null
Femtocell vs. Signal Booster: Which is Better?

Femtocell vs. Signal Booster: Which is Better?

Written by Wilson Amplifiers
19th Feb 2021

Do you struggle with poor cell reception, dropped calls, and unsent text messages? If you do, you’ve probably heard that femtocells and signal boosters can help solve those problems. Fortunately, they can, but they do so in different ways.

See complete cell signal booster kits for your situation:

Home / Small Office
Car / Truck / RV / Boat
Commercial Building

What is a Femtocell?

To fully understand femtocells (also known as microcells), let’s start with the big boys – macrocells. Macrocells provide radio coverage for cellular networks. They are served by high-power cell sites, such as towers, antennas, or masts. Basically, macrocells can provide cellular network coverage for large areas. But, many people still struggle with unreliable cell phone signal in their homes and office buildings. Things like building material, tall buildings, and terrain, can interfere with the signal.

Small cells are similar to macrocells, but smaller in size. Essentially, they take care of the small areas that macrocells struggle to reach. They consist of small low-powered antennas to improve the cellular coverage and capacity in smaller areas. There are three types of small cells: metrocells, picocells, and femtocells. Femtocells are the smallest type of small cell and operate on licensed frequency bands. They are low-power cellular base stations that require a high-speed broadband connection to improve cell phone signal in homes and small businesses.

They look similar to wireless access points (routers), but they work very differently. Routers create a local wireless network and femtocells create a local cellular network. Unlike routers, femtocells use your internet connection and convert it into a reliable cellular signal.

How do Femtocells Work?

Many people are able to get internet in their homes but struggle with poor cell phone signal and dead spots. Femtocells are designed to solve those problems.

They are typically provided by your cellular carrier. To create a cellular network, the femtocell will need to establish a connection with your cellular provider through a broadband internet connection. Most femtocell systems are compatible with cable, DSL, and fiber internet. They will not work with satellite or wireless internet.

An ethernet backhaul will be required to connect the femtocell to your router. After the device has been installed, you will have to register the phone numbers of the subscribers (mobile phones) that will be connecting to it. Many devices can be registered, but only 4-8 handset devices will be able to use the femtocell simultaneously. The other subscribers will have to wait for their turn.

When you make a phone call or send a text message, the signal travels through your internet connection, into a FEMTO gateway, and then it’s sent out to its destination. Essentially, femtocells are your personal mini cell towers. As a result, you will no longer have to rely on WiFi calling to avoid dropped calls and unsent SMS messages. But, like with all connectivity devices, you have to be within the femtocells range to maintain a reliable network connection. Typically, they provide a coverage area of 10 meters (32 feet), but it can vary based on the make and model. If 10 meters is not enough, you might need additional units to cover large indoor spaces.

The registered devices should experience a seamless handover when transitioning from the femtocell to macrocell, assuming reliable cellular signal is available. On the other hand, transitions from macrocells to femtocells can be challenging. If you’re on a call, your cellular signal will not transfer from the cell tower to your femtocell, potentially causing the call to drop.

However, there are two drawbacks to femtocells. Since they use your internet connection's bandwidth to create a cellular signal, you can experience speed slowdowns when the internet is in use and phone calls are being made simultaneously. Lastly, femtocells are carrier-specific. If you have the AT&T microcell and your family uses T-Mobile, they will not be able to benefit from the improved cellular signal.

Where can I Get a Femtocell?

Most femtocells are provided by your cellular carrier. To get one, you might need to go through a qualification process to make sure the device will work in your area.

Check out the different femtocells provided by major cell phone carriers:

  • AT&T MicroCell: Unfortunately, this device has been discontinued, but it’s still worth mentioning. The MicroCell only supported 2G and 3G signals. To work, it was recommended that your broadband supported a minimum of 1.5 Mbps downstream and 256 Kbps upstream. A total of 15 devices could be registered to use the MicroCell, but only 4 devices could use it simultaneously. Through the MicroCell online portal, users could control which devices could connect to the MicroCell. The signal range approximated 5,000 square feet (40 ft). However, walls, furniture, and building material could affect the coverage area and the strength of the signal.
  • Verizon 4G Network Extender 2: The Network Extender enhances 4G LTE coverage and provides access to 4G LTE data, HD voice, and video calling. To do its job, it needs an internet connection with a minimum of 10 Mbps download speeds and 5 Mbps upload speeds. For optimal performance, 20 Mbps download speeds and 10 Mbps upload speeds (or better) are recommended. They can cover areas up to 7,500 square feet (50 ft) and it can withstand up to 14 simultaneous voice calls. The only downside is that there is no way to control who accesses the device. Anybody who has Verizon can connect to the Network Extender and reap the benefits.
  • Sprint Airave 4: Sprint users who want an Airave to enhances LTE and voice coverage must qualify for it. The qualifications are based on specific account criteria to ensure that it will work for the customer. Not all locations are in the Airave’s coverage areas. Under perfect conditions, it can cover areas up to 5,000 square feet. If the coverage area is not enough, additional units can be used. A total of 8 wireless voice calls are supported simultaneously and 16 LTE simultaneous sessions. Similar to the network extender, any Sprint user can use the Airave and benefit from the enhanced signal.
  • T-Mobile 4G LTE CellSpot V2: The CellSpot creates 3G, 4G, and 4G LTE to improve indoor coverage, voice calls, and data speeds. Under perfect conditions, it can cover up to 3,000 square feet. It’s recommended to have a reliable internet connection with 2 Mbps download speeds (or more), 0.5 Mbps upload speeds (or more), and a latency/ping measurement of 200 ms (or less). The CellSpot supports up to 16 simultaneous users – 8 on 4G LTE and 8 on 3G/4G. Similar to Verizon and Sprint, there is no way to control who uses the CellSpot.

Femtocell Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages

  • Improves the quality of service in homes and small offices
  • Will work even if there is no cellular signal available
  • Can monitor the connected mobile devices through the femtocell’s online account (if the option is available)
  • Can improve battery life since the phone is not constantly searching for a cellular signal

Disadvantages

  • Are carrier-specific
  • Only work indoors
  • Can slow down your internet speeds
  • Calls do not transition from cell towers to the femtocell
  • They require DSL, cable, or fiber internet which is not available everywhere
  • Cell service providers may charge additional monthly fees for the device on top of an initial payment

What is a Signal Booster?

Signal boosters (sometimes referred to as cell phone repeaters) are FCC approved gadgets that work with any cellular carrier to improve voice calls, phone signal, and data speeds. They enhance 2G, 3G, 4G, and 4G LTE signals for better use. These devices are designed for homes, offices, and vehicles.

How do Signal Boosters Work?

Rather than requiring an internet connection, signal boosters use antennas to boost existing signal. So, how do signal boosters work? They are made up of four components:

In short, they use the outside antenna to capture the weak outside signal, an amplifier to boost the signal, and an inside antenna to broadcast the boosted signal into the desired areas. In addition, they also work in reverse to improve the communication between your cellular devices and the cell towers.

To work their magic, booster systems require an existing cellular signal outside your home, office, or vehicle - even if it's just one bar. They can enhance the signal, not create it.

The location of the outside antenna is extremely important. Whether you have good or poor signal outside, you will need to set up the antenna on the side of your home or office that has the best signal. It’s recommended to install the antenna on the roof of your home, building, or vehicle. This way you can reduce the number of obstructions blocking you from the nearest cell towers.

With the help of coaxial cables, the outside antenna can route the weak signal to the amplifier for boosting. There are a variety of different amplifiers available; they differ in the amount of power they are capable of producing and how much area they can cover. Residential boosters can cover areas from 250 to 7,500 square feet and commercial boosters can cover areas up to 100,000 square feet.

After the amplifier has boosted the weak signal, it will pass it onto the indoor antenna. The indoor antenna will broadcast the amplified signal into the desired areas. As a result, mobile signal boosters will help improve dropped calls, slow data speeds, and unsent text messages.

After the installation has taken place, you don’t need to register the devices that will be using the booster. Also, phone calls and data streaming will seamlessly transition from the booster to cellular towers, and vice versa.

Signal Booster Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages

  • Improves 5G, 4G, and LTE signals
  • Eliminate dropped calls, unsent text messages, and sluggish internet
  • Does not need a WiFi connection to work
  • Seamless transition between the signal booster and cell towers
  • One-time purchase, there are no monthly or reoccurring charges
  • Work with multiple cell carriers
  • Support multiple devices at once
  • Compatible with all cellular devices (iPhone, Samsung, LG, and more)
  • Are available for vehicles, homes, and offices
  • Can improve battery life since the phone is not constantly searching for a cellular signal
  • Standard two-to-three-year warranty on most signal boosters from reputable manufacturers.

Disadvantages

  • They don’t work in areas that have absolutely no signal
  • Installation can take some level of handiness

Should I get A Femtocell or a Signal Booster?

Deciding between a femtocell and a signal booster can be very difficult. After all, they both improve your mobile network.

Femtocells are highly recommended in situations where an internet connection is possible, but there is no signal outside. In situations where cellular signal is available, a cell phone booster will be the best option for multiple reasons.

  1. Rather than being carrier-specific, signal boosters can be used by multiple carriers.
  2. Multiple devices can use the signal booster simultaneously.
  3. Signal boosters are not restricted for indoor use; vehicle boosters are available to improve signal on the road.
  4. Phone calls will seamlessly transition from the cell towers to the booster, you won’t have to worry about dropping the call.

Here is a list of some of the best cell phone signal boosters for homes, offices, and vehicles:

Best Signal Booster for Medium Sized Homes and Offices

weboost home multiroom
weBoost Home MultiRoom - 470144

For midsize homes and offices with a strong outside signal or small homes with weak outside signal.

Buy Now at $549.99
  • Up to 5,000 sq ft of coverage under best conditions
  • Up to +65 dB of gain, with 21 dBm uplink and 12 dBm downlink
  • Multiple accessories for maximum coverage and customization (sold separately)
  • Complete coverage for multiple rooms or midsize home for all carriers across multiple devices
  • Outdoor yagi antenna and indoor panel antenna configuration, with stylish fabric front

The weBoost Home MultiRoom is the most popular cell phone signal booster with a coverage range that usually works for most people. It’s perfect for midsize homes and offices in the city with strong outside signal, or small homes in rural areas with weak outside signal.

It features a maximum uplink power of 21 dBm, meaning the booster can communicate with far distanced towers, making it a good performer in rural areas where tower distance is the biggest problem.

As its name suggests, you can expect multiple rooms of coverage or even whole-home coverage depending on your outside signal strength. Assuming you have excellent cellular signal outside your home, the Home MultiRoom can cover areas up to 5,000 sq ft, but most people will get between 2,000 – 3,000 sq ft of indoor coverage, areas with extremely poor cellular reception can expect much less coverage.

If you’re in an area where you receive next to no signal, or you want a reliable connection throughout your large home, this is the lowest grade signal booster you should get, consider its sister product, the weBoost Home Complete.

Best Professionally Installed Signal Booster for Homes and Offices

weboost installed home complete
weBoost Installed Home Complete - 474445

Whole-home coverage for large homes with strong outside signal or midsize homes with weak outside signal.

Buy Now at $1,199.99
  • Superior cell phone service for your entire home. 5G Ready
  • Up to 7,500 sq. ft. to coverage under best conditions
  • Up to +72 dB gain, with 24 dBm uplink and 12 dBm downlink
  • Multiple accessories for maximum coverage and customization (sold separately)
  • Complete coverage for entire home for all carriers across multiple devices
  • Outdoor yagi antenna and indoor panel antenna, with stylish fabric front

The weBoost Installed Home Complete is the most powerful home booster you can get. It’s capable of providing whole-home coverage for a large home with strong outside signal or a midsize home with weak outside signal.

It features a maximum gain of +72 dB, which is the highest of any multi-carrier home unit, making it roughly a shade over 3x more powerful than the weBoost Home MultiRoom. And with its powerful uplink and downlink outputs, the Installed Home Complete can reach far distanced towers to provide you with superior service indoors.

Under perfect conditions, the Installed Home Complete can cover areas up to 7,500 sq ft. However, depending on your outside signal strength, most people will get between 4,000 – 6,000 sq ft, even with below average outside signal, fringe zones can expect a little less.

To maximize your coverage, additional antennas are required, especially if you’re trying to cover more than one floor. Not to mention, it features an aesthetically pleasing design to enhance your home décor rather than ruin it.

The best part of the weBoost Installed Home Complete is that it includes a professional residential installation. You won’t have to stress about installing the signal booster yourself nor trying to figure out what the best location for the signal booster is – the professionals will take care of it. However, if you would rather install the booster yourself, we also offer a Do-It-Yourself version.

weboost home complete
weBoost Home Complete - 470145

DIY booster for large homes.

Buy Now at $999.99

Best Signal Booster for One or Two Rooms

weboost home studio
weBoost Home Studio - 470166

For small homes and office spaces for all carriers.

Buy Now at $349.99
  • 5G ready booster - Amplifies 4G LTE and 3G signals
  • Up to 2,000 sq ft of coverage under best conditions
  • Up to +60 dB of gain
  • Can boost multiple cellular devices across all US carriers
  • Compact design, fits on any flat surface

The weBoost Home Studiois the newest and most affordable home signal booster. Perfect for people on a budget wanting to improve their cellular reception in small areas.

Under perfect conditions, it can enhance your cellular signal in areas up to 2,000 sq ft, ideal for a small home, apartment, dorm, or condo. However, coverage is determined by how strong or weak your outside signal is. Weak signal areas will probably get around 200-500 sq ft, enough to cover one large room, such as a living room, home office, master bedroom, or two small rooms.

Great starter kit if you have decent outside signal but struggle with a reliable connection in the rooms where it matters. However, if you live in a weak signal area, you're very unlikely to see the results you want with the Home Studio and should consider an upgrade to the weBoost Home MultiRoom.

Best Value Signal Booster For Vehicles

weboost drive x
weBoost Drive X - 475021

For drivers in urban, suburban, and some rural areas.

Buy Now at $399.99
  • Boosts talk, text, 3G and 4G LTE data
  • 5G ready
  • Amplifies multiple cellular devices simultaneously (up to 4)
  • Up to +50 dB gain
  • Works with all cellular devices across all carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular, and more)
  • Extremely customizable: variants for any type of vehicle and setup.

The weBoost Drive X is a relatively inexpensive yet extremely reliable vehicle signal booster. It’s more powerful than the old Drive 4G but not as powerful as the Drive Reach.

With its +50 dB of gain and more range than its predecessor, it can communicate with relatively far distanced towers to provide you and your passengers with enhanced 3G and 4G LTE signals in areas where maintaining a reliable connection seems impossible. It's an all-around performer for the city and the countryside. In weak signal areas, you and your passengers might have to be closer to the inside antenna to benefit from the amplified signal.

For those in extreme cases of poor signal, we recommend the Drive Reach, which is able to reach cell towers located much further.

Most Powerful Multi-User Signal Booster for Vehicles

weboost drive reach
weBoost Drive Reach - 470154

For drivers in remote and urban areas.

Buy Now at $499.99
  • Boosts Talk, Text, and 3G & 4G LTE Data - 5G Ready
  • Amplifies multiple cellular devices across all carriers
  • Up to +50 dB gain
  • Works in extremely rural and remote areas
  • Extremely customizable, with variants for any type of vehicle and situation

The weBoost Drive Reach is the most powerful vehicle cell phone signal booster, designed to boost up to 4 cellular devices across all carriers. It’s the booster we highly recommend for most situations.

A mini magnet mount outside antenna picks up the signals, and a low-profile interior antenna (usually Velcroed to a seat) broadcasts the signal inside your vehicle. For optimal results, your cellular device will have to be about an arm's length from the inside antenna to benefit from the boosted signal, so it's best for your typical sedan, truck, or SUV, but will work with any vehicle.

It features the highest uplink output power of any multi-carrier vehicle booster, allowing it to reach cell towers that are 2x further for twice the signal strength, making it much more powerful than its competitors and a great performer in the most rural of roads and highways.

Most Affordable Signal Booster for Vehicles

weboost drive sleek
weBoost Drive Sleek - 470135

Best for urban and suburban driving.

Buy Now at $199.99
  • Boosts Voice, Text Messages, 4G, LTE & 3G Data. 5G Ready.
  • For a single smartphone
  • Cradle signal booster
  • Up to +23 dB gain

The weBoost Drive Sleek is the most economical vehicle cell phone signal booster for a single device.

The kit includes a magnet mount antenna that can be easily installed on the roof of any vehicle and an adjustable cradle vent mount designed to hold any size smartphone or small tablet.

To benefit from the boosted signal, your cellular device has to be in the cradle. And when paired with a Bluetooth headset, it really shines for regular talk, text, and hands-free navigation.

For those extreme cases of poor cellular reception, consider the weBoost Drive X or the weBoost Drive Reach.

Contact Us

Wilson Amplifiers is a leading provider of cell phone signal boosters, devices that amplify 4G & 3G LTE for any phone with any carrier for home, office, or car. We’ve boosted over 10,000,000 sq ft of signal for 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 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.

THE WILSON AMPLIFIERS ADVANTAGE
FREE SHIPPING No Minumum Purchase
90-DAY
Money Back Guarantee
LIFETIME
Technical Support