Cell Phone Repeater Guide and Reviews

A cell phone repeater (also known as a booster, amplifier, range extender and “that damn box!”) is built to do exactly what it says on the tin. Get a cell phone signal and boost it. If you can’t get a signal in your house, office, car or wherever these devices are built to take the signal from somewhere it is strong and repeat it wherever you want it.

I’m going to show you a couple of things here:

  • How they work and how to get the most from them
  • Reviews of the best cell repeaters this year
  • A trick to possibly get yourself one for free
  • And a couple of alternative things you can try

So first up – How do they work and are they worth bothering with?

How Do Cell Repeaters Work (And DO They work)?

how do cell phone repeaters work

Maybe your building has thick walls or is hidden behind a building which does. Maybe you live in a cardboard box but your provider just doesn’t get a strong enough signal to your area. Whatever the reason if you can’t get a strong enough phone signal to your home or office then your phone is essentially useless.

A cell phone booster (or whatever you want to call it – I’m just going to alternate between the many names these things are given) gets around this problem by being better at getting signal than your phone is and then creating its own network with the new signal. It is essentially a middle man.

You can see an example in the image above. The antenna is raised to the top of the house (this can be as in-depth as involving getting up there to mount it or as easy as just leaving it at the window) now not only does it have a stronger antenna than your phone but it has less obstructions to deal with so it gets a signal from the tower. This signal is then emitted from the booster and you can connect to that signal.

But DO they work?

Honestly? It depends. If your area just doesn’t get a signal from your provider then your repeater won’t be able to get a signal either. You’ll probably know yourself what the area is like. If you just about get a signal or you’re able to get one outside the house but not inside? Or even better if you can get it upstairs but not downstairs (for example) then a repeater is the perfect answer.

Some cell phone providers (like AT&T and Sprint) have created mini cell towers (like the AT&T Microcell we looked at above) which work a little differently. They create a cell signal for you to connect to but then they get your cell signal through your internet connection (yes, this means internet connection required).

Best Cell Phone Repeater Reviews

Quick note: if you want to boost the cell phone signal while in a vehicle scroll down a bit we have a specific section for that. These reviews assume you want to boost the signal to a building or garden area.

Cell Phone RepeaterModelPriceSignal StrengthEase of UseNetwork FreedomLocal RangePrice RatingRating
weboost boosterweBoostCheck Best Price1008895878090
zboost repeaterzBoost ZB545Check Best Price809085959288
at&t microcell repeaterAT&T MicrocellCheck Best Price9010010808573

Out of all the home based devices (the vehicle based one is further down the page) we looked at these were the three which stuck out. There’s merit to all of them but to sum them up in a few words:

  • The weBoost gets the strongest signal to the cell provider but is the most expensive.
  • The zBoost is cheaper and has a great local range for bigger homes or offices but doesn’t get a signal connection to the carrier quite as well as the weBoost does.
  • The AT&T Microcell is great but it only works if you have an AT&T account. It doesn’t require a cell signal to the carrier because it works through your broadband connection.

weBoost Home 4G Cell Phone Signal Booster

Carriers: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Straight Talk and Sprint – but it only partially supports Sprint networks. We weren’t able to confirm this ourselves but Sprint users will see a benefit with the weBoost but not as much as other providers.

The weBoost is the most effective overall booster in our opinion and currently holds the #1 spot. It is the most expensive out of the three top contenders and has a slightly smaller local range but still covers “up to 1500 sq ft” which means most small homes or offices will be fine. The real strength is how well it can get a connection to the carrier.

Some cool extra features like the auto gain it’s easy enough to setup (especially compared to some of the other options with lumbering big antennas which probably require a construction crew) if you really need a strong cell signal in the house this is well worth taking a look at.

If you really struggle at getting a connection in your area even standing next to a window then the weBoost might have that extra power you need. If you get a signal outdoors but not inside no matter what you try then this is perfect. If you get a signal fine from an upstairs window for example but can’t get it downstairs you might maybe want to look at the zBoost however as that could repeat the signal from that window and cost you less in the process.

weBoost phone signal booster

 

zBoost ZB545 SOHO Dual Band Cell Phone Signal Booster

Carriers: Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Alltel, Cricket

The zBoost is about a third cheaper than the weBoost and does get a stronger local connection with the default model boosting up to 2,500 sq ft. They actually have models going all the way up to 10,00 and down to as little as 750 sq ft so if you know what kind of area you want to provide a signal to you can tailor your price point a little.

It also provides a better connection to the Sprint network but, while it was still a top performer, it wasn’t as strong at getting a connection to the carrier as the weBoost. Perfect if you can get a connection in some parts of the building but not others. This can still pick up a weak signal and has a large repeat range for larger homes and offices than the other devices available. The zBoost is one of the more popular models available with hundreds of reviews from users so it’s not just us.

zboost signal booster

 

AT&T Microcell Wireless Cell Signal Booster Tower Antenna

Carriers:  AT&T and requires an internet account

The AT&T Microcell is an interesting one. It’s very limited in that it’ll only help AT&T customers, they need to have an internet account and it isn’t even that great in terms of local range or features. But the one huge, benefit it has and the reason they were able to sell hundreds of them?

It goes through your internet connection rather than connecting to the tower which 99% of boosters do. This is exactly how AT&T have sold thousands of these. If your area gets no internet connection even if your entire block is a dead zone the Microcell takes your phone data through the internet. This does mean you have to have a decent speed broadband to be able to benefit from it otherwise your phone will show a connection but everything will still be incredibly slow.

So it has limited applications but purely because you could be in a basement flat, in the middle of a dead zone and still get a phone signal through your internet connection we consider it on of the best options if you’re with their network.

Cell Phones Booster for the Car

So this is all well and good if you’re setting up one of these devices for the home or office but if you tend to travel a lot and have a hard time getting a cell signal you can’t exactly hook one of these up in the car. Trust me I’ve seen someone actually try this with a great big battery pack in the back seat.

But there is a better option specifically for driving. A booster is… well exactly what it sounds like. A cradle your phone sits in which boosts your phone signal. The better ones also work as a battery pack to charge your phone while it is mounted. They work in exactly the same way by connecting to your phone and then proving you with an external antenna which you can stick on the dash (because it is still better than your phones antenna) but ideally you want to put them outside of the car.

They are lower powered then your average cell repeater so I wouldn’t really suggest trying to use one in the home but they’re great for when you’re on the move. By far the absolute best we’ve been able to find is the Wilson Sleek (click here to see it) (yep – the one mentioned in the video below) it is much cheaper than a lot of the alternatives and it has a surprising amount of power. It outperforms a lot of the more expensive alternatives and has hundreds of great reviews behind it.

We looked at reviewing other models as a comparison but honestly there’s nothing on the market which really rivals them a the moment. You could easily spend an extra couple of hundred dollars and get the same, if not worse, performance.

So if your cell signal sucks in the car this is the one to look at for sure.

You can also try this indoors. It is built for mobility and won’t have the strength of a normal cell phone repeater but that extra strength of the antenna might be all you need. The video below is a prime example from 0 bars to 5 while inside.

car cell phone booster

Cell Phones Booster for the Car

So this is all well and good if you’re setting up one of these devices for the home or office but if you tend to travel a lot and have a hard time getting a cell signal you can’t exactly hook one of these up in the car. Trust me I’ve seen someone actually try this with a great big battery pack in the back seat.

But there is a better option specifically for driving. A booster is… well exactly what it sounds like. A cradle your phone sits in which boosts your phone signal. The better ones also work as a battery pack to charge your phone while it is mounted. They work in exactly the same way by connecting to your phone and then proving you with an external antenna which you can stick on the dash (because it is still better than your phones antenna) but ideally you want to put them outside of the car.

They are lower powered then your average cell repeater so I wouldn’t really suggest trying to use one in the home but they’re great for when you’re on the move. By far the absolute best we’ve been able to find is the Wilson Sleek (yep – the one mentioned in the video below) it is much cheaper than a lot of the alternatives and it has a surprising amount of power. It outperforms a lot of the more expensive alternatives

Getting a Free Cell Phone Repeater

I almost didn’t want to post this because of too many people start doing it then it might become a thing of the past. I originally got the idea from a friend who worked for a cell phone company call centre and he told me when a customer wanted to cancel their contract over not getting a signal at home they offered them a repeater for free. Having seen this in action I can tell you that you’ll get mixed results.

Some providers will straight up say no. They know a lot of the threats to cancel won’t actually be followed through and it’s cheaper for them to charge you the crazy high cancellation fee rather than send you a free device.

Other providers might actually send you one (with a bit of convincing) but generally they’ll be a cheaper in-house model which might, or might not work. I’ve yet to see a top brand repeater be given out but who knows. It doesn’t hurt to try so give them a call. You have to walk the fine line when making the call however.

If you are rude at any point to the call centre staff they’re allowed to (and likely to) hang up on you rather than help. You’ll also remove any incentive for the person on the phone to help and they “might conveniently” forget that they’re able to offer you the free device. On the other hand if you’re too polite and let the issue go they’ll not offer to send one because the rules are likely clear on certain buzz words you have to say. So be polite, but be firm. Try something like you would like to stay with them but your partner or family member relies on the phone for an emergency and the signal doesn’t work in the house so you’ll just have to quit if they can’t fix it.

Some cell phone providers went to the FCC to complain that using a booster yourself will harm the signal of other users. If they try to give you this line and the company provides their own boosters point out that they must be doing something right with their own devices then (I’ve seen this work).

DIY Cell Phone Repeater

If your phone provider won’t fork out and give you  free one and you feel comfortable with a little wiring and an ugly ornament you could build yourself a repeater. It won’t get the same results but it might be enough. Hanging a coat hanger from the ceiling is not going to do the trick (you would think I wouldn’t have to say that) it does take some actual assembly but if you feel up to the task you can see the full guide here.

The parts required are cheap and easy to find but it won’t provide the same kind of performance as equipment which has been specifically made to purpose.

DIY cell phone repeater

Yes, it looks ugly. Yes, it takes some actual assembly. Yes, it can actually help.

Just a heads up there are plenty of videos kicking around online with guides on how to improve your cell phone signal with some basic items you have sitting around the house. At best these are designed to try and be funny or waste your time. At worst they’ll cause you to properly break your phone within a few minutes. This isn’t exactly a simple process and there’s no easy way to do it which is why the phone boosters exist. And there is certainly no app or program which will do it for you.

I know there is a lot of stuff in both the Android and Apple App Store claiming to improve your signal. At best they are able to kill processes running on your phone allowing your phone to run faster if you were running too much on it. This won’t affect your signal at all but that doesn’t stop them. If anything it’ll slow your connection down with the amount of spam and adverts these apps come along with. We do this kind of thing for a living and we’re yet to find a software solution which will actually improve your signal at all. The only real answer to a poor signal is a hardware one.

How to Setup a Cell Phone Booster

While different models will vary in exact details the setup is pretty much the same thing. It’s not a magic box capable of finding a cell signal where there wasn’t one before so you will need to place the booster in a location where it can get a signal from your provider. This might take some trial and error and is best done by waving around a phone giving it a chance to get a signal to see how many bars you get.

It should go without saying that indoor devices should not be placed outside but you might not have to pay extra for an outdoor model. Repeaters are built with a single purpose in mind which is to find a strong signal and repeat it from where it is. Your phone on the other hand has to balance quite a lot on a small battery. This means that a decent repeater will be able to get a better signal when your phone might only get a weak one.

It’s going to vary depending on your area but in general you’ll get the strongest signal by placing the repeater by a window. This not only helps get a clear signal to the provider but it means your repeated signal is less likely to be running straight into a thick wall. The setup is actually extremely similar to setting up a wireless repeater and the most important part of either is positioning.

Cell Phone Repeater Alternatives

Sometimes even a cell phone repeater won’t get you a signal. At the end of the day if your provider can’t get a signal to the phone repeater then it won’t help you either – so let’s take a look at some of the alternatives. First up is the obvious one. And most likely the one you’ve been doing so far.

Relying on your Wireless Network

Since more of our messages are going through messaging systems like Facebook and WhatsApp you don’t actually need a signal to your phone provider. A wireless internet signal would get you connected to these and if your wireless network doesn’t reach an area you’re not reliant on your provider in the same way as you are with a mobile phone. A third party wireless repeater can take your network from one part of a building to another the same way as we normally would with a cell provider and a cell signal repeater.

You won’t have access to some of the phone functionality like SMS and phone calls but with more and more of us doing all of these things through the internet do you really even need them any more?

Switching Provider

I mentioned before about switching threatening to switch provider to see if they could send you a free cell extender. Well it might just be that your provider isn’t able to give your area a decent signal. If you try the phone of someone else and they don’t have any issues then it might be worth just admitting defeat and changing to the other provider. Some of them will provide online services which let you check signal strength to certain areas but whenever possible ideally you want to check it with a real phone before committing yourself to another network.

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