- General

How to Choose the Right Cell Phone Amplifier and Antenna

We have always been heavily involved with the internet and e-commerce so when we bought an RV and started to do some traveling it soon became clear that we would have to find some way to take our internet with us.

We looked into satellites systems and different cellular phone companies trying to find a service that would allow us to talk to our office and work on the Internet while on the road in our RV. Although satellite systems are nice when stationary, they are very costly, the Internet is slow and they are too hard to set up when traveling. It seems our only portable choice was a cellular data card. While this worked well when we were within a major city area it tended to be unstable while traveling and when in a rural area. So what were we to do?

We discovered Cellular Signal Amplifiers and it solved our problem. We were so hooked that we soon decided to offer these solutions to others.

When we first begin talking to a potential customer there are 2 questions that are always asked.

  • How does it work?
  • How much does it cost?

In a nutshell here is how it works… A cell signal sent from a cell tower is picked up by an external antenna, which feeds it to an amplifier which boosts the signal and sends it to an internal antenna which your phone or data card picks up. The reverse occurs when sending the signal back to the cell tower. This works with the phone signal and the Internet EVDO signal.

The answer to the second question will depend on what you need. Do you want to just get better coverage when you are in your car? Maybe your home has spotty cell phone coverage and you want to stablize it or not stand in the middle of the road to place a call. Do your want a wireless connection or are you fine with something that connects to your phone. Do you need a system you can take where ever you are and will work in your car and in your home.

A very important thing you need to know…

You have to have a signal to begin with to boost it. If there is no signal there is nothing to boost. Several things can affect your signal. Wet trees, weather, brick siding on your home, metal, hills, electrical power lines and mostly, distance to the cell tower.

When choosing a cellular amplifier, what do you look for?

First, the FCC regulates the power allowed, so not to interfere with other frequencies. Look at the amplifier’s gain and power out. As stated above, Gain is the number of times the power into the amplifier is increased at the out-put of the amplifier. Gain is expressed in db’s, a way to make large numbers easier to write. The maximum power out allowed is 3 watts. If too much gain is sent into 3 watts of power, the sound is distorted and power is wasted. Since we just want a cell phone amplifier not an education, just use 40 db’s as a max for automobiles and 50 db’s to 60 db’s for houses. Motor-homes can be considered either way, vehicle or house. On a powerful amplifier the distance needed for inside and outside Dual-Band Omni directional antennas is around 20 to 25 feet. If the Motor-home is shorter than that, a less powerful amplifier should be used or a Dual-Band directional inside antenna.

Choosing a Cell Signal Amplifier and Antenna

Mobile Systems

Let’s start with mobile systems. In a car or Semi you have limited space to arrange components. The more powerful the amplifier the more distance is required between the external antenna and the internal antenna so there is no oscillating interference with the signals.

In a car a powerful amplifier will not work well due to the length of the vehicle. A magnetic Dual-Band Omni directional antenna is perfect for outside with a medium power cell phone booster. If more than one person is going to use the signal, a low profile ultra slim Dual-Band inside antenna should be used. Any time a wireless connection is used, signal strength is less. If only one person is going to use the signal, a direct connection to the cell phone is more efficient. This can be accomplished with either a special phone cord adapter or a universal cell phone connector.

There are several kits that we recommend that works well in a car.

Wilson Electronics SignalBoost Mobile Pro Wireless Amplifier 801243- Mostly used in the car (we have this unit in our jeep) this portable unit can easily be brought inside a building when needed with an optional accessory kit. It comes with a small wireless amplifier which means nothing is connected to your phone. The outside antenna has a magnetic base to stick to the roof of your car. The interior antenna is built into the amplifier. This Dual-Band kit is perfect if more than one person will be using it with different phone systems,

Wilson Electronics iBooster Sleek Cell Phone Signal Booster 815226 – The Sleek iBooster is a phone cradle with a built-in Amplifier. It also has a built in port for battery charging. The Sleek will fit most cell phones.

These are just a few kits available. Wilson has several outstanding kits available like the ones above. Visit our website for more information on these.

Recreational Vehicles

In RVs where a strong cellular signal may be needed, you may not know where the cell tower is. In this case you should use an omni-directional external Dual-Band antenna and a directional inside Dual-Band antenna. This allows you to pick up the signal and use a powerful cellular amplifier and direct the inside signal away from the external antenna.

Home, Home office, Cabin

In a house or cabin, the set up is different. A home or cabin is stationary so a more powerful cellular amplifier can be used with an outside antenna and an inside antenna so there is no interference with each antennas’ signal.

External Antenna

For the best service and if you know where the cell tower is located you should use an Omni directional or a Yagi directional antenna as an outside antenna.

With the Yagi directional antenna, you will need to point it toward the cell tower to receive the proper signal. If the location of a cell tower is not known, most cell phones have a signal strength meter that can be used to locate the strongest signal. With your cell phone turned on find your signal strength. The strongest signal will determine the direction of the cell tower. We have a handy article on how to find your signal strength for most phones. Signal Strength is measured in negative numbers. Move your phone in small increments, wait 10 seconds, and check your signal strength. The higher the number, the stronger your signal. For example, -60 dB is a stronger signal than -75 dB.

The Omni antenna receives the signal from all directions, but it also sends in all directions. This means the inside antenna can affect the signal if it is too close to the outside omni antenna.

The proper distance between the inside and outside antenna depends on the power of the cellular amplifier or booster. If using a more powerful cellular amplifier, it is recommended you use directional antennas. In RVs where a strong cellular signal may be needed, you may not know where the cell tower is. In this case you should use an omni external Dual-Band antenna and a directional inside Dual-Band antenna. This allows you to pick up the signal and use a powerful cellular amplifier and direct the inside signal away from the external antenna. In a car a powerful amplifier will not work well due to the length of the vehicle. A magnetic Dual-Band Omni directional antenna is perfect for outside with a medium power cell phone booster. If more than one person is going to use the signal, a low profile ultra slim Dual-Band inside antenna should be used. Any time a wireless connection is used, signal strength is less. If only one person is going to use the signal, a direct connection to the cell phone is more efficient. This can be accomplished with either a special phone cord adapter or a universal cell phone connector.

Understanding what some stuff means

Band or Frequency Range-The first thing you need to know is what Band or Frequency Range you are transmitting on. As a rule of thumb we don’t generally know this information off hand but you can visit a website called Wireless Advisor, type in your zipcode in “Find Service”. It will list the providers in your area, the band they are transmitting on and technology used.

You will get the most power if you select a system that is specifically for your cellular band range. However, when friends and families come to visit you would like for them to be able to use their phones as well. Wilson offers dual band systems that will cover everything except Nextel. For Nextel you need to chose a system that supports the iDen platform. We have tried to make it easy for you by listing the band in the Specification breakdown for each unit on our website. When in doubt, select a Dual-Band system.

Bands apply to Antenna’s as well so when choosing an antenna make sure it is made for the same Frequency Range.

Gain– Gain is the number of times the signal into the booster is increased at it’s output. More gain does not necessarily mean more power though. The gain also has to bear in mind how far away the internal antenna is from the amplifer. The FCC regulates the power output allowed on amplifiers to 3 Watts. The Gain helps regulate the power output so it does not distort the signal.

There are more scenarios that may occur than what I have outlined above but hopefully you have a little better understanding. After reading this, if you are still not sure or if you need some advise, give us a call and we can help you figure it out.