Do cell phone signal repeaters actually work?
August 24, 2010 8:50 PM   Subscribe

Do cell phone signal boosters like this one from Radio Shack actually work? Apparently an external antenna is mounted outside your home, and this is connected to a "desktop amplifier." In most rooms in my house, I'm riding with a single bar of signal (thank you, AT&T). If this can help, I'm all in. Does anyone have any experience with one of these?
posted by jackypaper to Technology (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have Verizon FIOS service for my home phone, TV and internet connection. I have a Verizon cell phone. I do not get service inside my house in any meaningful way. I just got this Verizon Network Extender for about $100 after rebate. It works real well. I am now at the point of considering dropping my FIOS landline. I would ask AT&T if they have a similar product. The only catch was that I needed to have Verizon internet service.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:57 PM on August 24, 2010

Forgot link. Here it is.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:58 PM on August 24, 2010

If you have ATT, you might want to get their microcell. It uses your home broadband connection. They'll often come way down on the equipment price (they sent me a letter saying I could get one for $50) but the bad news is it is $20/mth. But for that fee, you get unlimited calls to anywhere in the US and it doesn't go against your monthly minutes. It doesn't do data but if your phone has wifi you can use that.

About a week after they sent me a letter my signal suddenly improved to full bars because they added a tower nearby so I no longer need it.
posted by birdherder at 9:00 PM on August 24, 2010

I haven't used that exact unit, but have set up similar devices and seen a marked improvement in signal strength. To avoid strife and heartache, make sure the one you buy supports all the frequencies used by cell phone owners in your house.

If you're in an area where it's available and are only interested in boosting your own signal (and that of other AT&T customers who live with you) this might be a better option. Note that it only supports 10 handsets, and each of those handsets has to be specifically registered with the device so your friends are out of luck unless you add them.

(On preview, what birdherder, except that I didn't know they charged a monthly fee. How utterly lame, since the entire purpose of the device you're buying from them is to compensate for their poor network coverage in the first place.)
posted by contraption at 9:05 PM on August 24, 2010

Here's the one I've installed and can vouch for. 2500 square feet is optimistic based on my experience, but then again my main experience was with a massive poured concrete modernist house that didn't let any sort of RF signal get very far.
posted by contraption at 9:10 PM on August 24, 2010

Yes, they work, but i'm not sure i'd buy one from Radio Shack. There are specialty vendors out there that have a variety of devices for various needs. They require some fiddling (knowing what direction your nearest cell site is in either directly or by trial and error), so be prepared for that.
posted by arimathea at 9:12 PM on August 24, 2010

Just got an ATT microcell and after two days am still befuddled by it. Intermittent service, spotty reception and a lot of problems with my iPhone in general. But my roomate with a regular old 3G phone things it works great. It is 150 bucks but it was pretty much the only option for me. And no, you dint have to get the monthly contract. I actually signed up for ATT Internet and the unlimited microcell calling plan and got a rebate of almost 130 bucks in the microcell. If I'm feeling frisky, I think I'll justcancel the unlimited plan after my rebate comes through and that takes the total cost down to just 30 or so bucks.
posted by willie11 at 12:41 AM on August 25, 2010

Not exactly an answer, but it's worth noticing that these devices are a way for the cell phone companies to off-load infrastructure costs onto end consumers, in a very piecemeal way... There's no way in hell I would pay a monthly cost for a device like this. I do have a similar device for boosting wireless signals (a repeater) that works very well, and is likely an almost identical technology; $20 on new egg three years ago, and still works great. It wouldn't work for a cell phone, of course, but I would keep that price point in mind as you look around.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:17 AM on August 25, 2010

I live in a hilly area where pretty much all carriers provide spotty service, not just AT&T; it's been that way for the 10+ years I've lived here and doesn't appear to be improving. I'm not thrilled about paying extra for acceptable service, but realistically I don't see another option. When I heard about the MicroCell I went out and bought one immediately, choosing the $150/no monthly charge option. You've got 30 days to return it if you're not satisfied.

Setup's easy--you just plug it into your internet router and let it sit for an hour or two. My service now is not perfect, but it's orders of magnitude better than what I had before. I've got four or five bars throughout my house on my iPhone 3GS. The people I'm talking to can always hear me, loud and clear. If I get too far away from the unit while I'm on the phone, sometimes I hear their voices break up a bit. It doesn't seem to like my habit of wandering around the house while I talk--my reception stays perfect if I stay in one spot.

All in all, it's a huge improvement for me and I'll be keeping it. Here's a forum where people complain about it if you want more perspectives.
posted by magicbus at 5:56 AM on August 25, 2010

I have installed a Wilson setup in an office building that, for some reason, was a total dead zone. It was a higher end system than the one you're looking at, but the concept is the same. You install a tiny yagi antenna on your roof facing the nearest cell tower, it grabs the signal, sends it through an amplifier, and pipes that boosted signal out into your building via small broadcast antennas.
It worked great -- everyone in the office had 5 bars of reception, although you can't rate the ultimate signal by that. If the signal on the roof is only 50%, the system will broadcast that 50% signal at 100% inside.
I still highly recommend these systems... they really work and you just install them and forget about them.

As someone mentioned, be sure to check your phone's frequency. In my experience, the only phone it didn't work for was a Nextel direct connect phone.
posted by PSB at 6:39 AM on August 25, 2010

If you can find enough users in the area with the same problem, you might be able to convince ATT to install a tower near you or on the roof of a nearby business. I've done this with Sprint at an office building at a big university/hospital complex. I found a phone number for the sales rep for the health care division on their website, called and explained that nobody in the building could get service, and they followed up with a tower on the roof. No charge to any customers. If you live in a city this might work; residential or rural area - not so much.
posted by CathyG at 7:40 AM on August 25, 2010

The huge caveat about the AT&T microcell is that it uses your broadband internet connection (which, I assume, you are paying someone else for, like Comcast) If you are a heavy phone user, especially data, this will have the effect of running-up your internet usage, potentially running close to any monthly data cap your ISP might have.

Also, even though you will not be using AT&T's network, AT&T will still be charging you your normal rate for data. That's ok, of course, if you have an unlimited plan, but, if you don't, it becomes a bit of a "screw you" on the part of AT&T...Our service sucks, here's a an additional box you can buy from us, you have to use your internet connection, but we're still going to charge you as if you still using our network.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:24 AM on August 25, 2010

I used a different box made by Wilson, and it really helped a great deal. The signal at my place was very spotty -- I could get a signal in a couple of spots outside the house but if I wanted to have a conversation I had to keep my head completely still and even then the calls would often drop. With the booster, I got 2 bars on average. I mainly used the booster with a 3G internet access device because I couldn't get internet access any other way from my place. It wasn't blazingly fast or anything, but was a lot better than dial up.
posted by Emanuel at 9:18 AM on August 25, 2010

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