What is a Signal Booster?
Cell phone boosters are a growing market that has gained popularity in the past few years moving from rural areas to urban markets.
Every so often, we get questions surrounding the ability and legal status of cell phone signal boosters. The concern is perfectly valid, especially for a device that sounds too good to be true.
A cellular booster is an FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and IC (Industry Canada) certified electronic equipment that improves existing 5G, 4G LTE, 3G, and 2G networks. Boosters work on any 5G device, and select models actually boost 5G signal. Basically, signal boosters are legal devices that help improve call quality, weak cell signal, and provide faster data speeds.
If you have usable signal outside your home, vehicle, or office building, but weak to no signal inside, then a cell booster will definitely improve your cell service and signal strength.
The idea of eliminating dropped phone calls, slow data speeds, and unsent text messages without needing to connect to WiFi, argue with your carrier, or switch carriers has many people questioning how cell signal boosters work.
We have the answers!
How does a Signal Booster Work?
A cell booster (also known as a signal extender, signal amplifier, or cell phone repeater) works by pulling in weak outside signal, boosting it, and rebroadcasting the boosted signal into the desired areas. They also work in reverse: the signal booster will receive the signal from your phone and send it back to the tower.
There are different boosters available that target different needs:
- In-Building Signal Boosters - They are designed for homes, office buildings, commercial buildings, and any building that needs signal.
- Vehicle Signal Boosters - They are designed for cars, trucks, RVs, SUVs, boats, and fleet vehicles.
Keep in mind that for a cellular amplifier to work, there must be an existing signal outside your home, office, or vehicle. A cell signal booster enhances existing signal, it does not create it.
Most signal booster kits are composed of three main elements:
- An External Antenna – Used to capture the weak cell phone signal.
- An Amplifier – Used to boost the weak signal.
- An Indoor Antenna – Used to rebroadcast the enhances signal inside your home, office, or car.
Coax cables are used to connect the top three elements; they are designed to deliver high-frequency electrical signals over distances with low signal loss.
For more information on coax cables, see our guide on Understanding Coaxial Cables.
How a Signal Booster Works
Pulls in tower Signal
Amplifies the Signal
Gets Boosted signal
Pulls in tower Signal
Amplifies the Signal
Gets Boosted signal
Pulls in Tower Signal
Amplifies the Signal
Gets Boosted Signal
The external antenna (also called a donor antenna) is the first major component of a cell phone booster. They capture the weak 5G, 4G LTE, or 3G signal.
There are two types of outside antennas:
Omni-directional Antenna: This antenna pulls in signal from every direction or a 360-degree angle. They are best for people who have medium to strong signal outside, or multiple cell towers nearby to boost multiple carriers.
Uni-directional Antenna (the most common of which is a Yagi antenna): This antenna (shaped like a triangle) pulls signal from a 45-degree angle. They are designed to point in the direction of the nearest tower. Having a more focused signal, allows the antenna to reach farther than an omni antenna would. A specialized performer used for extremely poor signal and those who only want to boost a single carrier.
For more information on donor antennas, see our blog on Omni-Directional vs. Directional (Yagi) Antennas.
The location of the antenna is crucial; it can dramatically affect the power of the signal that is being sent to the amplifier. You will want to set up the antenna on the side of your home that has the best signal. There are different methods you can use to find the location with the best signal; you can use the number of bars on your phone, smartphone apps, or use field test mode.
You will want the antenna to be as high as possible to have a better line of sight with the cell phone towers and decrease the number of obstructions between you and the towers. Usually, the higher the antenna is will result in capturing a better signal. Normally, the outdoor antenna will be mounted on the roof or fascia of the house; you can use an existing vent pipe or a pole mount. It’s important that the outside antenna is placed on or near the edge of the roof. If you have a yagi antenna, it should be pointing away from the house towards the nearest cell tower.
What if you can’t install the outside antenna on the roof? In instances where it’s impossible to mount the antenna on the roof, you can mount the antenna in the attic, on a wall, or a window facing the cell phone tower. When installing the outdoor antenna inside, keep in mind that the signal will be affected due to the added obstructions (construction material, walls, windows, etc.) between the antenna and tower.
Vehicle External Antennas
Most vehicle antennas are omni-directional; they are designed to work best while moving.
Outside antennas are very easy to set up on a vehicle like a car, truck, and SUV. Most outside antennas are magnetic, you just stick them on the roof of your car to pull in the weak signal. Magnetic antennas are very easy to move to improve their performance.
On the other hand, other antennas are more permanent, they are designed for large vehicles, like RVs, fleets, delivery trucks, and more. Most of these antennas come with a spring (picture above), allowing them to withstand impacts.
The amplifier is the second major component of a mobile signal booster. Once the poor signal is pulled in from the outside antenna, it is sent to the amplifier for boosting.
To understand how amplifiers work and how to choose the best booster kit, you will have to be familiar with different terms.
There is a variety of different amplifiers available, and they all vary in how many square feet they can cover. Amplifiers designed for small homes can cover up to 2,500 sq ft, and the coverage area for medium to large homes can range from 5,000 sq ft to 7,500 sq ft. For commercial buildings, there are commercial amplifiers available that can cover areas up 100,000 sq ft.
Keep in mind that the quality of your outside signal and the type of amplifier purchased can affect the coverage area. Take the weBoost Home MultiRoom Signal Booster Kit as an example. This home booster can extend cellular coverage up to 5,000 sq ft under perfect conditions. Meaning, there is a good signal outside and there are no obstacles interfering with the signal. But, real-world results show that you can expect a coverage area of about 2,000-3,000 sq ft. These amplifiers are given names such as "Home MultiRoom" or "Home Complete" to denote the coverage area - i.e. the Home MultiRoom will cover multiple rooms, and the Home Complete should cover an average home with no issues.
When looking at different signal boosters you will see the terms dB (decibels) and dBm (decibel-milliwatts). What do they mean?
Cell phone signals are radio waves, they operate within a certain frequency band in the radio spectrum. The signal can be measured in dB or dBm.
Decibels (dB) are used to measure an increase or decrease in signal strength (gain or loss); they measure the radio waves. Decibel-milliwatts (dBm) are used to show how much power the amplifier is capable of producing, or how much power your mobile devices are getting.
The bars on your mobile phone are a representation of how strong the cellular network is. Generally, cell phone signal levels can range from -50 dBm to -120 dBm. In "bar" talk, -50 dBm is full bars, and -120 dBm is a dead zone.
All amplifiers are measured using dB outputs; this would be the max gain the amplifier offers. What an amplifier does is potentially increase your dB (signal gain) to get you closer to the -50 dBm range. For example, if your signal level is -110 dBm, and the amplifier has a max gain of +50dB, your signal will be close to -60dBm (-100+50=-60).
For more information out how to read dBm on your phone, check out our guide on finding the best way to read signal strength on your phone.
Typically, a good home amplifier should have at least +60 dB gain. The most powerful units top out at +70 dB gain. A good car amplifier should have at least +25 dB with the best units topping out at +50 dB.
It's important to note that the amplifier can boost signal up to its dB value, but does not guarantee an instant boost to that dB number. Because many factors are involved such as distance from the cell tower, outside interference, inside interference, building material, etc. can affect results.
Hence why it's very important to find your dBm readings first and talking to a certified signal booster expert to achieve the desired and realistic results.
(Hey, we're signal boosting experts, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. And please do share any cronut recipes you have.)
The inside antenna is the third major component of a cell booster.
Once the amplifier has boosted the signal, it's passed onto the inside antenna to rebroadcast the signal to the desired areas. There are two types of indoor antennas:
Panel Antenna: This antenna (pictured above) is generally wall-mounted and tends to send signal cone ranging from 45-70 degrees, meaning that the strongest signal will be delivered to the areas closest to it.
If you need the absolute best signal in a certain area of your home like a single office, home office (SOHO), living room, or bedroom, placing the panel antenna there will give that area the best signal before broadcasting the signal to lower priority areas.
Dome Antenna: This antenna is generally ceiling-mounted and tends to equally distribute the signal in all directions or a 360-degree angle. They will work best when trying to boost the signal in a large area.
The majority of weBoost signal boosters by Wilson Electronics use panel antennas. But, depending on your cell phone booster system kit, some manufacturers prefer one style of indoor antennas over the other.
For more information, see our blog on Panel vs. Dome Antennas.
When installing the indoor antenna, make sure there is at least a distance of 20 feet vertical or 50 feet horizontal between the outside and inside antennas. This will prevent oscillation, which will cause your signal booster to automatically shut down.
Vehicle Indoor Antenna
There are two main types of vehicle antennas:
Cradle Antenna: These antennas are best for one user. The cradle is connected to a small amplifier and will direct all of the booster signal to the device on the cradle. This antenna will require the smartphone to sit in the cradle at all times.
Low Profile Antenna (image above): These antennas are the most commonly used for vehicle signal boosters. They are very easy to install; simply place the antenna vertically or horizontally on the dashboard or a seat (usually Velcroed). Low profile antennas are omni-directional, so it will send and receive in all directions.
Pros & Cons: What are the Benefits of a Signal Booster?
For a more in-depth description, check out our full article on the benefits of a signal booster, but in a nutshell:
- With "enough" poor 3G & 4G signal, cell phone boosters can absolutely rock. Read some independent reviews about our service & products.
- Eliminate dropped calls, poor call quality, slow text messages, sluggish internet connections, and poor reception.
- One-time purchase, no monthly fees.
- Standard two-to-three-year warranty on most signal boosters from reputable manufacturers.
- Lifetime tech support.
- Work with all cellular devices (iPhones, Android, tablets, hotspots, notebooks, etc.)
- Work with all major carriers in the US and Canada (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Bell, Rogers, Telus, etc.).
- 30-day better signal or money-back guarantee, and lifetime technical support.
- Installation takes a certain level of handiness. Not much, but some.
- If you live in a near dead-zone, you might have to compensate for it with a more powerful & expensive model.
- If you already have landline WiFi internet, you can either use WiFi calling or have your carrier send you a femtocell (microcell) for free. This basically converts WiFi signal to cellular signal.
Types of Cell Signal Boosters
Analog Signal Boosters
The most common cellular signal boosters today are analog ones. These amplify all types of cellular signals across all bands, allowing them to work for all major cell phone service providers. These are also known as wideband cellular repeaters, cellular amplifiers, bi-directional amplifiers (BDAs), and, of course, signal boosters. Just know these are all referring to the same thing.
weBoost signal boosters are all analog.
Smart Signal Boosters
These are a newer type of booster attuned to specific frequencies. These are programmable, and generally quite advanced. Some smart boosters can improve signal up to 100 dB. Certain Wilson Pro signal boosters are considered "smart."
Recommended Signal Boosters for Home
Popular Signal Booster for Midsize Homes
- 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 signal amplifier, and for good reason. It lies at the sweet spot of price, aesthetics, and efficiency, with a coverage range that usually works for most people.
It features a maximum uplink power of 21 dBm, meaning the booster can communicate with far distanced towers to provide you with superior cellular service, making it a good option for people in the city, as well as those who live 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.
Professionally Installed Signal Booster for Home
- 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.
Signal Booster for One or Two Rooms
- 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
- Compact design, fits on any flat surface
The weBoost Home Studio is the newest and most affordable home signal booster designed to boost multiple cellular devices across all US carriers. Perfect for people on a budget wanting to improve their cellular reception in small areas.
The kit include a Yagi antenna for more reach and an amplifier with an attached antenna. Its compact design allows for a quick and easy installation. The amplifier can be placed on a desk, counter, bookshelf, or any flat surface.
Under perfect conditions, they 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 and should consider an upgrade to the weBoost Home MultiRoom.
Recommended Signal Boosters for Vehicles
Powerful Multi-User Signal Booster for Vehicles
- 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 signal repeater, 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.
If you are looking for a signal booster best designed for big trucks and fleet vehicles, that also supports multiple users, consider the weBoost Drive Reach OTR.
Best Value Signal Booster
- 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 cellular amplifier 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, upgrade to the weBoost Drive Reach.
If you are looking for a signal user signal booster that is designed for big trucks and fleet vehicles, consider the weBoost Drive Sleek OTR.
Powerful Cell Signal Booster for RVs, Trailers, and Campers
- 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)
The weBoost Drive X RV is a great multi-user vehicle booster for RVs, trailers, and campers. It can be used while driving and while stationary at a campsite, so it only requires one easy installation.
This kit pairs the weBoost Drive X with the best-in-class indoor and outdoor OTR (over-the-road) antennas for improved coverage while moving.
Great for those who have a Class B camper as it should cover most of the interior space boosting signal for up to 4 phones, but can be used for Class A, Class C, and towable trailers as well. Keep in mind that the location of the inside antenna, whether you put it in the living area or the driver’s cabin, can impact which areas are being boosted. On average, the Drive X RV can provide a coverage area up to 10 ft from the inside antenna, depending on the strength of your outside signal.
If you spend most of your time in one location, consider the weBoost Connect RV 65 as it's much more powerful than the Drive X when stationary.
Cell Phone Booster FAQs
Are signal boosters legal?
All the signal boosters sold on Wilson Amplifiers are certified by the FCC, meaning they are pre-approved and perfectly legal. There are a great deal of junk signal boosters out on the market, such as cheapo ones you might find on Amazon or eBay - these are not legal, and might disrupt the cellular network you live in.
Do cell phone boosters really work?
Yes, they do. But cell phone boosters can only BOOST weak cellular 4G, LTE, and 3G signal. They CAN'T CREATE cellular signal nor do they boost landline WiFi signal (the Uverse, Time Warner kind). Find out how much "poor" cellular signal you need to improve with our handy guide on cell phone signal strength.
Does it work on my network carrier?
Cell phone boosters certified by the FCC and IC work for ALL major & local carriers in USA & Canada. The only exception would be a particular frequency on the Sprint network used in some very, very local markets (extremely rare).
I only have one carrier providing all my cellular service. Are there any good single-carrier amplifiers I can get?
While single-carrier amplifiers used to be more common, FCC regulations caused the most reputable manufacturers of cell boosters to cease making them. The ones currently on the market have poor customer feedback due to a difficult installation process and poor reliability. They are also not future-proof should you change carriers, which the average American does every four years. Therefore, we don't them at this time.
Do I have to have internet connection for these to work?
No, they do not need WiFi or a landline internet connection to work. They simply boost cellular signal.
Do I need to pair my phone to a cell phone booster?
Nope! Your phone will automatically pick up on the boosted signal. You don’t have to go through your settings to connect to the booster. Even better, there is no password required (that’s one less password you need to remember). In addition, any device that is within the signal boosters coverage area will automatically see an improvement in their signal strength.
Can I use my booster outside?
Many of our users ask: "Why can't I install my signal booster outdoors?" Others ask: "Is there an outdoor signal booster?" Unfortunately, signal boosters only work in enclosed spaces. This is because the signal can "bounce" around an area, but when the area is outdoors, there are no walls for bouncing. Cell phone boosters need a power supply, as well. While that probably could be solved by having a battery backup, the FCC prohibits it...so there’s not much to be done.
Besides having less efficient performance in comparison to in-building, carriers do not want signal boosters redeploying signal outside. The amount of noise that this can bring into the network can cause issues for the cell towers in the area and should be avoided. If you live in a rural area with a fair number of people sharing the same tower, this can negatively affect everyone's coverage.
Signal boosters won't work outdoors for a number of reasons - including power concerns, effectiveness, and legal reasons - but they do work extremely well indoors. If you need cell phone signal in your area, get it boosted indoors.
Can I use this while hiking?
Unfortunately no current amplifiers are equipped with a battery per FCC regulations - but even if they were, since boosters are designed to be used in a confined space, you would not see much difference.
Will my neighbor be able to use my boosted signal?
Nope. Your boosted signal is confined to the space in which you set it up. If your neighbor comes to your home, however, they will get boosted signal.
Can this be used with my solar panels?
A signal booster cannot be used directly with a solar panel, as it uses a specific power and voltage. However, you can use it with power DERIVED from a solar panel if it's the main source of power
A cell tower signal is received by the booster, amplified, and rebroadcast. How does the phone know which signal (tower or booster) to respond to?
It will latch on the strongest source. Since the booster is in closer proximity, it will pull signal from the booster.
Why are cell phone signal boosters sold as a complete kit?
In 2013, the FCC passed new regulation mandating that all cell phone signal boosters be certified with improved designs to avoid interference with carrier networks.
Back in the wild west days of cell phone boosters, some unregulated third-party boosters had caused numerous interference to carrier cell towers which led to overloading the tower, causing network shutdowns and other harmful performance issues.
Because of a few of these bad eggs, the major carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-mobile, and Sprint) and reputable signal booster manufacturers requested for tougher regulations & accountability, thus creating a standard for 4G LTE and 3G signal boosters and leading to better performing & carrier-compliant boosters. This has continued with the introduction of 5G.
So beginning in 2013 and moving forward, all cell phone signal boosters have been and must be FCC-certified.
As a result, amplifiers cannot be sold separately. Nor can parts be swapped in & out, mixed & matched since all three specific major components (amplifier, inside antenna, and outside antenna) are considered one unit only given consent by the FCC as a whole.
This is why it is impossible for retailers and online sellers to only sell you an amplifier since the FCC considers the complete kit as approved and not individual parts, especially the amplifier.
However, this doesn't limit customers to purchase additional antennas, splitters, and other parts to tailor their coverage.
Are the boosters waterproof?
The outdoor antennas are waterproof, but the amplifiers themselves are designed to be placed in a moisture-controlled environment, so, unfortunately, no.
Is it compatible with my device?
Cell phone repeaters are designed for use with all cellular devices, so, yes. Your hotspots and the like are covered as well.
Does it boost WiFi?
Are they 5G ready?
How Can We Help You?
Wilson Amplifiers is the leading provider of cellular amplifiers. Cell phone boosters amplify 3G & 4G LTE for any phone with any carrier for home, office, or vehicle.
We seriously hate dropped calls and poor coverage, so it's our goal in life to rid the world of spotty signal, one happy customer at a time:
- Free consultation (ask us anything) with our US-based customer support (email@example.com) or call us at 1-800-568-2723.
- Free shipping.
- Better signal or industry-leading 90 money-back guaranteed. No questions asked.
- We want everyone to be satisfied, so we provide lifetime technical support and a 2-year warranty for all products.
Ask us anything and we'll be glad to help.
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