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How Does A Signal Booster Work?

on January 24, 2019

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. 

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 moving from rural areas to urban markets.

The idea of getting better talk, text, faster internet, and reliable reception and coverage without needing to connect to WiFi or begging to AT&T or switching to Verizon has some people asking us questions.

So we have answers to your questions.

This is How a Cell Phone 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 a three-part system:

  • The Outside Antenna to capture weak cell signal.
  • The Amplifier to boost the weak signal.
  • The 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.

For more information, see our blog on Omni-Directional vs. Directional (Yagi) Antennas.

Amplifier

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.

For more information, see our blog on Panel vs. Dome Antennas.


Ok, How About Some Pros & Cons of a Signal Booster?

Sure, why not.

Pros:

  • 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. 

Cons:

  • 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. 

FAQ:

Q: Are signal boosters legal?

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).

Q: I only have one carrier providing all my cellular service. Are there any good single-carrier amplifiers I can get?

A: While single-carrier amplifiers used to be more common, FCC regulations caused the most reputable manufacturers of cell phone signal 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 cannot recommend them at this time.

Q: Do I have to have internet connection for these to work?

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

Q: Can I use my booster outside?

A: Unfortunately, cell phone signal boosters are not designed to work outside a confined space.

Q: Can I use this while hiking?

A: 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.

Q: Will my neighbor be able to use my boosted signal?

A: 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.

Q: Can this be used with my solar panels?

A: Unfortunately, no.

Q: 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?

A: It will latch on the strongest source. Since the booster is in closer proximity, it will pull signal from the booster.

Q: Are the boosters waterproof?

A: The outdoor antennas are waterproof, but the amplifiers themselves are designed to be placed in a moisture-controlled environment, so, unfortunately, no.

Q: Is it compatible with my device?

A: Cell phone signal boosters are designed for use with all cellular devices, so, yes. Your hotspots and the like are covered as well.

Q: Does it boost WiFi?

A: 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.

Q: Are they 5G compatible?

A: Not as of yet.


Any more questions?

Just make a comment below and we will answer and update as they come. We'll even incorporate your questions into this blog post!


Want to learn more about cell phone boosters? Read more with our definitive guide:


How We Can Help:

Wilson Amplifiers is the leading provider of cell phone signal boosters. They amplify 3G & 4G LTE for any phone with any carrier for home, office, or vehicle.

  • Free consultation (ask us anything) with our US-based customer support (sales@wilsonamplifiers.com).
  • Free shipping.
  • Better signal or money-back guaranteed.

We want everyone to be satisfied, so we provide lifetime technical support and a 2-year warranty.

Read real reviews from our customers.

Ask us anything and we'll be glad to help.

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