The following is a post mostly written for me by the folks at UberSignal.com, who sell cell phone reception boosters. They didn’t pay me anything to post this, I just thought it was useful because this has been one of my issues with my place, hopefully you find it useful too.
Everyone has a list of “deal breakers” when searching for a new apartment. These can include from price, storage space, windows, and many times, cell phone reception. While you can’t change many of these items, poor cell phone reception is actually one which can be solved. We’ve put together a list of options for ways to improve cell phone reception and make it that much easier to find your perfect place.
1. Jump Ship
The first option is the most straightforward, and that is to switch cellular carriers. If you’re not in a contract and another carrier provides better service in your apartment, switching carriers might be the easiest way to solve your signal problem. Unfortunately, most people in the US are in multi-year contracts, which cost a pretty penny to break, so this isn’t always a great option.
The second option is a device which the cellular carriers sell or give away themselves, called a femtocell (also known as a microcell). A femtocell is a device that looks like a wireless router and acts like a mini cell phone tower right in your apartment. It connects to the broadband Internet connection in your apartment, and it routes all of your calls through the Internet, rather over the cell tower network. In the past, some customers with exceptionally bad reception were able to get a femtocell for free, but that happens very rarely these days. Femtocells may also help with reception problems related to cell tower congestion, rather than just signal strength issues.
A femtocell could be a great solution, but there are some downsides to be aware of. The device requires a fast and reliable Internet connection, so it won’t work if you have a slow or spotty connection. Most femtocells have a built-in GPS receiver to ensure that it’s being used in the authorized location, so you’ll often need to place the femtocell near a window to receive a GPS signal. Lastly, since femtocells are sold by your carrier, you may not qualify for one, depending on your location, proximity to neighbors, and other factors.
If everyone in your apartment has the same carrier and you have a reliable Internet connection, a femtocell could certainly be the solution to your cell phone signal troubles. To find out more about femtocells and if they’ll work for you, call your cell phone carrier, or check out one of the following:
T-Mobile: Does not offer a microcell. Instead, their phones offer calling over wifi, essentially VOIP. If you can’t use wifi and you threaten to switch, they sometimes offer a discounted Cel-Fi signal booster. This can be seen (but not obtained) here: http://support.t-mobile.com/community/phones_data_devices/t-mobile/signal_booster
3. Signal Booster
The last solution is a cell phone signal booster. Instead of creating a new signal like a femtocell does, a cell phone signal booster amplifies an existing cell phone signal so that it’s strong enough to cover your entire apartment. It works by taking an existing cell phone signal from a nearby good location, such as outside your apartment, boosting it and rebroadcasting it inside. Installing a cell phone signal booster is a little more difficult than a femtocell, but it has some advantages that may make it worth the effort.
The major advantage of a cell phone signal booster is that it can amplify the signal of multiple carriers at the same time, unlike femtocells which only work with a single carrier. This may be important if you have other people in the apartment with different cell providers, or frequently have visitors over that need to make calls or have 3G data access. Additionally, a signal booster does not require an Internet connection to function. Finally, when you purchase a cell phone signal booster, it’s not regulated by a third party, so you’re free to place it wherever you’d like in your apartment without it being monitored.
While signal boosters do have some benefits over femtocells, they also have some disadvantages. As the name implies, a signal booster will only work if there is an existing signal to amplify. If you get a good enough signal by a window to make a call or reliably send a text message, a signal booster should work, but any less and you’ll find it ineffective. Small signal boosters will be in the same price range as a femtocell, but if you have a larger apartment or a house, it’s likely that a larger signal booster will end up being more expensive. Signal boosters require the outside and inside antennas to be far enough apart so that their isn’t any feedback between to the two (think of holding a microphone too close to a speaker) which can make installation more difficult, especially if you need to put an antenna on your building’s roof to get enough separation or a decent signal. Finally, with the introduction of 4G, choosing the best signal booster has become more difficult. A standard dual-band signal booster will work for most carrier’s 2G and 3G networks, but the new 4G networks use completely different frequencies so if you need 4G data signal boosting in addition to phone calls, you’ll need a booster specific to your carrier.
Cell phone signal booster systems will vary based on how large of a space they can cover, the frequencies they support, where you can mount the external antenna, and so on. To find out more about cell phone signal boosters for your home or apartment, contact a provider like us (UberSignal.com) that can answer any questions you might have and help you choose the right solution for your needs.
Having a reliable cell phone signal in your home or apartment is important for day to day living, and hopefully one of these options can help you out if you have poor signal currently. If you’ve had success with one of these options in the past, we’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.
[Editor’s note: Landlines can be a decent last resort :-)]