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How Does A Signal Booster Work?

on August 19, 2016

They're made from magical unicorn happiness ...ok, maybe not

"Snake oil."

"Is it legal?"

"Does it really work?"

"Sounds like something [enter your least favorite politician or political party] would do."

Once and awhile, we get questions about the ability and legal status of cell phone signal boosters. And the concern is perfectly valid. After all, cell phone boosters are a growing niche market that have recently gained popularity in the past few years.

So the idea of getting better talk, text, faster internet, and reliable reception and coverage without needing to connect to wi-fi or begging to AT&T or switching to Verizon has some people asking us.

So let's answer some questions:

Q: Are signal boosters legal?
A: Absolutely. They've been certified by the FCC since 2014 for consumer and industrial use.

Q: Do they really work?
A: Yes, they do. But cell phone boosters can only BOOST weak cellular 3G & 4G signal. They CAN'T CREATE cellular signal nor do they boost landline wi-fi 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.

Q: Does it work on my network carrier?
A: 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). 

This is how a signal booster works

A cell phone booster works by pulling in weak signal, boosting it, and then rebroadcasting it inside your area in need.

Most signal boosters are essentially a three-part system: an outside antenna to capture weak cell signal, an amplifier to boost the weak signal, and an inside antenna to rebroadcast the enhanced signal inside your home or car. 

Outside Antenna

The outside antenna is the first major component of a cell phone booster. Usually mounted high on the roof or fascia of the house, it pulls in the weak 3G & 4G LTE signal. Outside antennas generally come in two varieties:

Omni-directional antenna: This antenna (pictured above) pulls in signal from a 360-degree angle. A general all-around performer and generally used for people who have decent signal or want to boost multiple carriers.

Uni-directional antenna (also known as yagi): This antenna (shaped like a triangle) pulls signal from a 45-degree field of vision. This allows it to reach farther than the omni antenna. A specialized performer used for extremely poor signal and those who only want to boost a single carrier.


The amplifier (also known as cellular repeater) is the second major component of a cell signal booster. Once poor signal is pulled in from the outside antenna, it is sent to the amplifier for boosting.

Depending on the quality of your outside signal and the type of amplifier purchased, most home amplifiers range from 500 to 7,000 sq ft of coverage.

All amplifiers are measured by dB (decibel) output. In short, cellular frequency are radio waves that operate within a certain standard in the radio spectrum.

For cell phone signal, that signal level is -50 dB to -120 dB. In "bar" talk, -50 dB is full bars and -120 dB is a dead zone. What an amplifier does is potentially increase your dB reading closer to -50 dB.

To find out how to read dB on your phone, check out our guide on finding the best way to read signal strength on your phone.

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. which can affect results.

Hence why it's very important to find your dB reading first and talking to a certified signal boost expert to get desired and realistic results. 

(Hey, we're signal boosting experts, email us at sales@wilsonamplifiers.com if you have any questions. And please do share any cronut recipes you have.)

Inside Antenna

The inside antenna is the third major component of a cell booster. Once signal is boosted from the amplifier, it is passed onto the inside antenna to rebroadcast the signal to your area in need. Inside antennas usually come in two flavors:

Panel antenna: This antenna (pictured above) is generally wall-mounted and tends to rebroadcast the strongest signal to areas closest to it. 

This basically means 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 to the rest of the home.

Dome antenna: This antenna is generally ceiling-mounted and tends to distributed the signal equally.

Depending on your cell phone booster system kit, some manufacturers prefer one style of inside antennas compared to the other. Wilson Electronics/weBoost prefers to use panel antennas. SureCall prefers to use dome antennas.

Ok, how about some pros & cons of a signal booster?

Sure, why not.


  • With "enough" poor 3G & 4G signal, cell phone boosters can absolutely rock. Read some independent  reviews about our service & products.
  • Basically ends dropped calls, poor call quality, slow text messages, sluggish internet, 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. 


  • 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 wi-fi internet, you can either use wi-fi calling or have your carrier send you a femtocell (microcell) for free. This basically converts wi-fi signal to cellular signal. 

Any more questions?

Just make a comment below and I'll answer and update as the come.

For more in-depth information about cell phone signal boosters, check out our definitive guide:

Need help? Email us today ( sales@wilsonamplifiers.com) or give us a call at 1-800-568-2723. A cell phone signal expert will gladly assist you in getting better signal instantly.

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