best Way to Boost Cell Signal in your Apartment

Poor cell phone signal doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. The most reliable way to boost your cellular service inside your apartment is by investing in a cell phone signal booster.

Signal boosters, also known as cell phone repeaters, are FCC (Federal Communications Commission) approved devices designed to take your existing 3G and 4G LTE signals, amplify them, and broadcast them throughout your apartment - eliminating dropped calls, unsent text messages, and sluggish internet. Most apartment signal boosters are also 5G ready, meaning that they’ll boost voice and 4G LTE data signals on 5G phones and devices.

They are designed to bypass any material interfering with the signal, as well as communicate with far distanced cell phone towers for better reception and faster data for all cellular devices (smartphones, tablets, and mobile hotspots) across all carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, and US Cellular). As you can see, they can overcome most cell phone signal challenges your apartment faces.

In addition, you don’t have to worry about paying any monthly fees to improve your signal - it’s a one-time purchase. Not to mention, you don’t need WiFi or a broadband connection for the signal booster to work.

So, if you want a reliable cellular network in addition to a WiFi network, or you want a reliable cellular network, a signal booster can help you stay connected, and save you money in the long run.

Recommended Cell Signal Boosters for Apartments

The weBoost Home Studio is the newest addition to the apartment signal booster family, designed to work with all cellular devices across all US carriers.

Under perfect conditions, it can enhance your cellular signal in areas up to 2,000 square feet, ideal for small apartments, dorms, condos, or townhomes. However, the coverage area is determined by how strong or weak your outside signal is. Weak signal areas will probably get around 250-500 square feet, enough to cover one large room, such as a living room or two small rooms.

The kit includes a yagi directional antenna and a small compact amplifier with an attached indoor antenna. It can easily be placed on a shelf, table, counter, or any flat surface in your apartment.

The weBoost Home Room is an entry-level booster designed with apartments in mind.

Under perfect conditions, it can cover areas up to 1,500 square feet, which can be enough to blanket your whole apartment with consistently good signal. However, real-world results put it at 200-500 square feet – enough for 1 to 2 rooms.

The kit includes an inside desktop antenna for a fast installation, a flat window cable to avoid drilling holes through the wall, and an outside panel antenna that can be easily mounted on your apartment window.

weBoost Home MultiRoom - 470144
weBoost Home MultiRoom - 470144

Best for large apartments with decent outside signal or midsize apartments with poor outside signal.

Buy Now for $549.99

The weBoost Home MultiRoom is the most popular signal booster with a coverage range that works for most people. It’s great for large apartments or those whose apartments are in rural areas with poor outside signal.

Assuming you have excellent cellular signal outside your apartment, the Home MultiRoom can cover areas up to 5,000 square feet, but most people will get between 2,000 – 3,000 square feet of indoor coverage. Areas with extremely poor cell phone reception can expect much less.

The kit includes a fabric front panel antenna designed to enhance your home décor rather than ruin it and a powerful yagi antenna.

Best Practices to Installing a Signal Booster in an Apartment

Our cell signal boosters are sold as complete kits, and each kit comes with four important components: an outdoor antenna, an amplifier, an inside antennas, and coaxial cables to connect everything together.

Normally, the outdoor antenna would be mounted on the roof in the area with the best signal and holes would be drilled to run the coaxial cables into the building. However, that is not possible in apartment buildings. For that reason, installing a signal booster in an apartment can be a bit tricky, but don’t worry, we’ll try to answer all of your questions and concerns in the following sections.

1) Contact your Apartment Manager or Landlord

Before purchasing a signal booster, call your landlord or apartment manager and ask if they have any rules about mounting antennas on a window, balcony, or patio. Some will allow you to mount the antenna on the railing of your balcony or the wall, while others won’t. If you can’t mount it to the railing, on a wall, or you don’t have a balcony or patio, don’t worry, there are ways to overcome those challenges. 

2) Locate your Carriers Nearest Cell Tower

This is key to boosting your cellular signal. Finding the closest cell tower powered by your carrier will help you decide where to install your outdoor antenna.

We highly recommend using:

Cellmapper.net - Though not the most user-friendly, Cellmapper.net provides a lot of detailed information on cell towers near you and their broadcasting zone - the directions in which the tower is broadcasting the signal.

How to Navigate Cellmapper:
  • Select your provider
  • Scroll down to "Location Search"
  • Click "Move to Current Location" or type your street or city name
  • View the map of your area
  • Look for the green dots that have a white box under them with an eNB ID and Band numbers.
  • Click on the tower that is closest to you and you'll see highlighted patterns in different colors. The color represents the specific band that the tower is broadcasting, and the shape/pattern represents the broadcasted area. You can click each highlighted section for more information.
  • Look at all cells on the left of the monitor to check the highlighted areas bands, maximum signal strength, uplink/downlink speeds, bandwidth, and the direction the tower is broadcasting the signal.

OpenSignal - This app is not as detailed as Cellmapper.net, but it is extremely easy to navigate. It features an automated arrow that points in the direction of the tower you are connected to and a map with different cell tower locations. In addition, you have access to a coverage heatmap that displays how strong or weak your carrier's signal is in your area (make sure to change the default option from all carriers to your carrier). Available on the App Store and Google Play.

Network Cell Info – This app uses your location to show your nearest cell tower and the tower's coordinates. In addition, it displays your cellular signal’s dB and dBm readings, which is the most reliable way of testing how weak or strong your signal is. Only available on Google Play.

For more ways on how to find your closest cell tower, click here.

3) Know which Outdoor Antenna is Best for You

There are two types of antennas:

  • Directional: This antenna pulls in signal from one direction. It has to point in the direction of the closest tower or the tower's broadcasting zone to grab the signal. Having a more focused signal, allows the antenna to reach farther than an omni antenna.
  • Omni-Directional: This antenna pulls in signal from every direction. It's continuously communicating with every tower near you for constant cellular service. They tend to perform well in areas where there's usable signal, but obstacles, such as trees, valleys, hills, and creeks, are constantly interfering with the signal.

Is it better to use a directional or omni-directional antenna in an apartment?

Deciding which outdoor antenna is best for you boils down to:

  • Your outside signal strength
  • How many cell towers there are in your area and their location
  • Natural geographic features and man-made structures

Omni-directional antennas are best in situations where you have a usable outside signal, there are multiple cell towers nearby, or you have a spotty connection due to bouncing signal.

Bouncing signal is caused by natural geographic features, such as trees, hills, valleys, or lakes nearby. These natural obstacles are constantly reflecting or refracting the signal, making it change direction. Victims of bouncing signal are constantly seeing changes in their signal strength – one minute it works great and the next it’s one dropped call after another. If this is you, and you have permission from your apartment manager or landlord to install an antenna on your balcony or patio, we strongly suggest investing in an omni-directional antenna as it is not included in the weBoost residential signal booster kits. It’s a little bit more money in the short-term, but worth it in the long run.

On the other hand, if your outside signal is poor due to other reasons, such as cell tower distance, or there are too many tall buildings or natural barriers that aren’t causing the signal to bounce around between you and the cell tower, them a directional antenna, like a yagi or panel, is best.

What if my outside signal is strong but I have poor cell reception inside my apartment?

If your outside signal is strong and you just want to improve the coverage inside your apartment, normally an omni-directional antenna would be ideal. However, if you don’t want to spend the extra money, the included directional antenna will work just fine. Keep in mind, though, that when the directional antenna is constantly receiving a strong signal, it can overload the booster system, making the booster's gain decrease, or shut down in extreme cases.

4) Find Out Where Your Cellular Devices Have the Strongest Signal

After locating the closest tower, notate in which direction it’s located from your apartment. If you decide to go with a directional antenna, is the tower easy to point at, or is it located behind your apartment unit where it's impossible to point to from your balcony or patio?

Good news is that you don’t have to point directly at the tower, just the area in which your phone picks up the strongest signal.

For example, if your apartment unit is located to the left of a highway, your balcony faces north, and the cell tower is south of you, where would you point the directional antenna? The best way to figure out where to point the antenna is by measuring your cell phone signal strength inside your apartment or outside your unit.

To measure your signal strength, you can either use the bars on your phone (not the most reliable method) or find out what your cellular signal's dBm is (most reliable). Cell phone signal levels range from -50 dBm to -120 dBm. The closer you are to -50, the stronger the signal is, and the closer you are to -120, the weaker the signal becomes. Measuring your cell signal can be done through apps (Network Cell Info Lite and LTE Discovery), your device’s settings, or field test mode.

Walk around your apartment or outside your apartment unit and see where your phone picks up the strongest signal. Let’s say your phone detected the strongest signal on the side closest to the highway. With that information, you know you can point the directional antenna towards the highway for superior coverage.

Testing your mobile signal strength will also determine if you are experiencing bouncing signal. The dBm readings will bounce around like crazy when testing the signal in the same spot.

Check out the following articles to learn more on how to measure your signal strength:

5) Best Ways to Install the Outdoor Antenna

Since installing the outdoor antenna is the trickiest part, we will run through different scenarios to help you get the best signal possible.

Mounting the Antenna on your Balcony or Patio Railing

If you are one of the lucky ones who lives in an apartment complex that doesn’t have strict rules on mounting antennas, the installation process is going to be a breeze.

After locating your nearest tower, you’ll want the directional antenna to point in the general direction of the cell tower or the area in which your phone receives the strongest signal. Omni-directional antennas don’t have to point at a cell tower. After finding the best spot to install the antenna, mount the antenna to the railing.

If you can’t point the antenna at the tower or the area where you have the best signal, try mounting the antenna to a window facing the tower (as long as it’s allowed), or purchasing an omni-directional antenna and mounting it on your balcony or patio.

Can’t Mount the Antenna on your Balcony or Patio Railing

If you can’t mount anything to the railing or the wall of your balcony, consider a signal booster that comes with a panel antenna for an easy window installation or use a tripod mast (keep an eye on it on the days it's particularly windy). Attach the antenna to the included mounting brackets, followed by mounting the brackets to the mast. Make sure the directional antenna is pointing in the direction of the cell tower or the area with the best signal.

If you can’t point the antenna at the tower or the area with the best signal from your balcony or patio, place the tripod by a window that faces the tower or the area in which your phone receives the best signal.

Alternatively, you can use an omni-directional antenna, mount it on the tripod, and leave it outside. Since it can pull cellular signals from every direction, it will communicate with multiple towers rather than just the closest one.

Don’t Have a Balcony or Patio

If you don’t have a balcony or a patio, the best solution is to use a tripod mast. Attach the directional antenna to the mast and position it in front of a window that faces the cell tower or the area in which your phone receives the best signal. Make sure the antenna is pointing out the window and not into your apartment.

In this scenario, using an omni-directional antenna is not recommended. Why? Omni antennas transmit signals from every direction, this leads to the outside antenna interfering with the inside antenna, causing oscillation.

6) Connecting the Outdoor Antenna to the Amplifier

To connect the outdoor antenna to the amplifier, you’ll need to run coaxial cables into your apartment, assuming the antenna is located outside, and connect them to the amplifier. Normally, this is done by drilling holes through the wall. But since that’s a no-no in apartment complexes, most signal booster kits include a window entry cable to avoid drilling holes.

To connect the two, connect one end of the first coaxial cables to the outside antenna and the other end to the window entry cable. Run the cable through your window and connect the second coaxial cable to the window cable and the amplifier.

7) Appropriate Distance Between Antennas

For optimal results, it’s recommended to have at least 20 feet vertical or 50 feet horizontal between the outdoor antenna and the indoor antenna to prevent oscillation. 20 feet vertical is not practical in most apartments, and if 50 feet horizontal is not feasible, try to put as much distance as you can between the two antennas while keeping the inside antenna in the area where you want to boost your signal the most.

Are There Other Ways to Improve Cell Reception in my Apartment?

Here are alternative solutions to improving your cellular signal inside your apartment:

1) Purchase a Femtocell

A femtocell, also known as a microcell or network extender, is a device that takes your landline broadband connection and converts it into cellular, providing you with a localized cellular network. In other words, it’s like a mini personal cell tower powered by your internet router.

However, there are a couple of drawbacks associated with femtocells:

  • They need a broadband internet connection, such as cable, DSL, and fiber internet (won’t work with satellite internet).
  • They can slow down your internet speed.
  • They are carrier specific, meaning the femtocell will only work with the carrier the device was purchased from.
  • Your cellular provider will charge you a one-time fee for the device, plus monthly fees to service the device.

While femtocells are good options to improve your cellular signal, in the long run, a femtocell is no match for a signal booster when it comes to consistent coverage and price.

2) Enable WiFi Calling

WiFi calling lets you talk and text over an active WiFi network. If you have a decent WiFi connection throughout your apartment WiFi calling is a great option. It will allow you to talk and text in areas where cellular coverage is limited or unavailable, thus significantly reducing dropped phone calls and unsent text messages.

How to turn on WiFi Calling:
  • Samsung Phones: Settings → Connections → Tap WiFi Calling to enable the setting
  • Android Phones: Settings → Networks & Internet → Advanced → Tap WiFi Calling to enable the setting
  • iPhones: Settings → Cellular → Tap WiFi Calling to enable the setting

However, keep in mind that the reliability of your connection is only as strong as your WiFi network - if your network is slow, so will your service.

Also, WiFi networks can get overloaded when multiple people are using the network at the same time, whether it’s for calling, texting, streaming, or browsing the web. During these times, expect your connection to slow down.

To prevent network congestion and a sluggish cellular network, strongly consider a signal booster. They can help offload congestion from the network, as well as enhance your overall cellular service without it being affected by your slow broadband connection. Plus, in the event your internet connection goes out, you’ll still have a way to stay connected.

3) Try Bluetooth Headphones or Headsets

Is there a specific spot in your apartment where you get a decent signal? Maybe it's by your balcony door or in your roommate's bedroom.

Here's an easy hack. Pair your Bluetooth headphones or Bluetooth headset to your device and leave your device in the area where it gets the best signal.

While it can be a tad inconvenient for most people, it's a great temporary fix for bad cell reception. You can walk around your apartment and answer calls without dropping them, as well as listen to music without the songs buffering.

Contact Us to Get Better Signal in Your Apartment

Wilson Amplifiers is a leading provider of home, office, and vehicle cellular signal boosters - devices that amplify 3G, 4G LTE, and 5G for all cellular devices across all cellular carriers. We’ve boosted cellular signals in countless of homes, buildings, and vehicles across America and Canada.

  • Free consultation (ask us anything) with our US-based customer support. Email: (sales@wilsonamplifiers.com). Phone: 1-800-568-2723.
  • Free shipping. Usually ships the same day.
  • 90-day (seriously) money back guarantee. You want to make sure you're satisfied.

Our goal is simple: keep people connected. Ask us anything and we'll be glad to help.

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