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Gimme a boost: 3 ways to make calls when your cellular signal is terrible

Eric Geier | Aug. 4, 2014
In our increasingly connected age, it's frustrating to find yourself in a place where the cellular connectivity is weak to nonexistent. And that frustration only magnifies when you have to struggle with poor voice quality and dropped calls in your very own home.

zBoost offers a variety of indoor and outdoor signal boosters. I tested the $350 ZB545, which supports up to 3G with the 800 and 1,900 MHz frequencies from all major carriers (except Nextel). It consists of an outdoor omni-directional antenna that you can mount where the cell signal is the best (attic or roof), coaxial cable, and an amplifier unit you place inside. That can complicate installation, but the omni-directional outdoor antenna makes it easy to place since you don't have to figure out which direction to point the antenna.

Wilson Electronics offers a variety of building, vehicle, and M2M cell signal boosting solutions. I tested the $550 DB Pro 4G Directional solution, which supports up to 4G LTE in the 700, 850, 1700/2100, and 1900 MHz bands and works with all U.S. cellular carriers except Clearwire. It consists of an outdoor directional antenna that you can point where the cell signal is the best in the attic or on the roof, coaxial cable, and an amplifier unit with adjustable gain controls. It's the most complex to install of the three products I looked at, but it's all the most advanced, thanks to the directional antenna and manual gain controls.

All three boosters worked well, delivering similar results. All three gave me about the same indoor ranges and delivered comparable quality during test calls. Still, each solution has some pros and cons.

Plus, a booster is clearly the most expensive option. If your wireless carrier supports Wi-Fi calling as Sprint and T-Mobile do, I'd certainly try that route before shelling out for a booster. If you only need to boost signals for one wireless carrier and have a broadband Internet connection, a femtocell may be a more cost-effective option as well — especially since if you whine to your carrier and threaten to switch, the company just might offer to give you a femtocell for free.


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