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Recommendations for Cellular Signal Repeaters? 64

Posted by Cliff
from the better-than-a-pringles-can dept.
itwerx asks: "Like most folks these days I have a cell phone and indoor reception problems, especially in my house which is behind a ridge from most of the carriers in my area. So, I'm looking for an indoor wireless repeater (not a plug-in amp). There are a lot of them out there ranging from $300-$3000+, but for every article, forum or newsgroup posting proclaiming the relative merits of this brand or model over another I find another post saying that they suck. A couple of units I'm looking at are the Wi-Ex YX500 series and some of the ones made by Wilson Electronics (not providing direct links so as to avoid boosting their Google ratings). Has anybody here used these, or junked them in favor of something better?"
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Recommendations for Cellular Signal Repeaters?

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  • by Cyraan (840132)
    "Nothing for you to see here. Please move along." Dammit, i must be out of minutes.
  • Watch out... (Score:3, Informative)

    by kf4lhp (461232) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @01:04PM (#16105933) Homepage
    http://www.fcc.gov/eb/FieldNotices/2003/DOC-267221 A1.html [fcc.gov]
    http://www.fcc.gov/eb/FieldNotices/2003/DOC-266089 A1.html [fcc.gov]

    Watch out if you buy one; they can easily create interference to other users in the 800 MHz band, like public safety radio systems, and the FCC takes a rather dim view of this - see the FCC notices sent to some unlucky users above.
  • My girlfriend had T-mobile at her old apartment and always had terrible coverage. She found out that Nextel got great reception in her building, so she switched to them. Later she switched jobs and gets no coverage from Nextel inside her work building, but my T-mobile phone works fine.

    The point is that maybe you should try switching to a different provider that has better reception in your apartment/house. There's nothing inherently great about one provider over another in terms of coverage, but they do
    • The problem is that contract lock-in is de rigeur in the cellular industry these days. It could very well cost as much or more to get out of your contract as to get a repeater.
      • If someone moves around (work or otherwise) in an area where the reception is splotchy then I'd guess that person might be best served by buying an unlocked phone and using prepaid calls. Not as cheap, no... but what should a buyer expect with no lock-in?
        • Ok, now you have my interest. Are you saying that pre-paid phones aren't locked into any particular band/provider? That's interesting news. I've been in situations where I'm looking at a cell tower and can't get service. I thought that AT&T would switch my Nokia phone to another provider's tower if they weren't covering me with their service. I dropped AT&T because of that incident.
          • Ok, now you have my interest. Are you saying that pre-paid phones aren't locked into any particular band/provider? That's interesting news. I've been in situations where I'm looking at a cell tower and can't get service. I thought that AT&T would switch my Nokia phone to another provider's tower if they weren't covering me with their service. I dropped AT&T because of that incident.

            With "unlocked" I mean that the SIM card can be replaced with another providers SIM card (subsidised phones are usual

            • by AK Marc (707885)
              With "unlocked" I mean that the SIM card can be replaced with another providers SIM card (subsidised phones are usually locked down but I guess you knew about that in some way).

              That does no good in most of the US. One and only one provider usually buys up all the GSM in an area, and another one and only one provider buys up all the traditional frequencies available (and NexTel, that was granted the ability to buy lesser used walkie-talkie frequencies because of how they designed and marketed their servic
              • Thanks for the interesting insight. Guess we have it good here in Sweden where we have 3 providers in most areas (and a handful of virtual providers but they just buy access from the owners of the physical nets).
      • by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @02:59PM (#16107349) Journal
        The problem is that contract lock-in is de rigeur in the cellular industry these days.
        You can legally transfer your cell phone contract (sometimes with a fee that is smaller than the termination fee).

        Here's an article [smartmoney.com] with some advice on the process.

        Note: You can keep your phone number

        http://www.cellswapper.com/cellswapperv2/default.a spx [cellswapper.com]
        http://www.celltradeusa.com/ [celltradeusa.com]
        will help you find someone willing to take up your contract.
        • by emd (25227)
          In the US, sure. But in other countries, like Canada, you cannot. Which is why I am interested in cellular repeaters as well.
        • by sporkme (983186) *
          Wow, I knew that the transfer of contract terms was possible, but I never realized that there were businesses and groups dedicated to public benefit from this. Very informative, thanks!
      • by Vellmont (569020)
        So don't sign up for a contract and buy your phone secondhand on ebay, or find a company that only goes 1 year contracts. My original Nokia 5190 finally got too annoying to use a few years ago, so I just bought a used Nokia on ebay for $30. Swap the SIM card into the new phone, and 20 seconds later my phone works perfectly. I'm happy because I got a new phone, T-mobile is happy because they didn't have to front money for a new phone to give me, the guy I bought it from is happy because he's a tech freak
    • by mollog (841386)
      I was visiting my sister. She's living in a 'McMansion' complete with copper roof flashing, gutters and down spouts. As you can guess, there's almost no cell phone signal in the house. On the back porch I get 5 bars.

      Another factor might be the wiring; they've got Cat 5, cable and phone lines throughout the house along with the usual house wiring. Seems like a pretty good Faraday cage.

      I like one poster's idea of a Bluetooth repeater lash-up from the point with the strongest signal.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)
        Another factor might be the wiring; they've got Cat 5, cable and phone lines throughout the house along with the usual house wiring. Seems like a pretty good Faraday cage.

        A faraday cage has to have zero straight-path holes that are larger than your wavelength.

        Seems like a pretty shitty faraday cage.

  • Like most folks these days I have a cell phone and indoor reception problems, especially in my house which is behind a ridge from most of the carriers in my area.

    According to the FAQ for the Wi-Ex model you were looking at, "If there is no signal outside, this unit will not give you an improvement in coverage." So if you're behind a ridge, it may not help.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by PCGAB (733998)
      Try a passive repeater. My gf had terrible reception in her house, she bought a $8.00 passive repeater for cars/windows, etc. and it added a bar or two to her reception on the front of the house. Which was the most important area to her. Being so cheap, it cant _hurt_ to try one..
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        Try a passive repeater. My gf had terrible reception in her house, she bought a $8.00 passive repeater for cars/windows, etc. and it added a bar or two to her reception on the front of the house. Which was the most important area to her. Being so cheap, it cant _hurt_ to try one..

        What is a passive repeater? A pie pan?

        (websearch)

        Ah, here's what it is! It's an antenna hooked up to an antenna in an effort to get the signal out of your house. And look, there's some text next to the diagram!

        Passive

        • by dgatwood (11270)

          I find that, with the wide variation in cell phone signal strength from one phone to another using the same carrier in the same physical location, it is far more likely that the receivers in some phones simply suck at picking out the tower signal. That's the big reason why passive repeaters can and often do work.

          Further, your whole inverse square thing is failing to take into account the difference in directionality and noise rejection. Using a high gain directional antenna outdoors, the SNR to the towe

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Using a high gain directional antenna outdoors, the SNR to the tower is greatly improved, and the retransmission locally will dramatically reduce the interference.

            It might get the signal back to you better, but the signal leaving you and going to the tower will still be greatly degraded. The simple fact is that only a tiny, tiny fraction of the signal being transmitted from your phone will be received by the antenna in your house, which involves loss; more is lost in the cable between antennae. You migh

    • by itwerx (165526)
      If there is no signal outside

      Luckily I do get a bar or two outside the house.

            Also, to respond to a couple folks who suggested changing providers, various friends who have phones with other providers have the same problem in this neighborhood - a bar or two outside and nothing inside.
  • Too cheap? (Score:2, Funny)

    by MarkGriz (520778)
    What, can't afford the $4.95 for a high tech Cellphone Signal Booster [skinz.org]
    And don't be suckered in by the scammers selling 1st 2nd or 3rd generation boosters. Insist on 4th generation technology!

    • by Roulduke (803675)
      Why would anyone want to buy a pice of plastic with gold paint inside? I for one can vouch for this as a hoax. I dosen't make any sort of connection to the phone or RF components inside... This is a total scam.
      • by MarkGriz (520778)
        I for one can vouch for this as a hoax
        Did you actually have to purchase one to be sure?

        This is a total scam
        Thank you Captain Obvious

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        I for one can vouch for this as a hoax. I dosen't make any sort of connection to the phone or RF components inside... This is a total scam.

        I once installed a CB antenna in my car. The aerial gets stuck to the outside of the glass with glue. The signal is picked up by the aerial and passively transmitted to a pad underneath the glass, which has the wire connected to it.

        These things ARE a hoax, but not because there's no physical, metal, electrical connection.

    • by MightyYar (622222)
      What I want to know is, why do people thing that a $5 (retail) do-dad would improve reception so much? If such a cheap technology existed, don't you think that the phone companies would be putting it in at least their high-end phones? Wouldn't it be a feature?
      • they are consumers. Big Difference, consumers don't think about the idea of a phone company already putting this technology into a phone, they simply walk up to the man in the blue polo/blue vest, and ask him how to boost signal on his new cell phone. After that, the item is consumed by the consumer and the millionaires prosper on this generations stupidity.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by MightyYar (622222)
          Interesting... if only politicians could figure this out, they could manipulate the and... oh, wait, nevermind.
  • Phones in the U.S. either use the PCS band (1900MHz) or the original "cellular" band (800MHz). In theory, lower frequencies penetrate walls better. Any experts care to weigh in on this? I believe iDEN (Nextel) is all 800MHz...maybe this is why the submitter had better luck. Although its more likely that there was simply a Nextel tower closer to him/her.
  • by Dryanta (978861) on Thursday September 14, 2006 @01:37PM (#16106359) Journal
    Your perspective is kind of dumb when you pay a provider every month for service that does not do what you want. I have no idea how wireless providers tricked users into thinking signal problems are ALWAYS their fault. Just a tip to the wise, cell phone towers are normally broadcasting at less than 50% of capacity due to the fact they are terrified of the FCC, even though they have the licenses. I have cingular, and my wife has cingular. Both of my bosses, and everybody in my office has cingular. I called 611 on each of the phones, and filed a complaint with tech support about the 'poor service' in the area from five or six accounts. I also had one rep pull up a map and tell me the tower I was closest to. Then I found out that I was getting poor signal standing right next to it. I am a wireless engineer, so I made a couple guesses as to what could be causing the trouble (water in the fittings, disconnected pigtail, local source of interference from another carrier) and used the county locator service to find the ph# of the primary point of contact for the tower. I called the local cingular office, advised them of my situation, my trouble ticket numbers, the location of the tower, and my findings. The next day, they pointed a sector right at me and dialed up the gain. Now, I have 3-4 bars inside when I used to have to 1-2 outside. This might sound like I went to a lot of effort or something, but it took 2-3 hours tops - and now my calls don't drop!
    • by TubeSteak (669689)
      "The next day, they pointed a sector right at me and dialed up the gain."

      What's that mean for the non-wireless engineer?

      Maybe you should write a quick "how to complain" guide (with links) that expands a bit on what you've said.
    • I'm not a wireless engineer, I'm just a customer. I just want my f*cking phone to work. I don't want to have to learn about RF signal propogation or antenna design, or spend hours trying to fight my way through the mindlessly apologetic "Customer Service" guantlet that companies erect as obstacles to customers trying to reach someone that can actually solve a f*cking problem.

      I spend $3,500 every year on cell phones and service. That puts cell phones at about the same cost level as my electric service,

    • by itwerx (165526) <itwerx@gmail.com> on Thursday September 14, 2006 @03:51PM (#16107891) Homepage
      thinking signal problems are ALWAYS their fault.

      Ordinarily I would indeed be chasing this up the tech support chain but service is great everywhere else and I've looked at the tower maps and it's pretty clear that it's simply a matter of geography and that it only affects a fairly small area, i.e. not something I'd ask them to put in a whole tower for.
            However, that said, I may be getting something similar to the response you got, and this may be a useful approach for others with the same problem.
            I went to the website and filled out a customer service form, (not a support ticket), explaining the situation and asking what repeater/booster brand/model they recommended. The next day I got a call on my cell from an engineer who explained in no uncertain terms that they did not want me to install any sort of repeater/booster under any circumstances. They then asked if I was in the affected location at that moment, (I was), and while on the line did a bunch of tests confirming the problem, opened a ticket and said it should be fixed in two weeks and that they would keep the ticket open for me to call back if it wasn't any better.
            It turns out that no matter how small an area is affected they would rather fix it from their end than have someone installing some random repeater/booster as they apparently have no end of problems with people doing exactly that and screwing up the network! (Kudos to the poster who mentioned potential FCC issues above).
            Now we don't know how things will turn out yet, my reception is still just as bad, but it's been barely a week so we'll just have to wait and see.

            So the upshot of it is that if reception sucks in your area, ask them nicely what they recommend for third-party solutions and they just might get all excited and actually fix it themselves.
      • by Jjeff1 (636051)
        I have cingular, in upstate NY. After navigating the maze of "support" options, I gave up and called the normal tech support number and complained about poor reception at my house, yet full signal on a road 400 yards away.

        Less than a week later, and I'm now getting full signal on the first floor inside my house, during a rainstorm; normally those conditions mean phone = paperweight.
  • Find the spot in your house where you get full reception. Buy a cordless phone similar to this one (http://www.uniden.com/products/productdetail.cfm ? product=ELBT595&page=2) that will link your cellphone to your cordless phone. That way, it acts like a cheap repeater for your cell phone. See the cellphone is linked via bluetooth to the cordless phone. Then the cordless phone can control both your landline and your cellphone and it will work anywhere in your house perfectly as long as you can find so
  • Mac: All right, how about "Cat Game?"
    Foster: Cat Game? What's the record?
    Mac: Thorny did six, but I think you can do ten.
    Foster: Ten? Starting right 'meow?'
    [Mac laughs - they walk up to the car, and Foster taps on the driver side]
    Larry Johnson: Sorry about the...
    Foster: All right meow. (1) Hand over your license and registration.
    [the man hands him his license]
    Foster: Your registration? Hurry up meow. (2)
    [Mac ticks off two fingers]
    Larry Johnson: Sorry.
    [the man laughs a little]
    Foster: Is there something funny
  • by rosswil (1002596)
    Recently the company I work for built two beautiful new office buildings with one minor drawback; They had large metal roofs that almost completely blocked cell phone signal inside. Many employees had to go outside the building to use their (company owned) cell phones. Our solution was to purchase a wireless repeater like you mentioned above. We went with the Digital Antenna(r) DA4000SBR. This is the small building repeater, they also have other versions available that cover less square footage. It was
    • They had large metal roofs that almost completely blocked cell phone signal inside.

      The key to any bi-directional repeater is there must be a block between the outside and inside antennas. Without that attenuation between the antennas, a feedback loop is formed that may operate on or off channel. These unlicensed instalations by the clueless without test equipment (spectrum analyzer) are the ones getting nastygrams from the FCC. By trying to make up for loss of a signal by a hill, the clueless install a 2
      • by rosswil (1002596)
        The model we installed actually detected the presence of a feedback loop at the amplifier and gave you a red or green light. The instructions also clearly state that the outdoor antenna and indoor antenna need to be at least 40 ft apart and have some sort of solid surface (concrete, brick, steel) between the antennas.
  • The Wi-Ex YX500 series and some of the ones made by Wilson Electronics Are all great. Get them.
  • If this is just for one phone, go out and buy an external mobile phone antenna for about $25-50.

    This is only going to work if your phone has an external antenna jack on the back (it is usually filled in with a rubber plug that you can pop out).

    A member of my family spends a lot of time in a remote area and can only get 0-2 bars if he stands on the highest point of the property with his flip phone. After buying a $30 mag-mount antenna, plugging it into the external antenna port on his Cingular GSM phone and
  • I asked a similar question on Howard Forums [howardforums.com] and they do sound like a good idea. My problem turned out to be my phone locking onto a distant tower rather than one of three nearer ones (your phone will tell you the GPS coordinates of the tower it's connected to in its service menu, or some phones at least, see the link). I never did buy a repeater.
  • Try this one: http://www.signalwide.com/ [signalwide.com]
    • Buy a better phone
    • Switch to a provider that works in your area
    • Move to a new house that lies in a service area of a provider
    • Use a landline
  • I am amazed at the number of replies that say, "Oh just get a new phone, switch providers, or buy a landline." Isn't this supposed to be a site for geeks, tinkerers, people that like to fix stuff by ourselves? This person wants to fix a problem, and they want to fix it the geek way, and all everyone is saying is, "be a good consumer and give the phone company more money." This is supposed to be a geek site, and all these answers sound like they belong in Newsweek.

    My own two cents. I frequently work in a dat
  • Two directional antennas - back-to-back - placed
    on top of the ridge that blocks your connection.

    One antenna is aimed at the carrier's cell tower;
    the other antenna is aimed at your home/property.

    Let us know how this works, if you try it... ;-)
  • Speaking from a sales and Installation experience, the JDTeck at http://www.jdteck.com/ [jdteck.com] line of Active Cellular repeters is the best bang for the buck. $695 retail will get you the JD65-XT which is a full-duplex active repeater, allowing up to 20 simultaneous calls. I have installed 3 of these units for various customers and have had excellent results.

    When I call to order one they ask the Zip and carrier and will do a tower location to find the best frequency for you and send it along. It is a full kit w
  • For a mere 100k+, you too can have a full LGC Fusion Singlestar repeater system covering an eight story building. You could work with the carriers to extend their signal to your place and then it will work great. http://www.lgcwireless.com/products/intereach_ss.h tm [lgcwireless.com] We have this at work and the cell signals went from no service to full 4/5 bars everywhere. Including in the elevator, bathroom, basement, and data center. If you are gonna do it, do it right!

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