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How to Boost Your Cell Signal

Frustrated with dropped cell phone calls, bad reception, buffering videos, slow data and other poor service issues? Here’s how to boost your cell signal anywhere, whether you have Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile or another carrier.

Test your cell signal strength

Start by seeing how strong your cell signal is to confirm the issue and to help you decide which solution will boost it enough to fix the problem. Cell signal is measured in decibel-milliwatts, expressed as dBm (or simply dB). Here’s how to test it:

On iPhones

1. Dial *3001#12345#* and hit the CALL button

2. Your iPhone will enter Field Mode and the dBm value will replace the dots in the upper-left

3. Press HOME to exist Field Mode

On Android phones

1. Browse to SETTINGS > ABOUT PHONE > STATUS > SIGNAL STRENGTH

2. The dBm value will display under Signal Strength

Here’s how decibel-milliwatts relate to the bars you see on your phone and signal strength:

dBmBars (approximate)Signal strength
-50 to -595Excellent signal strength, no dropped calls, exceptional quality
-60 to -755Very good signal strength, dropped calls are rare, quality video streams, etc.
-76 to -904Good signal strength, though may be interrupted by structures and other interferences. Videos may require buffering
-91 to -1003Fair signal strength, calls dropped more frequently, data and video issues may arise
-101 to -1092Week signal strength, dropped calls, poor voice quality, videos might not play and data speeds are slow
-110 or less1/0No signal, the phone cannot connect for voice, text or data

If your signal strength is in the -50 to -75 range, it’s probably not the problem and you should explore other issues. If your signal strength is -76 or worse, a boosted signal might be just the fix you need.

Tips

  • If you have a poor signal but other people have a strong signal at the same location and on the same network, your phone antenna might be bad. In this case, you’ll either need to have it repaired or buy a new phone
  • If you recently moved and now have a poor signal, it’s possible your carrier doesn’t have good coverage in your new location. Check your carrier’s coverage map, and if it doesn’t offer good coverage in your area you probably need to switch to a new carrier. Some carriers will pay Early Termination Fees (ETFs) if you commit to a new contract when you switch

How to boost your cell phone signal at home or in the office

Poor cell service can be caused by a variety of issues. Houses and cabins might be in rural areas with weak coverage. Structures like tall buildings and walls can block signals from reaching apartments, dorms and offices. Here are three options to increase your network signal at home or in the office.

1. Switch to WiFi calling

Connect your phone to your WiFi network, then adjust your phone’s settings to make calls over WiFi (data will automatically defer to WiFi). It’s a good option for anywhere that has strong WiFi service: houses, apartments, dorms, offices and even remote locations like cabins, rural areas and vacation homes.

Since you’re already paying for WiFi, switching to WiFi calling is a good way to boost your cell signal at home for free. All major carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile) support WiFi calling, and it doesn’t require any additional hardware.

How to switch to WiFi calling on iPhones

  • Browse to SETTINGS > PHONE
  • Enable WiFi calling

How to switch to WiFi calling on Android phones

  • Browse to APPS > SETTINGS > CONNECTIONS > MORE CONNECTION SETTINGS
  • Select WIFI CALLING, then choose WIFI PREFERRED

Note that any guests will need to be able to access your network in order to use their phones in your home or apartment.

2. Get a cell signal booster

Ideal for homes, apartments and other locations that have “dead spots,” cell signal boosters work by amplifying and repeating an existing signal from one place to another.

In your home or office, that means you place an exterior antenna in an area of your property that has a strong signal. The exterior antenna relays the signal to an interior antenna, which is connected to a booster that amplifies the signal and transmits it throughout your location. Some have repeaters that can be positioned for maximum coverage.

Coverage varies depending on the strength of the original signal and the power of your booster. Most models can boost your signal by -55 to -75 dBm. If you’re considering a cell booster, you can see what the signal strength is at the exterior antenna location to get an idea for how much you can improve your network signal in your home.

For example, if you purchase a booster capable of increasing signal by -60 dBm, you can expect the following maximum results:

Exterior antenna dBm-60 dBm signal booster (max signal)
-110 (poor)-50 dBm (excellent)
-100 (poor)-40 dBm (excellent)
-90 (fair)-30 dBm (excellent)

Two different numbers may be used to denote the power of a given booster: max gain and +dBm gain, also known as decibel gain. Max gain refers to how many decibel-milliwatts the device can boost a signal by, as illustrated in the table above.

Decibel gain refers to how many times a device can increase a signal exponentially. For example, a +3 dBm booster doubles the power of a cell signal. This table illustrates how decibel gain refers to power increase:

+dBmPower increase
+32X
+64X
+1010X
+20100X

By knowing what max gain and decibel gain mean, you can identify which signal booster will help you achieve the power you need to enjoy a strong cell signal.

Signal boosters cost anywhere from $300 to $1,000 or more. For most homes, boosters in the $300 to $550 range will do the trick: they cover anywhere from 1,500 sq. ft. to 3,000 sq. ft. or more, depending on the strength of the original signal.

Your carrier might have signal boosters available. T-Mobile offers a 4G LTE signal booster (with a $25 deposit) and Sprint’s Magic Box is free if you’re in an eligible location. Verizon and AT&T do not appear to sell signal boosters online (though they have extenders – see below), but you can buy third-party signal boosters that work with all major carriers from sites like WeBoost, Wilson Amplifiers and The Repeater Store.

Note that not all signal boosters work with all carriers (though some do), so be sure to check for compatibility before you buy. In addition, FCC rules require you to get permission from and register your booster with your carrier. All four major carriers have already approved boosters sold after March 1, 2014 (they carry a label with a yellow header), but you’ll still need to register your device. Use the following links to register your booster with the four major carriers.

Verizon | AT&T | Sprint | T-Mobile

3. Get a cell signal extender

Cell signal extenders seem similar to boosters (and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably), but rather than boost an existing signal, they tap into your Internet network to create a signal in your home. Essentially, they’re mini cell towers (sometimes referred to as “femtocells”).

You’ll need to purchase a cell signal extender directly from your carrier – third-party companies typically do not sell them – and your extender will only work with that carrier. Verizon offers the 4G LTE Network Extender 2 for $250 and T-Mobile offers a Personal CellSpot for a $25 deposit. AT&T once offered the Microcell and Sprint offered the Airwave, but both products have been discontinued.

One drawback to signal extenders is that anyone who uses your carrier can use your signal. That means you could incur additional data usage if your neighbors have the same carrier. If you’re considering a cell signal extender, you might be better off simply switching to WiFi calling.

How to boost cell signal in your car

Location obviously plays a major role in cell signal quality when you’re on the road, but changing your location to get a stronger signal isn’t a very helpful tip. You can try switching from 4G to 3G if you just need to talk and don’t need data features. That’s not ideal, of course, so the best way to boost cell signal in your car is to purchase a car cell signal booster.

These devices work just like the home versions: an exterior antenna attaches to your vehicle (magnet mounts are available), then relays the signal to an interior antenna that’s connected to a booster inside your car. The booster amplifies the signal and transmits it. Most systems can be powered by a standard 12V accessory port, so setup is simple.

Some models only support one user, while others can boost a signal to multiple devices. Car cell signals boosters start out at round $100 for 3G models, and 4G models can be purchased for anywhere between $130 and $500. The maximum signal gain for most car cell boosters is between -20 to -50 dBm, and results will vary depending on the strength of the exterior signal.

Note that some boosters are made for specific vehicles: RVs, commercial trucks and even boats, for example.

Other things you can try

Though WiFi calling, boosters and extenders are the surest ways to get better cell service, there are a few other things you can try to improve your cell phone signal, including:

  • Keep your phone battery charged: a low battery can weaken your signal
  • Force a tower reconnect: your phone should automatically connect to the nearest tower, but sometimes there can be issues or delays when your phone is handed off from one tower to the next. Force it to connect to the best tower by toggling airplane mode on and off, turning LTE voice & data off and back on or simply restarting your phone (you can download an app like OpenSignal to see which tower you’re connected to)
  • Switch to 3G: if you just need to make a call or text, switching to 3G may be a temporary fix
  • Note that neither cell phone booster apps or patches (a.k.a stickers) work. The apps could introduce security vulnerabilities, and the stickers are simply a waste of money

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