Boosting Cell Phone Signal at Home
May 17, 2018 1:54 PM   Subscribe

I just bought a house that is apparently in a cell phone coverage dead zone. I get two bars on my iPhone at best - the internet barely works at all, and even voice calls cut in and out. This house is right in the middle of the city (Raleigh, North Carolina), but in a wooded area on the far edge of the neighborhood near a creek.

I have Verizon, and their coverage maps do not indicate a hole in in this area. Someone else with AT&T was at my house and their iPhone did not have any service whatsoever, so I don't think it's necessarily a Verizon specific issue.

What can I do about this? Verizon has a few things for sale on its website that claim to boost signals, ranging from $19 to $249. What are the differences in these items? Will any of them work well (or not at all)? Is there something better?

posted by something something to Technology (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Do you have WiFi? Does your phone have WiFi calling?
posted by zamboni at 1:58 PM on May 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

We got a network extender from Verizon (my in-laws basically complained until they gave us one for free, because they couldn't fix the problem otherwise.) It worked very well, although only for Verizon customers! Visitors on other networks were out of luck.

Our problem was being in the shadow of a mountain and not having a tower at the right angle, I think, so if you have a different problem - interference from your actual house or something - it may or may not work. But I can attest to the success of nagging Verizon about your phone that doesn't work, that you are paying for, until they do something.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:59 PM on May 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yeah before you buy anything, call Verizon, explain the issue and ask if there's anything they'll give you to extend the signal. I'm on T-Mobile and had the same problem and they sent us an extender free of charge. We have to return it if we cancel service (or pay them like $200) but nothing charged up front and it fixed the problem.
posted by griphus at 2:29 PM on May 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

I got an extender for free from Verizon when I had their service and now after a little haggling from AT&T for free too. We told them that their coverage map says it is ok so we signed up and now we find it is not so please fix it.
posted by AugustWest at 2:32 PM on May 17, 2018

(If VZ balks, lmk and I will see if I still have my VZ extender in a closet somewhere. Likely.)
posted by AugustWest at 2:34 PM on May 17, 2018

We lived in an apartment on the light well and couldn't get any bars. T-mobile be us a signal extender but it didn't help since there was no signal to extend. We used wifi calling whenever we were home.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 2:38 PM on May 17, 2018

The Verizon Cell extender is a femtocell that acts like a true cell tower. It doesn't amplify a weak signal but generates its own. It requires a broadband connection as it, in essence, turns your cell conversation into a VOIP call and using your wired net connection to conduct the actual call.
posted by bz at 4:06 PM on May 17, 2018

The other option is a repeater from Wilson or similar, but that requires much messing about with antennas. The right model will work for all of the carriers, though. Better to use whatever your carrier provides if you have reliable broadband service available.
posted by wierdo at 5:56 PM on May 17, 2018

Best answer: Seconding WiFi Calling as a good solution. I've tried femtocells and antenna repeaters and they're a mess. WiFi Calling can fail too, but it seems much more reliable.
posted by Nelson at 6:20 PM on May 17, 2018

Honestly, this is the reason we have a land line. They do still exist.
posted by anastasiav at 7:16 PM on May 17, 2018

When we lived in a weird AT&T deadzone in Cary we were able to get a femtocell antenna from them for free (or very cheap, I forget) and it worked really well. Like restless_nomad says, it doesn't work for phones on other networks, and even for AT&T phones you had to register the number using a simple little webform before it would permit the phone to connect. It also means that if power goes out, so does your reception, so keep that in mind.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:41 AM on May 18, 2018

Is this is a newly constructed home? And do you get any improvement in signal if you stand near a window or outdoors?

If you do, it could indicate that your house has a metal-backed insulation or whatever was used to wrap it is Mylar/metal-film based. Basically that would mean you're living inside a Faraday cage which is an enclosure that blocks electromagnetic energy (ie - cell phone signals).

You'd need to add some sort of outside antenna to overcome this problem.

posted by sandpine at 11:30 AM on May 18, 2018

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