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The Guide to Cell Phone Signal Boosters

The Complete Guide to Cell Phone Signal Boosters

1. What is a Cell Phone Signal Booster?

A cell phone signal booster is a system made up of antennas, cable and a signal amplifier that takes an existing cell signal, typically found outside your home, business or vehicle, amplifies the signal and then broadcasts it to an inside area that has a weak or no signal.

In order for the system to work, there must be an existing, stable outside signal for the system to receive and amplify. Signal boosters are unfortunately not able to create signal by themselves, they only amplify and transmit cell phone signal, so if you are not able to place an external antenna in a location that has an existing signal, then a cell phone signal booster will not work for you.

2. How does a Signal Booster Work?

The general way that a cell phone signal booster for a home or business works is the outside antenna is mounted at or above the roofline of the building, in a location where it can pick up the strongest existing outside cell signal. The cell signal is received by the antenna and is sent over a cable into the building, where it is received by the signal amplifier. The amplifier boosts the cell signal significantly, and then sends it over another cable to one or many inside antennas, which broadcast the improved signal to the area where each antenna is located.

The entire process also works in reverse, so you get a strong and reliable connection back to your carrier.

The way that a cell phone signal booster for a car, truck, RV or boat works is very similar to a building booster, only the amplifier is designed to adjust to the changing outside signal faster, and the boosting power is capped to prevent interference with other nearby vehicles.

3. Types of Signal Boosters

3a. Home and Business Signal Boosters

A building cell phone signal booster is used to boost the cell signal in a home, office or any other building that requires better signal. This type of signal booster is much more powerful than a vehicle booster and is a more permanent type of installation, sometimes requiring a network of internal antennas to distribute the boosted signal to the necessary areas.

Most building boosters have the typical setup of a single external antenna mounted outside on the roof, with a network of internal antennas, and an amplifier in the middle, though some entry level boosters are able to use an "external" antenna located in an internal window instead of a roof mount outside antenna.

All new 5-band signal boosters will support all of the networks on all of the major carriers in North America, so you just need to choose the right power of amplifier, based on your outside signal strength and size of area you need to cover, and types of internal and external antennas (if your booster has different antenna options).

Shop Our Bestselling Home & Business Signal Boosters

3b. Car, Truck, RV and Marine Signal Boosters

Signal boosters for cars, trucks, RVs and Marine Vehicles (boats, ships, etc.) are all designed to handle the changing outside cell signal as the vehicle is in motion. They are also capped as to how much they can boost and cover, so they don't impact other cellular devices nearby vehicles as they are in motion, and to prevent oscillation (feedback in the booster system).

Signal boosters for cars and trucks are typically very easy to install, as none of the components require a permanent installation. The outside antenna attaches to the roof with a magnet base, the cable is run through the door frame, the amplifier can sit under a seat, and the inside antenna can be velcroed or placed on the dashboard with adhesive, or even just placed in a cupholder.

Signal boosters for RVs, large vehicles and boats are more of a permanent installation, as you need to typically run the cable in a more permanent manner between the amplifier and antennas, but are still relatively easy to install.

Shop Our Bestselling Car, Truck, RV and Marine Signal Boosters

4. How Existing Outside Signal Strength Impacts Coverage Area

The strength of the cell phone signal where you plan to mount the external antenna directly determines how large of an area you'll be able to cover inside of your home, office, or vehicle. If you have a strong external signal, you'll be able to cover an area similar in size to the advertised coverage area of the signal booster. If you have a weak external signal, the inside coverage area will be much smaller than advertised, which may require that you move up to a stronger system to obtain adequate coverage. Always keep this in mind when looking at the published square footage that is listed for each signal booster.

Understanding what the bars mean on your phone is also important to gauging how strong the signal is where you're going to be placing the external antenna. While there's no official standard for displaying cell phone signal with bars on a phone, and some phones have more or less than the traditional five bars, the rule of thumb still exists that each bar of signal is roughly 5 to 10 times the power of the previous bar. This is why it's important for people with low signal strength, such as one or two bars, to consider a stronger signal booster than what is recommended for their coverage area.

If you'd like to gauge the actual signal strength of your outside signal, then you can put your phone into field test mode, which will display the actual decibel reading of the current signal.

5. Signal Booster Components

5a. Outside Antennas

There are two different types of external antennas that you'll encounter when deciding on a signal booster for your cell phone, omni-directional and yagi (directional). As you decide how to boost cell signal in your situation, you must determine whether you need to boost cell signal in just one direction or in all directions.

Omni-directional antennas are designed to send and receive signal in all directions, so you're able to reach multiple cell phone towers at the same time and boost cell phone signal for multiple providers. If you have a moderate to strong signal in the area that you're going to be placing your external antenna, then an omni antenna is good for you. Read more about omni antennas.

Yagi antennas are designed to send and receive signal in a specific direction, so while you're not able to cover a full 360 degree area, you're still able to cover a portion of the horizon and reach a significantly greater distance to cell phone towers that you would not be able to with an omni antenna. If you have a weak outside signal, and you have a fairly clear line of sight (no mountains in the way) then a yagi antenna is a good option for you. Read more about yagi antennas.

5b. Amplifier Power

Amplifiers are rated in decibels (dBs), which measure how powerful the amplification is. Decibels are a logarithmic measurement, which means that for every 3 decibel increase, the amplifier actually doubles in strength (which also means for every 3 dB decrease, it is half as strong). If you're amplifying a weak signal and want to be sure that you'll cover the full area, choosing a stronger amplifier can be the solution.

5c. Inside Antennas

There are three different types of inside antennas to choose from when selecting the components for your cell signal booster system: whipe, dome and panel antennas. The signal booster kit that you choose will determine what your inside antenna options are.

Whip antennas are designed to attach directly to the inside antenna port on the amplifier and radiate signal outwards in all directions. They are typically a lower gain than dome or panel antennas, but do not suffer the cable signal loss that the other antenna options are subject to. Whip antennas are only found on entry to mid-level systems, and are only used to cover a single room, or multiple rooms with cell signal.

Dome antennas are designed to cover one floor with signal in all directions and are meant to be mounted on the ceiling the center of the space in order to broadcast and receive signal equally in all directions. They should not be used for multiple floors of coverage.

Panel antennas are designed to broadcast and receive signal in one specific direction, and are best suited for either long, rectangular spaces or multiple floors in a house or building. They can be mounted on the wall facing down a space or mounted facing downwards at the top of a space and broadcast down and out through multiple floors.

5d. Cable Types

Cable is used in all systems to connect the antennas to the amplifiers. Unfortunately, cables are not perfectly efficient and will lose some signal in transit, depending on the type, quality, and length of the cable. Ultra Low Loss LMR-400 cable loses 2 dB of signal over 50 feet while standard RG6 coaxial cable (like you use for cable television) loses 5 dB of signal over the same distance. When possible, you should use the shortest and highest quality cable available to ensure that a minimal amount of signal is lost from the antennas to the amplifier. If you have extra cable, you can cut it and add a connector to the new end, but this may require special tools. In general, always try to buy the correct length of cable while allowing a little extra just in case.

6. Carrier Frequencies

Cell phones communicate with cell towers using radio waves and these signals operate on various frequencies. While it used to be that you would need to choose a cell phone signal booster that supported the frequencies that your carrier operated on, now every new booster supports all of the major frequencies (typically referred to as 5 Bands), so any new booster will work for you.

Want to make sure you're getting the right booster? Shop cell phone signal boosters for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and the other major carriers in North America.

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