So you need a cell signal booster? We're here to help! This is our definitive, 7,000+ word guide on exactly how to find the right kit and get more bars.
This guide has two parts:
We start with our product recommendations, but we also strongly urge you to read Part 2: The Signal Guide as well. The Signal Guide contains essential information that'll help you understand how your phone and signal boosters work together.
In particular, we recommend these sections of the Signal Guide:
We’re constantly updating this document to make sure it includes the latest products and what we learn from selling and installing these devices.
The last update to this guide was on April 10th, 2018, and the next scheduled update is on May 10th, 2018.
The booster we recommend for homes and small offices depends on the signal strength outside your building. If you don't know the signal strength (measured in decibel-milliwatts, or dBm for short), outside your building, start by reading this part of our guide.
If you have strong signal outdoors of over -70 dBm, skip down to our recommendations for users with strong outdoor signal. If you have weak outdoor signal (less than -80 dBm), read on below.
A cellular signal booster works by amplifying signal from a “donor” antenna. The donor antennna is usually installed outdoors, often on the roof. If signal outdoors is weak the coverage area of the booster will depend on the amplification, or the “gain,” of the signal booster kit you use.
If signal is weak outside, you'll need a lot of gain to cover your entire home or office. The gain of your booster kit comes primarily from two components: the amplifier and the outdoor donor antenna. Most boosters are limited to between 64 dB and 72 dB gain by the FCC, however, single-carrier devices can amplify signal by up to 100 dB.
Directional antennas, such as “yagi antennas,” provide higher gain by targeting signal reception in one direction. The end result is a stronger signal for your booster to amplify, and thus better coverage. There’s more information on choosing antennas below.
If you have weak signal outside the building and only care about boosting one of either AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile, the best choice is the new Cel-Fi GO X. Released in June 2017, the GO X is a "single-carrier" booster that is approved by the FCC to offer up to 100 dB of gain. The GO X is a single-carrier booster: it will only amplify the signal from one carrier's network at a time.
The higher gain of the GO X compared to other boosters makes it perfect for areas with weak outdoor signal. With 13 dBm downlink power, the GO X can also cover a relatively large area with improved signal. A single indoor antenna should get you up to 1,000 square feet of coverage, but you can use one of our multiple-antenna kits to expand coverage up to 5,000 square feet.
Two important caveats: first, there is no support for Sprint. Second: for Verizon users, the Cel-Fi Go X only amplifies LTE signal. Almost every phone sold in the last 3 years supports Voice over LTE (VoLTE), but if you have an older phone that doesn’t support VoLTE, you’ll only see a boost in data rates and no improvement for calls.
If you have weak outdoor signal and need coverage for multiple carriers or for Sprint, the best signal booster options are either the Hi-Boost Home 15K or the SureCall Fusion4Home. Both units are limited to the 64 dB to 72 dB gain limit set by the FCC.
The Hi-Boost Home 15K offers excellent value for money, with performance comparable to much more expensive systems like the Wilson Pro 70 Plus. If you use multiple indoor antennas, you can cover up to 2,000 square feet with better signal. Of course, if your budget allows, more expensive systems like the SureCall Force5 2.0 or the Wilson Pro 1000 are definitely better options.
The Fusion4Home is a budget option, and you shouldn’t expect to cover more than a few hundred square feet (or 1-2 rooms). We strongly recommend using the kit with a directional outdoor antenna and a panel indoor antenna–you can read more about why here.
It’s frustrating: coverage outdoors is great, but your building materials prevent signal from getting into your home or office. But no need to worry - this kind of situation is actually where signal boosters work best.
When signal outside is strong, a booster acts similarly to a speaker system that is being fed by a strong feed from a microphone. It doesn't matter how much your voice is amplified – the maximum volume of the speaker system you've installed is much more important.
Speaker power is measured in Watts, but for boosters, the total downlink output power is measured in decibel-milliwatts (dBm). The most important booster specification when picking an amplifier for use in a situation with strong outdoor signal should is the downlink output power, in dBm. The amplifier's gain–a measure of its amplification–matters less.
The maximum legally-allowed downlink output power for all boosters is set by the FCC is 12 dBm. In our recommendations below, we recommend boosters that we've tested to have close to this maximum number.
A note on antenna choice: you can likely get away with using an omni-directional outdoor antenna. This makes installation easier as you don’t have to worry about pointing the antenna in the direction of nearby towers.
Our top choice for smaller homes is the SureCall Fusion4Home. While the power output is relatively low (around 5 dBm), this is a cost-effective system that can cover up to 1,500 square feet with strong signal outside. We recommend purchasing the version that includes a yagi outdoor and a panel indoor antenna (unfortunately, a version with an omni-directional outdoor antenna isn't available). The performance of the panel antenna is significantly better than the whip antenna and worth the extra money.
For larger homes and offices, we recommend using either the HiBoost Home 15K or the Wilson Pro 70 Plus. While the HiBoost brand is not as widely-known, we’ve extensively tested these devices and found them to be on par with other major brands. If you don’t mind using a lesser-known brand with slightly less nice packaging, you can save a significant amount on the total system cost by choosing the HiBoost system. Both of these units have around 10 dBm downlink power, and can cover up to 4,000 square feet when used with with 4 indoor antennas .
If you’re covering a larger building, our team of solution engineers can typically save you hours of time by helping you scope the project. There is no charge for the assistance. Call us now at (800) 761-3041 or live chat with us now.
If your building is particular large (bigger than 25,000 square feet), we also offer a turn-key installation service.
Installing signal boosters in larger buildings requires more careful consideration of the environment and outdoor signal levels, and you can save a significant amount on the total system cost by using couplers/taps to daisy-chain antennas. However, designing a daisy-chained system requires careful link budget calculations, which is why we recommend reaching out to our engineering team. Once you get in touch, we’ll create a custom design for your building, utilizing the amplifiers and components that meet your coverage and budgetary needs.
That being said, we do have some recommendations on the types of amplifiers that make the most sense in larger buildings. Our top picks include the following:
The new line of WilsonPro Enterprise Signal Boosters all perform excellently and can be purchased in a variety of formats, including rack-mountable (Wilson Pro 4000R and Wilson Pro 1000R) and wall-mountable (Wilson Pro 4000, Wilson Pro 1000, and Wilson Pro 1050) options.
The WilsonPro line includes 4-port signal boosters (Wilson Pro 4000R and Wilson Pro 4000). These 4-port devices are useful if it makes the most sense to "home-run" the cables back to a single location. The single-port signal boosters (Wilson Pro 1000, Wilson Pro 1000R and Wilson Pro 1050) are best if you’re daisy-chaining antennas.
The Wilson Pro 1050 is the only signal booster kit available from any manufacturer that includes an "in-line amplifier." This allows considerably longer runs to be used between the amplifier and indoor antennas, and is particularly useful when long cable runs are needed and outdoor signal is weak.
The downlink output power specification is critical and determines the total coverage area of the system. 11 to 14 dBm about the same as our favorite Wilson booster, the Wilson Pro 1000. The Force5 2.0 maxes out the gain limits allowed by the FCC for broadband boosters, making it a top choice for enterprise applications.
The Force5 2.0 is the only system we sell that includes both integrated remote monitoring and the ability to manually tune the amplification and output power on each band. To take advantage of the full power of the system, we highly recommend using multiple indoor antennas.
The Cel-Fi Quatra 2000 is one of the newest enterprise-grade products we carry. The technology is more advanced than any of the other boosters we sell: the Quatra digitizes cellular signal and distributes it via ethernet (Cat5e or higher) cable. This can dramatically reduce cabling costs or even allow you to avoid running any new cable by utilizing existing cable in a building.
The Quatra comes in two varieties, the original Cel-Fi Quatra, and the newly-released Cel-Fi Quatra 2000. We recommend the newer Quatra 2000 - it is compatible with 2 carriers at a time, unlike the older device that only supports one carrier per system.
A single Quatra "Network Unit" can support up to 4 "Coverage Units" (similar to indoor antennas in other systems). With 4 coverage units, a single system can cover an area of up to 50,000 square feet. Multiple systems can be installed in larger buildings to covera larger area, or to amplify signal for 4 carriers instead of 2.
The Quatra offers up to 100 dB gain, making it ideal when donor signal is weak (less than -80 dBm). Each Coverage Unit puts out up to 12 dBm of downlink output power – so installing a Quatra Network Unit with four Coverage Units is roughly equivalent to installing four more traditional booster kits.
The Quatra and Quatra 2000 also have a robust remote monitoring and alarm system that allows users to monitor overall system health.
The Verizon 4G LTE Network Extender for Enterprise (Samsung SLS-BLU102) is an enterprise-grade femtocell (a type of small cell) that can improve coverage in an area of up to 75,000 sq ft for up to 200 users.
Instead of amplifying the outdoor signal, the Verizon 4G LTE Network Extender generates a fresh cell phone signal. It creates a secure VPN tunnel back to Verizon's network over a normal Internet connection. Since the unit generates fresh signal, no outdoor coverage is required in order to use this device.
The Verizon 4G LTE Network Extender for Enterprise is an excellent choice if you only need coverage for Verizon. Multiple units can be installed in the same building to expand coverage even farther.
Two caveats though:
Similar to the limits on gain for buildings, the FCC limits the gain of mobile amplifier kits. Multi-carrier mobile boosters are limited to 50 dB gain, and single-carrier mobile signal booster kits are limited to 65 dB gain. Unfortunately the only single-carrier booster is the Cel-Fi GO M, and after recent hands-on testing we no longer recommend that unit.
We’ve sold thousands of car and truck signal booster kits, and our main tip is as follows: for best results, you’ll need your phone to be essentially sitting on top of the indoor antenna. We recommend using a Bluetooth headset or your car’s Bluetooth connection for actually making and receiving calls (it’s safer, too!).
We've sold hundreds of weBoost Drive 4G-X boosters to customers, and the feedback has been very positive. And in a recent heads-up test we did comparing the Drive 4G-X to 5 other boosters from manufacturers, we found the 4G-X to be both the best performer and the easiest to install.
It's so important though, we'll say it again: for best performance with a vehicle booster, you need to have your phone sitting directly on top of the in-vehicle antenna. To use your phone wirelessly, just sync it via Bluetooth - it's safer too!
In addition to weBoost's Drive 4G-X, we really like weBoost's "cradle" boosters. A cradle booster ensures that you always have your phone directly next to the booster's antenna. weBoost has a patent on this type of device, and while cradle boosters are limited to 23 dB gain by the FCC, performance is still considerably higher than other devices simply because of the way the cradle's antenna is kept ultra-close to the signal booster.
The brand new weBoost Drive Sleek 470135 is the latest in a long line of cradle boosters from weBoost. It's beautifully designed, with a number of aesthetic and functionality upgrades that make it our favorite car and truck booster. Due to the format, the Drive Sleek only works with one device at a time, and won't work with tablets or mobile hotspots. If you need something for those devices, consider the 4G-X.
A separate version, the weBoost Drive Sleek 470135F, is designed for Canadian users only.
Losing connectivity on the road makes long RV trips less fun – and arriving at a camp and finding you don’t have cell signal can be frustrating. Our founder was an RV owner for many years, so we learned a thing or two about which units work best while on the road.
RV signal boosters are categorized by the FCC as “mobile boosters,” which means multi-carrier, "broadband" amplifiers are limited to at most 50 dB in gain. This makes it difficult to cover the entire cabin of your RV with strong cellular signal while on the road. Instead, we recommend keeping the cell booster’s indoor antenna directly next to either your phone or a hotspot device, and then using WiFi and Bluetooth to connect through that device for Internet access and voice calls.
Our top recommendation for RV users is the Drive 4G-X OTR. It’s a great system that has been deployed by hundreds of customers for use in RVs. The 4G-X comes in 3 kit variations: the 4G-X, 4G-X OTR, and the newest model, the 4G-X RV. While the 4G-X RV is designed specifically for RV use, its clunky setup actually makes it harder to install and use than the 4G-X OTR. And it’s not just us–the great folks over at RVMobileInternet.com perform thorough field tests and reviews of every RV booster consistently rate the Drive 4G-X OTR as their top choice.
If you spend most of your time stationary at camp sites instead of on the road, you can install a booster designed for homes in place of a mobile booster. These systems are allowed more gain by the FCC - between 65dB and 72dB (depending on the frequency). We particularly recommend the SureCall Fusion4Home with an omni outdoor and indoor whip antenna. While a yagi antenna would provide better performance, trying to figure out the direction every time you arrive at a camp site would likely be a pain.
Like any technology, cell phone signal boosters can be quite complicated. Our goal in this section of the guide is help explain some of the key information about how signal boosters work, how to pick the right accessories, and how to install your signal booster to get the absolute best performance.
We’ll start with the basics, but as you read on, we'll get into more of the details of how to pick out the right booster and install it correctly.
Cell phone technology is typically released in generations; 2G, 3G, and 4G all refer to cellular technologies released over the past 30 years. While it used to be the case that 4G LTE was used for only data, increasingly carriers are using 4G LTE for both voice and data service. Here’s a quick rundown of each technology:
In the last three years, carriers have begun rolling out “Voice over LTE” technology. This allows phones to make calls entirely over the 4G LTE network, without ever connecting on the older 2G and 3G networks. Different carriers are at different stages of this roll-out:
Most people think the bars on their phone represent signal strength. But that’s not actually the case - signal bars are showing you two things:
Signal quality can limit the number of bars just as much as signal strength. Understanding this fact is really important for installing a signal booster correctly.
As we mentioned above, most cell networks utilize LTE for both calls and data transmissions. In LTE networks, signal strength and signal quality are typically called "RSRP" and "SINR."
We'll show you how to measure each of these in the Measuring Signal Strength and Signal Quality section below.
There are four things that can cause you to see fewer bars and experience dropped calls and lower data rates. Often it’s not just one of these factors but a combination that causes weak reception at any particular location.
Modern cellular technologies such as 4G LTE use the same frequency bands to transmit signal from all towers. If your phone is located between two or more towers of roughly equal signal strength, the other signal towers will act as “interferers” to the tower you’re trying to connect to, causing lower signal quality (in LTE, this is measured as RSRQ and SINR). Inter-tower interference is one of the main common reasons we see weak signal in urban and suburban areas.
Cellular signal is weakened as it travels through space. If you’re very far away from the nearest cell phone tower, your signal will likely be quite weak. The cell phone’s internal radio will have a hard time “hearing” the cell tower’s signal (the “downlink” signal), and similarly, the cell tower will have a hard time “hearing” your cell phone (the “uplink” signal).
Even if the signal outside the building or vehicle is strong, materials like drywall, wood, concrete, metal, and low-e glass can attenuate the signal, making it weaker inside a home, office, and vehicles.
In the same way that building materials block signal, your signal reception can be limited by attenuation from buildings between you and the nearest cell tower. The natural geography plays a part too: signal often can’t be received in valleys or behind hills and mountains.
A signal booster can help no matter which of these is causing poor cell reception. But in each case, there are slightly different nuances to ensuring you pick the right equipment.
Cellular service runs on a number of different bands that are licensed to the carriers by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). There are 4 main frequency bands used by carriers in the US. These four bands are supported by almost all of the boosters we sell:
There are three more bands that are used more selectively, and aren’t amplified by most broadband signal boosters:
No carrier uses just one frequency band in any particular area. Your phone will automatically switch between the different bands depending on which band offers the clearest and strongest signal.
The most important thing to know about frequency is that the higher the frequency, the more easily the signal is attenuated . So, for example, a 2500 MHz signal has a much harder time penetrating a building than a 700 MHz signal. However, it’s worth noting that higher frequencies are able to transfer more data.
How does this affect a booster installation? Even after you install a signal booster, the higher frequencies will still be attenuated more easily. As a result, boosting signal on the 700 MHz band inside a building is typically easier than boosting signal on a higher frequency band.
A signal booster works by amplifying the cell phone signal being sent to and from your phone to the nearby tower. There are three main components:
As we explained in the Understanding Bars section, signal strength and signal quality both impact the number of bars you see on your phone. Here’s how you can measure each:
The two main specifications of an amplifier that we think you should pay attention to are “gain” and “downlink power.” Here’s a little more on each:
Each of these specifications is important, but in different situations:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the organization that regulates the use of cellular frequencies in the United States. In 2014, the FCC created new regulations that apply to all signal boosters sold in the US. The FCC created two sets of regulations: one set for “broadband” devices that amplify all cellular signals from all carriers, and another set for “carrier-specific” boosters that only amplify the signal of one carrier at a time.
Since the gain of broadband boosters is limited by the FCC, we recommend using a carrier-specific booster where possible if you have weak signal at the outdoor donor antenna location. At the moment, the only carrier-specific boosters are the Cel-Fi GO X and GO M units, which work with AT&T and Verizon.
Choosing the right outdoor antenna and aiming it correctly is one of the main ways that you can improve the performance of your signal booster. There are two ways that the right donor antenna can help:
“Omni” antennas, as they’re often called, work best when you have strong and clear outdoor signal. They’re considerably simpler to install than directional antennas, as they don’t need to be aimed – but you should make sure you have 3 or more bars of signal where you’re installing the omni antenna.
While directional antennas take a little more work to aim and install, we generally recommend them to anyone who has either weaker outdoor signal or in cases where signal is strong but noisy (low SINR and RSRQ).
Aiming a directional antenna takes a little bit of effort, but the benefits are threefold:
Some people worry that installing and aiming a directional antenna means that you improve signal for one carrier while sacrificing signal on other carriers. However, this only very rarely happens: cell towers are usually clustered in one area (or even on the same pole), and generally the same direction is best for all carriers. And using a directional antenna doesn’t mean that you don’t pick up signal from other directions: just slightly less. You can still get great coverage from two towers on different carriers that are in opposite directions when using a directional antenna – one of those signals will usually be somewhat stronger, and using a directional antenna allows you to aim and equalize the signal coming from each.
Aiming a directional for most broadband, multi-carrier boosters requires two people: one person on the roof aiming the antenna, and another person standing indoors, near the signal booster’s antenna, taking signal measurements with each new location and direction. While it’s a little time-consuming, finding the right antenna location and direction can have a huge effect on your signal booster’s performance.
Cel-Fi’s line of products, including the Quatra and GO X, make aiming a directional antenna relatively painless. The devices will give you a signal reading that includes both RSRP (signal strength) and SINR (signal clarity), making it easier to try different antenna locations and directions and find the best signal.
Many of our in-building signal boosters come with options that include multiple additional antennas. So, how many antennas do you actually need? The answer’s a little complicated, but, generally: the more antennas you use, the better. Signal travels much more easily through coaxial cable than it does through air or through walls and doors. By distributing the signal throughout the building via coaxial cable, you’ll see much more consistent coverage.
Now, obviously you don’t want to be installing hundreds of antennas – at some point the number of antennas becomes unaffordable. As a rough rule, we recommend installing one antenna per 1,000 square feet of coverage for home and small office applications.
A more accurate answer needs to take into account the signal strength and clarity at the donor antenna location, the amplifier you’re using, and whether the space you’re covering is large and open or divided by walls. Generally, if your outdoor signal is weak or you’re using a weaker amplifier, you should use more antennas. If the space is more open and there are fewer walls, you can use fewer antennas.
You should use dome antennas when:
Since the cable for a dome antenna emerges from the back of the device, you need to have access to the area above where you’re installing a dome. For example, if you’re installing in an office space with removable ceiling tiles, dome antennas are the way to go. Similarly, if you’re installing in the top floor of a house with an accessible crawl space or attic above, dome antennas can easily be installed.
Dome antennas distribute signal equally in all directions, and should be installed centrally to the area you’re looking to cover. If the space is long and narrow, then a panel antenna may be a better choice
You should use panel antennas when:
Panel antennas are typically mounted on walls. The coaxial cable pigtail usually comes out of the bottom of the antenna, meaning that you don’t need to make a hole in your wall to install the antenna and connect a cable. For that reason, we recommend using panels when you’re not able to access the space behind the ceiling.
Panel antennas focus signal in a beam. Typically the beam is relatively wide (around 45 degrees), but some specialty antennas are narrower. The generally beam-forming nature of panel antennas makes them ideal when you’re trying to cover a long and thin area.