Tech Magazine

How To Boost Cell Phone Signal

Posted on the 14 October 2011 by Nerdywerds @NerdyWerds

Five bars; the holy grail of cell signal


  • What Not To Do
  • Femtocells
  • Cellular Signal Repeater
  • Wrap up

A little while back, I wrote an article about the reasons cell phones drop calls.I went over some of the most prevalent reason you may lose service, and some very basic ways to avoid them. But I didn't get into how to improve your signal. Lo and behold, my friend Jamie asked me on the Facebook about this very topic last night. We're not going to focus on how to hold your phone or whether your battery is charged in this article. This article is more aimed at the people that are fed up with having one or no bars in their houses. If you have strong signal at home, by all means read on and share with your friends, but this article isn't going to be very helpful to you.

Do not buy one of these, you're just wasting your money

What not to do

In my article about internet scams, I mentioned that the mentality of a scammer is to pray on desperation and need. Draw whatever conclusions you'd like, but companies do the same with fixing cell phone signal. People will try to tell you that a little patch you put under your battery is going to boost signal and fix your problems. To borrow a line from Dwight K. Schrute; "False". First of all, these little RF enhancers, or whatever they are called, are like pared down versions of the things stores use to prevent theft. The premise is that they will work like little "signal magnets", I suppose, and draw signal towards your phone. The bottom line is that these are just $5 pieces of plastic. They do nothing and you should never waste your money on them.

If you think about it for a moment, it intuitively wouldn't make sense for these to work. Think about a cell phone tower. All of the complexity that goes into creating and distributing signal. How could a one square inch piece of plastic possibly do all of that? What you'd need is something electrical, that can receive a faint signal and amplify it, or better yet, create it's own signal. That, my friends, is the only logical way to get your house out of the signal doldrums. Lucky for us, someone much more intelligent than myself has already thought of and implemented some of these devices. Unfortunately, none of these devices are as cheap as the plastic cell phone patch. But, they do actually work; so that's a nice trade off.


A femtocell is a device that actually creates a small area of service in your home. They work by connecting to your carriers service network thanks to your existing broadband connection. The beauty of a femtocell is that it essentially puts the cell phone tower in your home. Even if you don't otherwise get any cell phone signal, with a femtocell, it'd be like you're standing next to a tower. The good news about femtocell's is that most major cell phone carriers have their own version of them. In the US, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon all have femtocell products available.

At this time, the technology is limited to about 2-4 phones on the network at once. But if you have a really big family, or a small office, you can get an enterprise version that can support up to 16 devices. Setting up a femtocell is ridiculously easy. Just plug your femtocell up to your broadband internet and then plug it into the wall. And voila! The femtocell will do the rest. From there, most will include web based management services, so you can limit the people that can use your femtocell. I highly recommend programming in just the numbers of the people in your home. You'd hate for your neighbors to occupy spots on your new network.

If you're the worrying type, allow me to put your mind at ease. People have asked me what happens when you leave the range of your femtocell. The world will not end, and you won't even drop the call. When you leave your femtocell's range, your phone will automatically switch back over to the bigger cell phone network's towers. If you're on a call when you enter your house, some providers will switch you back to your femtocell, some won't. But you can always call back knowing that you have five bars.

AT&T has a femtocell that they are selling as the "3G Microcell". Microcell's differ from femtocells based on their range. By definition, a microcell can provide about two kilometers of service. AT&T's "microcell" can cover a house of up to 5,000 square feet. The cost is about $150-$200 for one of these, but you may be able to talk them down. If you call AT&T and ask them about your poor signal and possibly even drop the line that you'd love to stay with them but Verizon has better service in your area, they may cut you a deal. It's always worth a shot. Sprint and Verizon label their femtocells as "network extenders". Sprint's version, the "Airave" can be purchased for under $100 online. Verizon's network extender can be yours for between $100-$150. Both companies may be able to be persuaded to give you one of these gratis, if you've been with them long enough.

Cellular Signal Repeaters

The other device I'll recommend for boosting your cell phone signal is a repeater. A cellular signal repeater works by receiving a signal and then amplifying and re-broadcasting it. There are situations where one of these would be preferable to a femtocell, and there are scenarios where they wouldn't be. If you can get a femtocell, I'd recommend going with that one as a first choice, and this as a second. Where the femtocell is a nice compact unit, a repeater requires the usage of outdoor and indoor antennae. They also require a signal to amplify. They can't create their own like a femtocell. So if you're in an apartment that won't allow antennae, or an area of no service, I'd go with the femtocell. These are also much more expensive than carrier provided femtocells, since there is no carrier subsidizing your expenses for them.

But if you're on T-mobile, Metro PCS or any other network that hasn't produced their own femtocell solutions, this may be the way to go. As I mentioned before, you'll need an outdoor antenna to receive the signal. You'll then need an amplifier unit to boost the signal strength, then you'll need an indoor antenna to rebroadcast the boosted signal. The setup may seem a bit cumbersome, but there is a nice advantage to this setup. With a repeater, you're not limited to 4 devices. If you live in an apartment, and can talk the management into letting you use one of these, you may be able to get your neighbors to split the cost with you.

Speaking of cost; these things aren't cheap. A typical setup will run you around $400-$500 for a good unit. But if your network doesn't have a femtocell device, and your service is poor, this may be your only choice. Also, a repeater doesn't care what network you are on. It just boosts and rebroadcasts a signal, so it's an ideal fix for a family of varied networks.

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