Home Cell Signal Boosters: The Complete Guide

Answers to your questions about cellular amplifiers for homes

How to setup a cell phone signal booster - Diagram

Selecting the right cell phone signal booster for your home can be very confusing. (It's difficult enough trying to decide if one will even work in your home!) Here's the information you need to make the right decision.

  1. Do I need a home cell phone signal booster?
  2. What will a home cell phone booster do for me?
  3. How does a cell phone booster work?
  4. Will a cell phone signal booster work in my home?
  5. Should I buy a 4G or a 3G signal booster system?
  6. What kinds of home cell signal boosters are available for home use?

Do I need a home cell phone signal booster?

There are many reasons you might need a cell signal booster in your home:

  • The most common reason is to improve voice and data connectivity in homes that suffer from dropped or missed calls and poor data performance.
  • Cell signal boosters can target specific carrier towers using directional antennas. This allows you to choose a specific cell tower that may have a lower user load, thus providing better voice and data performance.
  • Sometimes you'll get acceptable signal in your home because your carrier has a cell tower located nearby, but you want to accommodate friends and family members who use a different carrier that doesn't have the same level of signal quality in your home.
  • A strong cell signal will reduce your cell phone's battery consumption. Cell phones use more power when operating with weaker tower signals.

What will a home cell phone booster do for me?

A stronger cell signal in your home can:

  • Improve cellular reception throughout your home or in specific problem areas.
  • Improve your voice signal, helping to eliminate dropped calls and missed text messages.
  • Improve 4G data transfer rates for faster email, web browsing, and other apps.
  • Reduce your phone's battery consumption.

How does a cell phone booster work?

There are four basic components in a residential cell signal booster kit (with some slight variations in entry-level systems):

  1. A cell signal booster.
  2. An exterior (outside) antenna.
  3. An interior (inside) antenna.
  4. Coax cables that connect the antennas to the cell signal booster.
weBoost Connect 4G-X Cell Signal Booster

Let's look at each component in detail and see how it's used:

The cell signal booster

The cell signal booster (also known as an amplifier) is the heart of the system. It's a bidirectional (two-way) amplifier that receives, amplifes, and broadcasts signals to and from the cell tower and to and from your cell phone or other cellular device.

Each cell signal amplifier is designed to cover a specific amount of square footage. Wilson Electronics, the market leader in cell phone boosters, makes products that provide three levels of coverage:

As boosters increase in coverage, they go up in price: The more power and range you need, the more robust the equipment you'll need and higher the price you'll pay for that equipment.

Smaller amplifiers have plastic cases; larger, more powerful boosters have metal cases.

Most cellular amplifier have two ports: one for the exterior (outside) antenna and another for the interior (inside) antenna.

The amplifier comes with a power supply that you'll plug into a standard 110-volt wall socket. The amplifier is the only component in the booster system that requires electrical power.

High-quality cellular amplifiers—like the weBoost brand, designed and manufactured by Wilson Electronics—have LED lights on the front that indicate how the amplifier is performing and if there are any errors that need to be addressed.

The exterior (outside) antenna

Cell signal boosters for small and large homes come with an outdoor antenna (also called a donor antenna) that communicates with the cell tower.

You'll typically mount the donor antenna on your rooftop, where there are few obstructions between your home and the tower. (Entry-level systems have antennas that don't require rooftop installation; more on that below.)

The donor antenna is directly connected to the outside port on the cell phone signal booster via a length of coax cable.

Donor antennas come in two different types:

  • A directional antenna (either a panel or LPDA) is pointed toward a specific cell tower. Directional antennas are useful if you want to boost the signal from a single carrier, or if the towers for all major carriers are off in the same direction. They are also used when towers you don't want to use are so close to your location that they're overpowering your cell signal amplifier. Directional antennas work best when you have a good line-of-sight to the cell tower, without hills, trees, buildings, and other obstacles in your path.
  • An omnidirectional antenna collects and broadcasts cell signals in a 360-degree circle, communicating with any cell tower available in any direction. Omni donor antennas work best when you have perfectly fine outside cell signal, but that signal can't adequately penetrate inside your building. They also work well when you want to amplify signal from all major cellular carriers, regardless of the specific direction their individual cell towers are from your home.

For more help choosing the right exterior antenna, see our blog post, "Directional or Omnidirectional: Which Antenna Is Best?"

The interior (inside) antenna

The interior antenna (also called a broadcast antenna) communicates with cell phones and other cellular devices inside your home. The broadcast distance of an interior antenna is the result of multiple factors, including the power output of the booster, the strength of the outside cell signal, the length of the cables between the booster and the antennas, and the type of cable your system uses.

There are two types of interior antennas. The design or layout of your home usually determines which type of antenna will give you the best coverage.

  • A directional panel antenna broadcasts in a focused beam, like a flashlight; you aim this antenna in the direction where you want improved signal strength. Panel antennas are usually mounted on vertical surfaces, like walls or windows; they can also be mounted above or below drywall or drop ceilings, and hidden in recessed wall panels.
  • A dome antenna broadcasts in downward circle, with 360 degrees of signal coverage below it in a shape similar to a donut. Domes are usually mounted on ceilings in the middle of the area that requires enhanced cellular coverage. Dome antennas may be mounted above or below drywall or drop ceilings (ceiling materials will typically not inhibit cell signals). Dome antennas are popular and practical, are used in most commercial buildings, and work well in residential applications.

Coax cables

A cell signal booster system uses coaxial ("coax") cables to connect the exterior and interior antennas to the cell signal booster.

Coax cable comes in many different forms that work best under different circumstances. The longer and/or thinner the length of a piece of coax cable, the more signal is lost as it makes its way from the booster to the antenna. (Higher frequencies also experience more signal loss over a given length of cable than lower frequencies.)

There are three main types of coax cable used in home cell phone signal booster systems:

Wilson RG-174 coax cable
Wilson RG-174 coax cable
  • RG-6 coax cable is very popular in residential applications. You're probably already familiar with it, because it's the same type of coax cable used to connect cable and satellite boxes to TV sets. It's just over ¼ inch in diameter.

    RG-6 has about one-third the signal loss per foot, when compared to RG-174. It can be used for short runs in cellular amplifier systems, typically no longer than 30 feet.

    RG-6 coax cable is used in weBoost Connect 4G systems for small homes and as a component in the weBoost Home single-room booster system.

  • 400-series coax cable is very robust and has about half the signal loss per foot of RG-6. 400 coax is used in commercial installations that require longer coax cable runs and lower signal loss ratios.

    400 coax is larger than RG-6 (just over ⅜ inch in diameter) and much more rigid, which makes it more difficult to conceal or run around tight corners; however, its performance results are much better than RG-6.

    400-series coax cable is used in weBoost Connect 4G-X systems, and in Wilson Electronics' WilsonPro commercial systems.

Will a cell phone signal booster work in my home?

Cell signal amplifiers have been available for many years, and the technology is very solid and well-developed, so the answer to this question is "probably." There are certain conditions under which a booster system will not perform, including:

  • There is no signal in your area. A cell phone booster cannot amplify something that does not exist (just as you can't multiply by zero).
  • The cellular amplifier is too weak. If you expect to fill your 2,500-square-foot home with a usable cell signal, then you need to purchase a cell signal booster that has the right level of performance. Make sure your expectations match the system you are purchasing.
  • The amplifier boosts the wrong frequencies. Make sure the booster you purchase amplifies the frequencies your carrier uses. For example, Sprint's LTE Plus service—previously called "Spark"—operates in the 2500 MHz spectrum, which no cell booster on market will amplify. Older and less-expensive 3G boosters also don't handle the newer, faster 4G LTE frequencies (see below).

Should I buy a 4G or a 3G signal booster system?

There are two kinds of cell signal booster technologies available on the market:

  • 4G, also known as "five-band," which is newer and more expensive.
  • 3G, also known as "dual-band," which is older and less expensive.

In our opinion, you shouldn't buy a 3G cell signal booster. The major cellular carriers no longer sell 3G smartphones, and they are in the process of converting their 3G cell towers to 4G. 3G service may not be available at all by 2020.

If you use a 4G smartphone, a 3G cell signal booster won't improve your reception; your phone is using frequencies that your booster doesn't amplify. If you use a 3G phone, though, a 4G amplifier will amplify its frequencies.

What kinds of home cell signal boosters are available for home use?

Boosters for one room

Single-room boosters are designed to cover small work areas or a single small room within a home or apartment. The boosters used in these kits have lower power and performance; they're entry-level systems in the $350–400 range.

  • The weBoost Home 4G is Wilson Electronics' most popular signal booster for small rooms and workspaces.

    The Home 4G's exterior directional panel antenna can be mounted on the roof with pole-mount U-bolts, on the inside of a window with suction cups, or on an exterior wall; this gives you the greatest range of outside antenna options of any weBoost system. The exterior antenna connects to the cellular booster with one or two lengths of 30-foot RG-6 cables. A flat, 8-inch jumper cable allows you to connect the two lengths, if necessary, by running them under a window or through another tight space.

    The interior antenna connects to the booster by a 5-foot length of RG-174 cable. This directional antenna is a 5⅛-inch tower that sits on a desk or other flat surface and broadcasts in a 120-degree arc; as long as you're within the broadcast beam, you'll receive improved signal.

    You should only expect this kit to cover a portion of a single room, perhaps more if there is a strong outside cell signal.

  • The weBoost eqo ("echo") broke the mold when it debuted in April 2016. Wilson Electronics designed this booster for the quickest and easiest setup possible.

    The eqo combines the exterior antenna and the booster into a single unit that sits on your inside windowsill, eliminating the need to mount an exterior antenna and run cable from the outside of the building. One 25-foot length of RG-174 connects the booster to the interior antenna, which rests on a table, shelf, or other flat surface. The inside antenna is directional, so you'll want to point it as closely as possible at your cell phone or other cellular device.

    You can expect the eqo to cover a small room or workspace. It has the option to replace its RG-174 coax with RG-58 cable, which has about half the signal loss; this will give you much better performance and the ability to put greater separation between the amplifier and the interior antenna.

    The eqo is an especially good option for renters who aren't permitted to install antennas and pull cable. It's also highly modular, and can be adapted for use with an outside antenna or in an RV.

Boosters for small homes

The next step up from one-room cell signal boosters are systems that cover two to three rooms—a large apartment or a small house. These cell signal amplifiers are larger and more powerful than single-room units, so they're also a little more expensive (in the $550–570 range).

  • The weBoost Connect 4G is Wilson Electronics' offering in this category. This system works well in residential spaces under 2,000 square feet. Under normal conditions you can expect improved cell signal in a couple rooms in your home.

    The Connect 4G comes with an external directional LPDA antenna that you attach to a pole that you'll mount on your roof.

    The interior antenna is a directional wall-mounted panel. Powerful Signal also offers a unique Connect 4G system that includes a ceiling-mounted dome antenna, allowing you to choose either the panel or dome, depending on which works best in your home.

    Both Connect 4G systems include two 30-foot lengths of white RG-6 coax cable to connect the antennas to the booster.

Boosters for large homes

The final level for home cell signal boosters is coverage for larger homes, around 2,000 to 3,000 square feet (possibly more, if the outside cell signal is strong). These are the largest and most powerful cellular amplifier systems for residential use, and so they're correspondingly more expensive than the previous units in this review (in the $900–1,100 range).

  • The weBoost Connect 4G-X is Wilson Electronics' flagship home cell signal booster for large homes. This system's cellular amplifier has a sturdy metal case that can be easily mounted on a wall.

    The outside antenna is a directional LPDA, designed to be attached to a pole mounted on the roof of your home.

    The inside antenna is a directional panel that you can mount on a wall or other vertical surface. Powerful Signal also offers special kits that include an additional dome antenna as an alternative to the panel, or two dome antennas and a two-way splitter to run two separate inside antennas and increase the signal coverage in your home.

    The Connect 4G-X uses 400-series coax cable which, as mentioned above, is thicker and less flexible than other types of coax, but also has superior performance and very low signal loss per foot.

Boosters for commercial and other large-building applications

Finally, we'll briefly mention the WilsonPro line of cellular DAS systems (like the WilsonPro 70, at right), which are the most powerful cell phone signal amplifiers made by Wilson Electronics. These systems are designed for commercial, government, and other large buildings, up to hundreds of thousands of square feet, with one amplifier supporting as many as 16 inside antennas. WilsonPro systems are available for professional installation in extremely large homes (4,000 square feet or more).

Call Powerful Signal at 866-912-3444

…or click here to contact us online. We can help you find the right cell phone signal booster system for your house, condo, apartment, or other residence.