How Does A Signal Booster Work?

How Does A Signal Booster Work?

Alex Baker
Written by Alex Baker
10th Aug 2022

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 regarding 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 cell booster is an electronic device designed to improve existing 5G, 4G, and LTE networks. They enhance call quality, signal strength, and data speeds. FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and IC (Industry Canada) certified units are 100% legal.

If you have usable signal outside your home, vehicle, or office, but weak to no signal inside, then a cell booster can help. The same applies to those who have very weak cell signal outside and inside.

The whole concept of improving cell reception has many questioning how cell signal boosters work.

We have the answers!

Wilson Amplifiers provides complete in-building
commercial signal booster installation services:

How Do Cell Phone Boosters Work?

A cell booster (also known as a signal extender, signal amplifier, or cell phone repeater) works by pulling in your existing outside signal, boosting it, and rebroadcasting it into desired areas. Cellular devices automatically pick up the amplified signal. Undelivered texts, dropped calls, and unreliable data will be reduced or eliminated.

Boosters also work in reverse. The unit receives outgoing signals from nearby cellular devices and sends them to your closest cell tower.

There are different types of boosters available that target different needs:

  • In-Building Signal Boosters – Designed for homes, offices, and commercial buildings.
  • Vehicle Signal Boosters - Designed for cars, trucks, RVs, SUVs, boats, and fleet vehicles.

For a cellular amplifier to work, there must be existing signal, even if it's weak, outside your home, office, or vehicle. These units enhance existing cellular signals, not create them.

Enhanced in-building or in-vehicle cell coverage is achieved using:

  1. An External Antenna
  2. An Amplifier
  3. An Indoor Antenna
  4. Coaxial Cable

Keep reading for a deep dive on each component.

H3: How Cellular Boosters Work in Homes, Vehicles, and Commercial Buildings


Home & Buildings
Cars & Vehicles
Commercial Buildings
Home & Buildings
Homes & Buildings
1Outside Antenna
Pulls in tower Signal
Outside Antenna
2Signal Booster
Amplifies the Signal
Signal Booster
3Inside Antenna
Re-broadcasts signal
Inside Antenna
how it worksCellular Device
Gets Boosted signal
Cell Phone
Cars & Vehicles
Cars & Vehicles
1Outside Antenna
Pulls in tower Signal
Outside Antenna
2Signal Booster
Amplifies the Signal
Car Signal Booster
3Inside Antenna
Re-broadcasts signal
Inside Antenna
how it worksCellular Device
Gets Boosted signal
Cell Phone
Commercial Buildings
Cars & Vehicles
1Outside Antenna
Pulls in Tower Signal
Outside Antenna
2Signal Booster
Amplifies the Signal
Building Signal Booster
3Inside Antenna(s)
Re-broadcasts Signal
Inside Antenna
how it worksCellular Device
Gets Boosted Signal
Cell Phone

How Each Signal Booster Component Works

External Antenna: Captures Existing Cell Phone Signal

omni-directional antenna uni-directional antenna

External antennas (also called donor antennas) capture compatible 5G/4G/LTE cellular frequencies from different carriers. The captured signal is then sent to the amplifier.

There are two types of outside antennas:

Omni-Directional Antenna: This antenna pulls in signals from every direction. It has a 360-degree beam. They are best for:

  • Homes and offices with medium to strong outside signal
  • Homes and offices with multiple nearby cell towers to boost multiple carriers
  • Vehicles in motion

Uni-Directional Antenna (the most common being the Yagi antenna): This antenna (shaped like a triangle) pulls signal from one direction. It has a 45-degree beam. They are designed to point at the nearest tower. Having a more focused signal allows the antenna to reach farther than an omni. A specialized performer used for:

  • Homes and offices with poor signal
  • Homes and offices that only want to boost a single carrier
  • Stationary RVs

The location of donor antennas is crucial. It can affect the power of the signal the amplifier receives. Ideally, you want the antenna to receive the strongest signal possible for best results. Thus, we recommend they be mounted on the roof of your home, business, or vehicle. Due to fewer obstructions and improved line-of-sight with nearby towers, the roof tends to be where the strongest signal is available.

Amplifier: Boosts Cell Signal

The amplifier receives the signal from the outside antenna and, as the name suggests, amplifies it.

Cellular signal can only be amplified up to the signal booster's gain value, measured in dB (Decibels). Essentially, the gain is applied to the captured signal, improving signal strength, which is measured in dBm (decibel-milliwatts). The closer you are to -50 dBm, the more reliable your signal is.

The actual amplification power you receive will depend on your existing signal strength. If you have weak outside signal, the booster will apply more gain. On the other hand, if you have strong outside signal, the booster will apply less gain. This prevents overloading the unit and interfering with nearby cell towers.

Typically, a good multi-carrier home amplifier should have at least +60 dB gain. The most powerful multi-carrier units top out at +72 dB gain. A good multi-carrier car amplifier should have at least +25 dB with the best units topping out at +50 dB.

Indoor Antenna: Rebroadcasts Enhanced Signal Inside

magnet antenna omni-directional vehicle antenna

The boosted signal is sent to the inside antenna or antennas for rebroadcasting into the desired areas.

There are different types of indoor signal booster antennas:

  • Panel Antenna (In-Building Use): This antenna is directional and generally wall mounted. Its signal beam ranges from 45-70 degrees. The strongest signal will be available in the areas closest to it before reaching lower priority areas.
  • Dome Antenna (In-Building Use): This antenna is omnidirectional and generally ceiling mounted. It distributes signal in all directions. They work best in large, open areas.
  • Cradle Antenna (In-Vehicle Use): This directional antenna is best for a single user. The cradle is connected to a small amplifier and directs the boosted signal to any cellular device sitting on it.
  • Low-Profile Antenna (In-Vehicle Use): This is the most commonly used vehicle signal booster antenna. It’s directional and capable of covering an entire car’s cabin under perfect conditions.

The coverage you receive largely depends on a variety of factors, such as:

  • Signal booster type
  • Indoor antenna type and quantity
  • Existing signal strength
  • Building layout

Signal booster kits vary in how many square feet they can cover. Kits designed for small homes and offices can cover up to 2,500 sq ft. Those for medium to large homes and offices range from 5,000 to 7,500 sq ft. Commercial amplifiers can cover areas up to 100,000 sq ft. The above numbers are based on optimal conditions.

If your signal is on the weaker end, coverage will be significantly reduced. Buildings with closed floor plans will also receive less coverage, even with strong outside signal. Walls and furniture can prevent the broadcasted signal from reaching every necessary corner. Panel antennas usually yield better results for those in weak signal areas. They're also better at transmitting signals through walls. To really maximize coverage, multiple antennas may be needed.

Coaxial Cable: Relays Signal

The coaxial cable connects all components. It’s what carries the signal between the cellular antennas and amplifier. They're designed to deliver high-frequency electrical signals with low signal loss.

Do Signal Boosters Really Work?

Many people doubt that signal boosters work. With so many junk units out in the market, we can't blame them. Our weBoost and WilsonPro units are FCC-approved and really do work. Though, boosters can only boost existing cellular signals. They can’t create cellular signal, nor do they boost landline WiFi signal (the U-verse, Time Warner kind).

Need proof? This chart shows the results of a weBoost Home Complete installation in a rural East Texas home.

Signal Strength Before Installation -116 dBm
Signal Strength After Installation -75 dBm

Our customer’s home transformed from a near-dead zone to one with above-average cell reception. For the full story, click here.

What Signal Boosters Cannot Do

Cellular boosters aren't designed for outdoor use.

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, but when the area is outdoors, there are no walls for bouncing. Cell phone boosters need a power supply, as well. While that could probably be solved with a battery backup, the FCC prohibits it...so there’s not much to be done.

Besides performing less efficiently, carriers don't want boosters redeploying signal outside. The amount of noise that this can bring into the network can cause issues for 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.

Finally - and this should be relatively obvious at this point – signal boosters do not create new signal. Rather, they capture, amplify, and rebroadcast what’s already there.

Signal Boosters for Home that Actually Work

Popular Signal Booster for Midsize Homes

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 $569.99
  • Complete coverage for multiple rooms or midsize homes for all carriers across multiple devices – 5G ready
  • Up to 5,000 sq ft of coverage under best conditions
  • Up to +65 dB of gain, with up to 21 dBm uplink and 12 dBm downlink
  • Outdoor Yagi antenna and indoor panel antenna configuration, with stylish fabric front
  • Multiple accessories available for maximum coverage and customization (sold separately)

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.

Kit includes a Yagi antenna, panel antenna, and a powerful amplifier. Featuring up to 65 dB gain and high output powers, it can reach distant towers and cover several rooms or an entire home. It’s a good option for people in the city, as well as those who live in rural areas where tower distance is the biggest problem. Under perfect conditions, it offers up to 5,000 sq ft of coverage. Though, most people get between 2,000 – 3,000 sq ft. Areas with extremely poor cellular reception can expect much less.

This is the lowest grade booster that should be considered for weak signal environments. For those extreme cases and larger homes, consider the weBoost Home Complete.

Professional Installed Signal Booster for Large Homes

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 $1,299.99
  • Superior cell service for your entire home for all carriers across multiple devices - 5G ready
  • Up to 7,500 sq. ft. of coverage under best conditions
  • Up to +72 dB gain, with up to 24 dBm uplink and 12 dBm downlink
  • Outdoor Yagi antenna and indoor panel antenna, with stylish fabric front
  • Multiple accessories available for maximum coverage and customization (sold separately)

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

It features a maximum gain of +72 dB, which is the highest of any multi-carrier home unit. It’s roughly a shade over 3x more powerful than the weBoost Home MultiRoom. With its powerful uplink and downlink outputs, this unit has more reach to deliver superior service indoors. While it can cover up to 7,500 sq ft, most people get between 4,000 – 6,000 sq ft. That’s still more than enough for mid to large homes. Though fringe zones can expect a little less. To maximize coverage, additional antennas are required, especially if you’re trying to cover multiple floors.

The best part is that it includes a professional residential installation. If you rather install the booster yourself, we also offer a Do-It-Yourself weBoost Home Complete.

Best Signal Booster for One to Two Rooms

weboost home studio
weBoost Home Studio - 470166

For small homes, apartments, and office spaces with decent outside signal.

Buy Now at $349.99
  • Complete coverage for one to two for all carriers across multiple devices - 5G ready
  • Up to 2,000 sq ft of coverage under best conditions
  • Up to +60 dB of gain, with up to 23 dBm uplink and 13 dBm downlink
  • Outdoor Yagi antenna and indoor whip antenna configuration
  • Compact design fits on any flat surface

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

Kit includes a Yagi antenna for more reach and an amplifier with an attached whip antenna. Its compact design allows for a quick and easy installation. Under optimal conditions, it can cover 2,000 sq ft with enhanced cell reception. Realistically, it tends to provide enough coverage for one large room or two small ones.

It’s a great kit for those who have decent outside signal but struggle with a reliable connection in the rooms where it matters. If you live in a weak signal area, you won’t see the results you want and should consider the weBoost Home MultiRoom.

Signal Boosters for Vehicles that Actually Work

Most Popular Multi-User Signal Booster for Vehicles

  • Boosts talk, text, and data - 5G ready
  • Amplifies multiple cellular devices across all carriers
  • Up to +50 dB gain, with up to 26.9 dBm uplink and 4.8 dBm downlink
  • 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 multi-carrier vehicle cell signal repeater. It’s the booster we highly recommend for most situations.

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

A mini magnet mount outside antenna picks up the signals, and a low-profile interior antenna broadcasts the signal inside your vehicle. There is a Drive Reach variation for any vehicle type. It’s great for sedans, pickup trucks, SUVs, RVs, boats, and semis.

Best Value Vehicle Signal Booster

weboost drive sleek
weBoost Drive Sleek - 470135

Best for urban and suburban driving.

Buy Now at $199.99
  • Boosts talk, text, and data - 5G ready
  • For a single device
  • Works with all carriers
  • Up to +23 dB gain
  • Cradle signal booster

The weBoost Drive Sleek is the most economical vehicle cellular amplifier for a single device.

Kit includes a magnet mount antenna and an adjustable cradle vent mount designed to hold any size smartphone. To receive boosted signal, your cellular device must be nested in the cradle. When paired with a Bluetooth headset, it really shines for regular talk, text, and hands-free navigation.

However, it’s not the strongest performer in weak signal areas. For those situations, consider the weBoost Drive Reach. If you are looking for a signal user signal booster for semis, go with the weBoost Drive Sleek OTR.

Powerful Signal Boosters for RVs, Trailers, and Campers

weboost drive x rv
weBoost Drive X RV - 471410

For RVs in motion and parked.

Buy Now at $499.99
  • Boosts talk, text, and data - 5G ready
  • Amplifies multiple cellular devices across all carriers
  • Up to +50 dB gain, with up to 24.8 dBm uplink and 2.8 dBm downlink
  • Works in weak and strong signal areas
  • Extremely customizable, with variants for any type of vehicle and situation

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, so it only requires one easy installation.

This kit includes best-in-class indoor and outdoor OTR (over-the-road) antennas for improved coverage while moving. On average, the Drive X RV can deliver reliable signal up to 10 ft from the inside antenna. Perfect for Class Bs as it should cover most of the interior space. Though, it can also be used in Class A and Class C RVs. With various Drive X variations, you also have the option to install it in a car, truck, SUV, or boat.

If you spend most of your time parked, consider the weBoost Destination RV. It's much more powerful than the Drive X as it’s designed for stationary use only.

weBoost Destination RV 65
weBoost Destination RV - 470159

For stationary RVs, campers, and trailers.

Buy Now at $649.99

Cell Phone Booster FAQs

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:

Benefits:

  • With "enough" poor 5G & 4G signal, cell phone boosters can absolutely rock. Read some independent reviews about our services and products
  • .
  • Eliminate dropped calls, undelivered texts, sluggish internet connections, and poor reception.
  • Improved cellular coverage
  • Work with all cellular devices (iPhones, Android, tablets, hotspots, notebooks, etc.)
  • Work with all major and local carriers in the US and Canada (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Bell, Rogers, Telus, etc.).
  • One-time purchase, no monthly fees.
  • Standard two-to-three-year warranty on most signal boosters from reputable manufacturers.
  • Lifetime tech support.
  • 30-day better signal or money-back guarantee.

Drawbacks:

  • Installation takes a certain level of handiness. Not much, but some.
  • If you live in a near-dead zone, you might have to get a more powerful and expensive model.

What Types of Cell Signal Boosters are There?

There are two types:

  • 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 with all major cell service providers. These are also known as wideband cellular repeaters, cellular amplifiers, bi-directional amplifiers (BDAs), and, of course, signal boosters. weBoost signal boosters are all analog.
  • Smart Signal Boosters - These are newer types of boosters attuned to specific frequencies. These are programmable, and generally quite advanced. Some smart boosters can improve signal up to 100 dB. Certain WilsonPro signal boosters are considered "smart."

Are Signal Boosters Legal?

All signal boosters sold on Wilson Amplifiers are certified by the FCC, meaning they are pre-approved and perfectly legal. There are a lot of non-legal, junk signal boosters out on the market that can disrupt the cellular network. Many of which you might find on Amazon or eBay.

Will a Signal Booster Work on My Network Carrier?

Cell phone boosters certified by the FCC and IC work with ALL major and local carriers in USA and Canada.

Do I need to Have an Internet Connection for a Signal Booster to Work?

No, they do not need WiFi or a landline internet connection to work. They simply boost cellular signal.

Do Signal Boosters Have any Monthly or Recurring Fees?

Nope! Signal boosters are a one time purchase. Once you’ve got it set up, it just works.

Do I Need to Pair My Phone to a Cell Phone Booster for it to Work?

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). Any device within the signal booster's coverage area will see an improvement in signal strength.

Can I Use This While Hiking?

Unfortunately, no current amplifiers are equipped with a battery per FCC regulations. Even if they were, since boosters are designed to be used in a confined space, you would not see much difference.

Do Signal Boosters Work with 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 Rebroadcasted. How Does the Phone Know Which Signal (Tower or Booster) to Respond To?

It will latch on to 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 Complete Kits?

In 2013, the FCC passed a rule mandating that cell boosters be certified with improved designs to avoid interference with carrier networks.

Back in the wild west days of cell boosters, some unregulated third-party units caused serious network interference issues.

Because of those bad eggs, cell carriers and reputable signal booster manufacturers requested tougher regulations and accountability. Thus, creating a standard for signal boosters. This lead to better performing and carrier-compliant boosters.

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. Parts also cant be swapped in and out, or mixed and matched. All three major components are considered one unit.

This is why it is impossible for retailers and online sellers to only sell you an amplifier. The FCC considers the complete kit as approved and not individual parts, especially the amplifier.

However, this doesn't limit customers from purchasing additional antennas, splitters, and other parts to tailor their coverage.

Are the Boosters Waterproof?

The outdoor antennas are waterproof. The amplifiers and indoor antennas must be placed in a moisture-controlled environment. So, unfortunately, boosters units are not waterproof.

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?

Not directly, but if you buy a 4G booster you should see considerably faster data speeds. It will not boost WiFi on any other devices, but can indirectly via a jetpack or hotspot.

Are they 5G Ready?

Yes.

How Can We Help You?

Wilson Amplifiers is the leading provider of FCC-certified cellular amplifiers. Our home, office, vehicle, and enterprise units work with all North American carriers and devices. They're also 5G ready. Once installed, poor cell reception and slow data won’t plague your home, business, or vehicle anymore.

Now that you know how signal boosters work, and that they actually work, we can help find the right one for you. Please call us (1-800-568-2723), email us (sales@wilsonamplifiers.com), or chat with us, for a free consultation. Ask us anything, we’re happy to help!

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Alex Baker
About The Author of This Article
Alex Baker
Senior Copywriter - Wilson Amplifiers
Alex has been studying all things signal boosters for the past 5 years. His technical knowledge is matched only by his writing prowess. In his spare time, he enjoys long walks, stimulating conversation, collecting video games, and trying unusual recipes.