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You know the frustration: you’re stuck in a location where your cell phone’s bars have dwindled down to one or two, which means no calls, no texts, and no social media.
Thankfully, a cell phone signal booster can save the day.
Cell phone signal boosters amplify weak signals. This means more bars on your phone, even if you work or live in a location far from a cell tower.
But how do you pick the right booster for your phone? Just ask us!
At BestReviews, we do the research for you. We also talk to other customers and the experts. And because we never accept free samples from manufacturers, you can trust our advice to be bias-free.
If you’re ready to supercharge your signal, check out the matrix above for our top five picks for the best boosters out there.
However, if you need to know more before you buy, simply keep reading for our full shopping guide.
A cell phone signal booster uses an outdoor antenna to search for cell phone signals in the area. It captures those signals and boosts their power with a signal booster.
An indoor antenna broadcasts the strengthened signal so that your phone can receive it.
Cell phone signal booster kits have three components (though sometimes two of the components are combined into one device).
The power of a signal booster is measured in decibels, or db.
When sending data from your smartphone back to the cellular network, the system works in reverse. The indoor antenna receives the signal from your smartphone. It then sends the signal to the signal booster, which strengthens and amplifies the signal. That signal travels to the outdoor antenna, which makes the connection with the cell phone network tower.
Some cell phone signal boosters have a limit on the number of devices that can be connected to them at one time.
You install the outdoor (or external) antenna. Cell phone signal boosters cannot generate their own signal; they can only amplify an existing signal. So it’s important for the outdoor antenna to be able to pull the strongest possible cell signal from a tower.
Omni-directional Outdoor Antenna: An omni-directional outdoor antenna reads signals that originate from any direction. If you have multiple cell phone towers in your area, this is the best type of outdoor antenna to use. This type of antenna also works well if the external signal strength is average in your area.
Directional Outdoor Antenna: Also called a Yagi antenna, a directional outdoor antenna is aimed in a particular direction. This works well if you have only one cell tower in your area. You can aim the directional antenna at the existing tower to receive the most direct line to the signal. This type of antenna works especially well if you have weaker-than-average signal strength in your area.
When trying to decide where to install an antenna, use your smartphone. Look at the number of signal bars you receive in different areas. Pick the area with the most bars.
The indoor antenna sends the amplified or boosted signal through the building. There are two types of indoor antennas. Consider how you’ll use the antenna before selecting one.
Indoor Dome Antenna: An indoor dome antenna sends and receives signals in all directions. This is best used in the center of a room or building where it can reach all areas. A dome antenna works best on a single floor of a home or building, as its signal doesn’t go through floors well.
Indoor Panel Antenna: An indoor panel antenna sends and receives signals from one direction. This is best used in a rectangular area where the one-way signal can reach the length of the floor or room. You could also place the antenna on an upper floor and aim its signal downward to lower floors.
A cell phone signal booster kit will list its expected coverage area in square feet.
Different cellular carriers use different frequencies and networks.
Your cell phone signal booster kit needs to be able to handle the signal from your particular carrier. The booster kit should list which technologies it works with.
If you’re unsure what type of signal you receive from the cell tower in your area, call your cellular provider; they can give you that information. Match that signal to your signal booster kit.
Here are some of the terms you need to understand when trying to match a booster kit to your carrier.
2G: 2G is an older technology with slower speeds. Many cellular providers around the world still provide support for 2G technology. But most cellular carriers in the U.S. are shutting down their 2G networks. This will free the 2G bands to carry higher-speed signals. Not all signal booster kits provide support for 2G.
3G: Nearly all cell phone signal boosters offer support for 3G. 3G is the most common signal used in the world currently. It is not the fastest technology available, however.
4G: Many cell phone signal boosters provide at least some support for 4G, the fastest signal currently available. However, because there are different types of 4G, you need to know what type is available in your area. Some 4G signals use LTE technology, while others use WiMax.
Some booster kits work better with a 4G signal than a 3G signal. Know what type of signal you want to receive before picking a kit.
5G: 5G technology will become widely available in the next few years. At this point, because it is so new, very few signal boosters support 5G. Because it will take several years for cellular companies to fully incorporate 5G, you don’t need 5G support in your booster kit at this time.
Dual-band: A dual-band device is one that can use two frequencies. Primarily, a dual-band booster kit can accept signals in the 850MHz and 1900MHz wireless bands. Many cellular providers use these bands for 2G and 3G signals.
AWS: AWS refers to the 1,700-MHz and 2,100-MHz wireless frequencies that some cellular providers use. These frequencies primarily appear in 3G and 4G LTE networks. Some boosters are able to support both AWS frequencies.
700 MHz: Some carriers use the 700 MHz wireless band for 4G LTE, although this is rare.
Cell phone signal booster kits should work with signals from multiple cellular carriers.
The primary reason to use a cell phone signal booster is to amplify a weak cellular signal. But there are other benefits as well.
With the help of a cell phone signal booster, your smartphone won’t be forced to search for a weak signal. Thus, battery performance will improve. Smartphones use more battery power when searching for a signal than if the signal is steady and strong.
If there are certain areas of your home or building that don’t receive a cell signal, the booster eliminates these. The signal may be weak in these former dead zones, but it will be better than no signal at all.
The more cable you use, the more signal strength you sacrifice. Across 50 feet of cable, you lose between two and five decibels of signal power.
With a stronger cellular signal, you’ll receive text messages faster and more consistently. If you rely on texting for communicating with your coworkers, you need a strong cell signal.
When sending documents or photos, a strong, steady signal is necessary. With a cell phone signal booster, you won’t have to worry about an upload or download getting dropped in the middle of a transfer.
If you like to watch videos or stream music on your smartphone, a strong signal is a must. If the signal is weak or intermittent, an audio or video stream could freeze or stop.
Q. How much area can an indoor antenna cover?
A. The coverage area for a cell phone signal booster is listed in square feet in a kit’s specifications. However, the full coverage area is only available under ideal conditions. If the signal you’re trying to boost is of average strength, you’ll receive nearly 100% of the listed coverage area. But if the original cell signal is weak, the booster’s coverage area will shrink quite a bit in real-world conditions. As a rule of thumb, anticipate getting 50% to 75% of the listed coverage area if the original signal is weak.
Q. What type of cable should I use with my system?
A. Most cell phone signal booster kits come with cables. However, you may decide to use a different type of cable. For example, an ultra low loss cable will outperform a coaxial cable in maintaining signal strength over a distance, and you might prefer that. Try to use the minimum amount of cable you can. A shorter cable equals a stronger signal.
Q. Can I use my cell phone signal booster in my vehicle?
A. In this article, we are looking at cell phone signal booster kits for inside a home or building. Signal boosters for cars are different types of devices.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.