Cell-phone coverage has come a long way since those “Can you hear me now?” commercials, but there are still some parts of the country where it’s nearly impossible to call a friend without standing in the exact right spot, on your table, in the living room. If you’re spending more time pointing your phone in the air searching for bars than you are talking, the easiest solution is often a Wi-Fi mesh system. Most phones have settings that allow them to automatically switch from cellular connections to wireless connections when a cell signal is low. Wi-Fi mesh systems ensure that your wireless signal is strong throughout your home, giving you a strong backup signal when cellular fails. (Check out our story here for how Wi-Fi mesh systems work and the best options.) But if that won’t work for you – maybe you’re often traveling in remote areas, or your internet speeds are particularly slow – you might want to use a cell phone signal booster.
Muriel Medrad, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT, says it’s best to think of a cell-phone booster as a middle man between the base station and your cell phone. Elza Erkip, an institute professor at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering says, “The way a cell phone works is that it receives signals from and sends signals to a base station. Typically, the base station has a wide coverage area. But sometimes the coverage also has ‘holes,’ which are certain regions where the reception is weak.” Those holes in your connection could be caused by being in a remote location or even the material used to construct the building you’re in. A cell-phone signal booster “is helpful in patching up the coverage holes,” Erkip says.
“Boosters have specific technology that helps them receive a lower power signal than your cell phone would,” says Jeffery Andrews, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at University of Texas at Austin. Since our phones are small and can often lose connections to the base station where we get our signal, signal boosters try to extend your area of cell coverage so you can easily connect to the base station. Andrews describes it like this: “Instead of shouting to this far away base station, your cell phone can now whisper to the nearby booster. And the booster is the one that does the shouting.”
All that shouting can cause an issue, however. As Andrews explains, the amplified signal your booster sends to the base station can get in the way of other cell-phone users in the area. It’s like if you were in a debate and one person kept yelling over everyone else, making it hard for others to make their own points. Luckily, Andrews says, that issue is rare.
In terms of finding the right booster for you, Randy Lentz, a sales coordinator from SignalBooster.com, says “there’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” so we asked him to explain the options. Here are his recommendations for the best boosters for all types of people.
Best signal booster for single rooms
The weBoost Home helps boost your connection in small areas. “With good signal outside, a small system like the weBoost Home Room is rated for 1,500 square feet,” says Lentz. It also works with all major carriers from AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile. (For all signal boosters, you need to let your carrier know you’re adding one before doing so.) The three-piece system (outdoor antenna, booster, and indoor antenna) has a relatively simple installation process that many people can handle on their own. You’ll get faster internet connection speeds in your home office or any other room you mount the booster in, and higher quality calls. It’s also with new 5G networks.
Best multi-room signal booster
The weBoost Home Multiroom provides a coverage area up to 5,000 square feet. Like the weBoost home, it also works with all major carriers. According to Erkip, a product like this is especially helpful in more rural areas, where connections may be weaker.
Best travel signal booster
Cell phone boosters can also be very useful when you’re camping or in an RV. “You put the cell phone booster on top of the RV and that gives you an extra bit of range so that you and your kids could use their cell phone,” Andrews says. The Drive Sleek amplifies your signal while on the go. As with the other boosters, you’ll notice an increase in your battery life, since your phone will not have to work as hard, constantly searching for a signal.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.