Complete Guide to Home Cell Signal Boosters
Powerful Signal answers your questions about cellular amplifiers for homes.
Updated May 20, 2020
Choosing the right cell phone signal booster can be challenging. Here’s the information you need to make the right decision.
Do I need a home cell phone signal booster?
There are several reasons why 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):
- A cell signal booster.
- An outside (donor) antenna.
- An inside (broadcast) antenna.
- Coax cables that connect the antennas to the 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 called an amplifier) is the heart of the system. It’s a bidirectional (two-way) amplifier that receives, amplifies, and broadcasts signals to and from the cell tower and to and from one or more cell phones.
Booster manufacturers design their products to provide different levels of power for different amounts of indoor coverage:
- A single room, office, or small work area (1 room).
- An apartment or small house (2 to 3 rooms).
- A large house (2,000 square feet and up).
As boosters increase in power and coverage are, they go up in price: The more power you need, the more robust the booster you’ll need and higher the price you’ll pay for that booster system.
Smaller amplifiers usually have plastic cases; larger, more powerful boosters have metal cases.
Most cellular amplifiers have two ports: one for an outside (donor) antenna; the other for an inside (broadcast) antenna.
The amplifier comes with a power supply that plugs into a standard 120-volt wall socket. The amplifier is the only component in the booster system that requires electrical power.
Cellular amplifiers have LED lights or an LCD display that indicate how the amplifier is performing and if there are any errors that need to be addressed.
The outside (donor) antenna
A cell signal booster for a home comes with an outdoor antenna that communicates with the cell tower.
You’ll usually 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 connects 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 (an LPDA or a panel) is pointed toward a specific cell tower. Directional antennas are useful if you want to boost the signal from one carrier or tower. 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 all around it, communicating with every cell tower available in a 360° field of view. Omni donor antennas work best when you don’t have a direct line of sight to a cell tower or you want to boost signal from two or more towers or carriers. Omni antennas don’t need to be tuned (aimed in a specific direction) and are therefore easier to set up than directional antennas.
For more help choosing the right exterior antenna, see our Knowledge Base article, “Should I use a directional or omnidirectional outside antenna?”
The inside (broadcast) antenna
The indoor antenna communicates with cell phones and other cellular devices inside your home.
The broadcast distance of an interior antenna depends on the antenna design, 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 indoor 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 signal outward in a shape resembling a balloon. You’ll aim this antenna in the direction where you need improved cellular signal. Panel antennas are usually mounted vertically on walls and may be concealed in recessed wall panels. They can also be mounted horizontally above or below drywall or drop ceilings (although a dome antenna is usually better-suited for that purpose).
- A dome antenna broadcasts in downward circle, with a 360° signal pattern below it in the shape of a donut. Dome antennas are usually mounted on ceilings in the center of the area that needs enhanced cellular coverage. They may be mounted above or below drywall or drop ceilings, as those light materials don’t block cellular signal. Dome antennas are popular and practical; they are used in most commercial buildings and also work well in homes.
A cell signal booster system uses coaxial cables (often just called “coax”) to connect the outside and inside antennas to the cell signal booster.
Coax cables come in many different sizes for different circumstances. The longer and/or thinner the length of a cable, the more signal it loses 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:
Will a cell phone signal booster work in my home?
Cell signal boosters have been available for many years and their technology has matured, so the answer to this question is “probably.” There are certain conditions in which a booster will not work; some of these include:
- There is no cellular signal in your area. A cell phone booster can’t amplify signal that it can’t receive. (Multiply any number by zero and you’ll always get zero.)
- The cellular amplifier is too weak. If you expect to fill your 3,000-square-foot home with a usable cell signal, you’ll need to purchase a cell signal booster that has enough power to do the job. Be sure that your coverage expectations line up with the specifications of the system you buy.
- The amplifier boosts the wrong frequencies. Make sure the booster you purchase amplifies the frequencies your carrier uses. For example, there are no consumer boosters that amplify AT&T’s band 30 (2300 MHz) or Sprint and T-Mobile’s band 41 (LTE Plus). Older 3G boosters also don’t amplify newer, faster 4G LTE/5G frequencies (which we’ll discuss next).
Should I buy a 3G signal booster?
Until 2014, all cell signal boosters were dual-band units that amplified the two frequencies used by 3G cellular networks (800MHz and 1900 MHz).
Around 2014, when 4G networks started becoming widespread, manufacturers began producing five-band systems that amplified the wider set of frequencies used by 4G LTE networks (upper and lower 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 1700/2100 MHz, and 1900 MHz). These frequencies will continue to be used by new 5G networks.
Cellular carriers are in the process of shutting off 3G nation-wide. Because 3G is no longer available in many areas—and soon won’t be available anywhere—, we strongly recommend that you do not purchase a dual-band/3G signal booster. A 3G booster won’t amplify 4G or 5G frequencies.
To learn more, see our article, “Cellular Frequency Bands.”