Complete Guide to Home Cell Signal Boosters
Powerful Signal answers your questions about cellular amplifiers for homes.
Updated February 19, 2021
It can be a challenge to find the right cell phone signal booster for your home. Powerful Signal is here to help you—here’s what you need to know 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 cellular voice and data in homes that suffer from dropped or missed calls and poor data performance.
- You may get acceptable signal in your home, but you want to accommodate friends and family members who use different carriers and don’t get acceptable signal strength in your home.
- A strong cell signal in your home will reduce your cell phone’s battery consumption. Cell phones use more power when they have to connect to weaker, more distant towers.
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 call quality and eliminate dropped calls and delayed text messages.
- Increase your data speed for faster email, web browsing, and app usage.
- Reduce your phone’s battery consumption.
How does a cell phone booster work?
There are four primary components in a home cell signal booster system:
- A cell signal booster.
- An outside antenna.
- An inside antenna.
- Coax cables that connect the antennas to the booster.
Let’s examine each component and see how it’s used:
The cell signal booster
The cell signal booster is the heart of the system. It’s a two-way (bidirectional) amplifier that receives, amplifies, and broadcasts signal to and from cell towers (outside) and to and from cell phones (inside).
Different boosters provide different levels of power to cover apartments and small homes or large homes. As booster models increase in power and coverage area, they go up in price: The weaker the available outside signal and/or the more area you need to cover inside your home, the more powerful the booster has to be and the higher the price you can expect pay.
Most cell signal boosters have two ports—one for an outside antenna and one for an inside antenna.
The booster’s power supply plugs into a standard 120-volt AC wall socket. The booster is the only component in the system that requires electrical power.
A cellular booster has LED lights, an LCD display, or a smartphone app that tells you how it’s performing and if there are any problems that you need to address by changing the locations of the antennas.
The outside antenna
The cell signal booster uses a donor antenna to send and receive signal from the cell tower.
You’ll usually mount the donor antenna on your roof, high enough so that it has an unobstructed line of sight to one or more cell phone towers. You can also mount this antenna on a pole or tower next to your home.
The donor antenna connects to the Outside port on the cell signal booster via a run of coax cable. You can bring that cable into the house through a vent, another existing opening, or a penetration point you create.
There are two different types of donor antennas:
- A directional antenna (an LPDA, a Yagi, or a panel) points at a specific cell tower. A directional antenna is your best option if you only need to boost the signal from one carrier and you have a good line of sight to the cell tower, without hills, trees, buildings, and other obstacles in your path. Directional antennas provide higher signal gain with less noise, so they work best when outside signal is very weak or your carrier’s signal is being drowned out by another carrier’s tower that’s close to your house.
- An omnidirectional antenna communicates with every cell tower in range within 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 for multiple carriers from two or more towers in different directions. Omni antennas don’t need to be tuned (adjusted until they receive the strongest signal), so they are easier and faster 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 antenna
The cell signal booster uses a broadcast antenna to communicate with cell phones and other cellular devices inside your home.
The broadcast antenna connects to the Inside port on the cell signal booster via a run of coax cable. You may need to pull cable through your home’s walls to get to the spot where you mount the antenna. (There are many YouTube videos that explain how to do that. You can also get help from a satellite TV installer, electrician, or handyman.)
The broadcast distance of the inside antenna depends on the antenna design, the power output of the booster, your home’s construction materials, the type and length of the coax cables, and if you split the signal to multiple antennas.
There are two types of indoor antennas. The layout of your home usually determines which type of antenna will give you the best coverage.
- A panel antenna broadcasts signal in a specific direction with the signal pattern shaped like a teardrop. You’ll point the front of the panel antenna toward the area of the house where you want improved cellular signal. Panel antennas are usually mounted on walls, facing forward, although they may be mounted facing downward in some situations. Panel antennas work best when you don’t have access above the ceiling to mount a dome antenna or if you have a long, narrow area in your home where you need improved signal.
- A dome antenna broadcasts signal in 360° circle, similar to the shape of a donut or an inner tube. Dome antennas are usually mounted in the ceiling at the center of the area where you need cellular coverage from the booster. They may be mounted above or below drywall or drop ceilings, as those materials don’t block cellular signal. Dome antennas are popular and practical; they are used in most commercial buildings and also work well in a home that has an attic or other access above the ceiling.
A cell signal booster system uses coaxial cables (often just called “coax”) to connect the outside and inside antennas to the cell signal booster.
There are many types of coax used with cellular boosters. Generally speaking, the longer the length of a cable or the thinner its diameter, the more signal it loses from the booster to the antenna. Higher cellular frequencies also have more signal loss over a given length of cable than lower frequencies. Because of this, the rule of thumb is use the shortest run of cable you need to get from the booster to the antenna. When possible, avoid having excess cable in your system.
There are two types of coax cable used with most home cellular booster systems:
Will a cell phone signal booster work in my home?
Cell signal boosters have been available for many years and the technology is mature and reliable, so the answer to this question is probably.
There are certain conditions in which a booster will not work, such as:
- There is no cellular signal in your area. A cell phone booster can’t amplify signal if there’s no signal to amplify.
- The cellular amplifier doesn’t have enough power for the size of your house. If you expect to fill a 3,000-square-foot home with a usable cell signal, you’ll need a cell signal booster that’s designed to cover that much area. Be sure that your coverage expectations line up with the specifications of the system you buy.
- The amplifier boosts the wrong frequencies. Make certain that the booster you purchase amplifies the frequencies your carrier is using in your area. For example, there are no consumer boosters that amplify AT&T’s band 30 (2300 MHz) or T-Mobile’s band 71 (600 MHz). (Check out this table to see what frequencies are amplified by cellular boosters.)
Purchasing the right booster for your home’s size and shape and the type and strength of available cellular signal is the most important factor in successfully fixing your home’s cellular signal problem.
Should I buy a 3G signal booster?
Until about 2014, all cell signal boosters were dual-band units that amplified the two bands of cellular frequency used by 3G networks (bands 2 and 5).
When 4G networks started becoming widespread, manufacturers began producing five-band systems that amplified the wider set of frequencies used by 4G LTE networks (bands ). These frequencies will continue to be used by new 5G networks.
Cellular carriers are in the process of shutting off 3G nationwide. 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.”
Will 4G boosters work with 5G networks?
New 5G cellular networks will continue to use today’s 4G frequencies, so a 4G booster will amplify LTE frequencies used by 5G.
To learn more, see our article, “What Is 5G? Are Cell Phone Boosters 5G‑ready?”