Cellular signal boosters use big antennas to improve coverage in your home and car. These are the best boosters for small homes, large homes, apartments, and vehicles.
Now that many of us are working at home, cellular dead zones aren’t just annoying, they’re mission critical. If you have weak or no cellular signal in your home, a cellular signal booster can really help.
The basic principle behind signal boosters is simple: A big antenna is better than a small one. Instead of relying on the tiny antenna in your phone, they capture cellular signal using a large antenna in your window or outside your house (or car), then pass that signal through a device that cleans and amplifies it, and out through a rebroadcaster inside your home.
That’s the basic plan, at least. Booster makers have to add various tricks to detect the best signal from various surrounding towers, and then especially to amplify the signal without messing up the carriers’ own systems. That’s why you need to stick with boosters from the big four companies: Cel-Fi, HiBoost, SureCall, and WeBoost. Cheaper boosters sold on Amazon often aren’t FCC-certified, which means they can cause trouble with surrounding cell sites and networks.
Boosters help the most when you have weak, but not absolutely no signal. While your phone may show bars, wireless industry folks measure signal in -dBm. A number higher than about -90dBm (like -80 or -70) is a strong signal. Get down below -110dBm and it’s definitely a weak signal; below -120dBm and you’ll have trouble holding onto any signal at all. Apps like CellMapper can show you the signal you’re receiving on your phone.
There are a few tricks you can try before investing in a home booster. All of the wireless carriers have Wi-Fi calling now, so you can hook your phone up to your home Wi-Fi network and make phone calls. Unfortunately, we’ve noticed T-Mobile has a big problem with sending picture messages and group chats over Wi-Fi.
Verizon’s 4G LTE Network Extender 2 is a carrier-approved mini cell site that hooks up to your home internet connection and extends it as Verizon Wireless coverage. If you have a fast home internet connection but poor Verizon coverage, that one is worth a try.
Boosters generally have either two or three main components. There’s an external antenna outside your home; the booster itself, which cleans and amplifies signal; and an antenna inside your home. They’re all connected by coaxial cable.
SureCall’s products combine the latter two functions into one unit. That makes SureCall’s boosters easier to install and place, which is part of why the SureCall Flare 3.0 is our Editors’ Choice for in-home boosters. But if you have a larger home, and you’re willing to run some coax cable, you can greatly extend the boosters’ range throughout your home by getting a three-part solution, some splitters, and multiple panel antennas. This can get complicated, so at that point you may want to get a professional installer to set the system up (especially to reduce interference between multiple, in-home antennas.)
Most boosters handle bands 2/4/66, 5, 12, 13, and 17. That includes base coverage bands for AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. The important missing band is 71, T-Mobile’s 600MHz rural coverage band. Because it took a while for TV stations to get out of that band, the FCC hasn’t approved any consumer boosters for band 71; you’re just not going to find one.
Most home boosters also boost between 64 and 71dB of signal. Once again, that’s due to FCC regulations. If you need more of a boost than that, you need to go to Cel-Fi’s single-carrier booster line, which can get to 100dB by boosting only the frequencies used by one wireless carrier at a time.
The booster store Waveform has a comprehensive guide to how boosters work on its site.
Boosters for your car are similar to in-home boosters with one exception—you can get single-device, in-car cradle boosters. These are much less powerful than in-home boosters (the ones we tested boost by 23dB instead of 65-75dB) but are less expensive, take seconds to install and remove, and don’t radiate beyond the cradle that grips your phone. We like the WeBoost Drive Sleek as a single-device booster.
RV owners and people who need to boost multiple devices in a vehicle can get in-car boosters with small radiating antennas that can handle several devices. These can be tricky, though, because of how close the output antenna is to the input antenna.
With that in mind, here are our top picks for boosters for homes, apartments, and cars.