on January 20, 2016 James N
There's a big problem with cell phone signal in our States.
First, the mass popularity of smartphones is changing the landscape. What used to be multiple separate devices to manage our schedule, time, entertainment, business, and connections have all rolled into one.
PDAs (personal digital assistant) made famous by BlackBerry and Palm. Games. Photos & video. Internet surfing. Emails. Streaming music and movies. Responsive social media. And oh yeah, talk & text.
It's one big convergence that requires a lot of power, a lot of battery, and a lot of data--big data, fast data.
With over 90% of American adults owning a cell phone and a majority of them using mobile internet, the need for constant signal isn't a luxury. It's a way of life.
While cell phone carriers are stilly busy ramping up their 4G LTE networks, demand easily outstrips supply. With hundreds, even up to a thousand users confined to a cell phone tower at the same time; low bars, slower-than-promised data speeds, poor quality reception, and dropped calls are expected as every user pushes and shoves to grab a piece of that cellular pie.
Cell phone signal boosters (also known as cellular repeaters or cell phone amplifiers) are devices that boost your cell signals to and from your mobile phone, increasing your number of bars, internet speed, coverage, and connection reliability.
Another great side effect of using a cell phone booster is the smartphone’s increased battery life since requires less power to find and broadcast signals.
While the early majority of early cell phone signal booster consumers lived in weak signal environments such as rural areas located far from cell towers or were big businesses needing greater coverage, the rise of mainstream everyday consumers have gained in numbers as carrier signal quality weakens in the city as well as the country.
Urban areas and commercial development create an urban jungle for cellular signals. Signals face interference from high buildings or obstructions, metal structures, thick insulated interiors—a multitude of external and internal clutter that impedes, reflects, and dampens the cell signal penetration before it reaches your phone.
So even if you live right next to a cell tower, your building material can block that signal easily.
A cell phone repeater simply strengthens that signal, meaning despite the obstacles and number of users on one cell tower, a properly-installed cell phone amplifier user versus a non-amplifier user should see better results. In laymen’s terms, from low bars to more bars, faster and more reliable speed, with up to 32X in signal boost.
Search for ‘cell phone signal booster’ or any of its other synonyms in Google or Bing and one name usually dominates the first few pages: Wilson Electronics.
The biggest cell phone signal booster manufacturer in North America, they've provided solutions to poor signal for over 10 years. Just how big and popular is Wilson Electronics?
On the consumption side, I’m an active user, so streaming music and video and some intensive social media is a must. I rarely talk and sometimes text. Dedicated apps, Google maps, and fast internet are what I constantly use, so I’m looking for the right amplifier for my needs. Luckily, cell phone boosters can be explained with four product categories: 3G or 4G; home or car.
3G usually handles talk and text and light internet traffic. 4G usually handles all of 3G’s tasks and also fast internet speed. While a 3G booster is cheaper than 4G model, I like to future-proof and there’s no way I’m streaming Spotify or YouTube with 3G. It has to be 4G. Although, if I was just a talk-and-text type of guy, I'd go with the 3G amplifier to save a few dollars.
I do travel when possible and like to post vacation photos, but I'm not on the road enough to justify a car signal booster yet. I mostly care about fast internet at home, especially with the lack of a landline since I gave up AT&T Uverse. The house is a shade under 2,000 square feet, so I need a decent 4G cell phone booster for home.
Although signal boosters have recommendations about square foot coverage, I've found that those tend to be in the optimistic side. It really depends on how much signal you're currently getting. So you really should learn more about your current signal situation.
zBoost offers the ZB585X Trio Extreme Reach at $409 which covers up to 5,500 sq. ft. However, it only comes in two flavors, one for Verizon LTE and another for AT&T LTE. If I was certain that I would never switch carriers in the future, I'd probably go for it. But I find it very inconvenient considering if I do switch in the future. And besides, I need to also boost T-Mobile LTE for my wife, so I need a multi-carrier signal booster.
SureCall offers the Fusion5s at $850 which covers up to 6,000 sq ft. It’s a five-band amplifier meaning it covers most major carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and others, but that price point is a little out of my range. Especially considering Wilson provides a stronger model that covers up to 7,500 sq ft for $50 more.
Uniden offers the U65 at $577 which covers up to 4,000 sq ft. I'm no mathematician but more money and lower sq ft coverage than the zBoost model? I'll pass.
Wilson offers what I consider the "Goldilocks" model. The weBoost Connect 4G by Wilson Electronics is priced at $549 and covers up to 5,000 sq ft. It's multi-carrier and comes with a 2-year warranty, lifetime tech support, and free shipping.
Now I see why Wilson is the leading cell phone signal booster manufacturer in North America. Wilson also offers the Home 4G which is the baby bear model (coverage up to 1-2 rooms) and the Connect 4G-X which is the papa bear (up to 7,500 sq ft).
[Editor's Note: The previous version of this model, the Wilson DB Pro 4G, is exactly the same in terms of performance. The only changes are the name & cosmetic appearance. So this review holds true to both models.]
The Wilson weBoost Connect 4G comes in nicely designed black box. The key features on the back claims the following statement:
First things first, the instructional manual recommends watching a quick installation video of weBoost Connect 4G (470103).
Then it’s time to find strongest cellular signal which means the nearest cell tower. I prefer using a dedicated app like OpenSignal’s Signal Booster (both on iPhone and Android phones). But I'll also double check my work by finding the accurate dB reading of my cell signal.
Okay, looks like I found out the tower location. It’s to the northeast of my house. I normally get 1 bar of 4G LTE and sometimes it'll slip to 3G. Not fun. Since the boosted home signal depends on the existing outside signal, I think the Connect 4G should cover my entire home and keep it at a constant 4G signal. Time to install.
Wilson recommends creating a soft install, testing components in tentative locations before finalizing installation. Luckily, I’m using the existing path the DirecTV professional installed years ago. Boot the old dish and place the outside antenna there and make sure it points toward the cell tower (Wilson recommends installing on the roof for best results). Have to bring out the ladder and sweat a bit, but it’s a good workout. Cables need to be properly tucked and twist-tied away, but it’s a soft install, so I'll tidy up later.
The main priority is getting that boosted signal first.
Cables are connected to each antenna, hook them up to the amplifier and power it on. Amplifier lights are green, so it’s good to go. Red lights mean oscillation issues (not enough separation between the inside and outside antenna). Orange lights mean overload issues meaning it’s too close to the cell tower (didn’t think that would be an issue). Yet that problem can be easily fixed by pointing the outside antenna slightly away from the cell tower.
Okay, money shot time, let’s see the results:
Very, very pleased with the results. Actually, pretty ecstatic. From one bar to four with the flip of a switch. But of course, I’m a little greedy, I want the full five bars. Maybe have to readjust the outside antenna a bit, but for the most part, very satisfied with the weBoost Connect 4G (or Wilson DB Pro 4G if you have the older model). Now I have to tidy up, clean up the wires, take a shower, and enjoy my first foray into the a truly wireless world.
Will definitely update this review after a few months. Check out more information about the weBoost Connect 4G (470103).
[Editior's Note: Originally published in August 2014, updated January 2016.]
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