If your house is in a location with bad cell phone coverage, or the walls of your house seem to cut the signal greatly, there are two ways of dealing with the issue. You can either amplify signals from the closest tower and rebroadcast them inside your home. or setup what is called a femtocell device, which is effectively a tiny self-contained cell phone tower that uses your broadband connection to communicate with your cell provider to create a little house sized cell tower. Additionally there is Wi-Fi calling, which may be a good solution if you just have call quality options, instead of more serious “My phone keeps draining it’s battery searching for towers.” issues.
- If you have a few bars of signal and are worried about dropped calls and quality, look at WiFi calling first.
- If you have strong landline internet and one of the primary carriers, look into a femtocell solution.
- If those options don’t fit, you are looking at booster systems.
This is the easiest, cheapest solution. If you get a bar or two, and the tower doesn’t drop signal in your home, you can solve your call quality issues by utilizing Wi-Fi calling. It’s available on almost all modern phones, both Android and Apple. You need compatible wireless hardware to see a good result, but most modern Wi-Fi systems (802.11AC) have that ability. The easiest way to check if you can do this on your network hardware is to try it out with your phone.
On an Android phone, it is slightly different depending on the phone manufacturer and carrier. But typically you go into ‘Settings’ and find Wi-Fi calling under ‘connections’ to toggle it on. If your phone doesn’t already have HD Voice enabled, it will prompt you to do so, and typically send you to the HD voice settings page.
Here is a video of me doing it on my LG V20
I know Samsung works quite similarly, when I set this up for my parents for their new home in Tennessee a few months back I just togged it in the same menus.
On an iPhone, you
- Open the Settings app.
- Tap Phone, then Wi-Fi Calling.
- Toggle the Wi-Fi Calling on This iPhone switch to On.
It works extremely well when you have good WiFi signal, but quality degrades rapidly if you move away from your wireless access points too much. With good WiFi coverage in the home, this isn’t an issue.
Emergency Contact information can be updated in either IOS or android in the Wi-Fi calling screen. If you have cell service, the emergency dial completes like normal over that. If you don’t have cellular reception, but do have Wi-Fi and make an emergency call, the information provided in this form will be the information that the emergency services operation will have through the automated system. It’s important to fill in your current home information there.
If you have one of the big three providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile), and you have reasonably stable landline internet, then a Femtocell might be just the thing you want.
The viability of this solution for you depends on two things, your home internet connection’s reliability/speed and your wireless provider. If you have AT&T, Verizon, or T-mobile this is a viable option for full 4G service. If you have sprint, there is only a 3G option unfortunately. If you have a MVNO provider, one that buys service from AT&T, Verizon, or T-mobile, this won’t work. You will have to stick to either Wi-Fi calling or go for a signal booster system.
Next, you need to have stable, low latency internet access you can plug this device into. It won’t do any good if you are already on a marginal DSL connection or have satellite internet with huge delays. This makes this solution less popular in rural areas where bad cell signal, and spotty internet option tend to go hand in hand.
- AT&T no longer sells their Femtocell, which they call a microcell, but you can readily buy them on Amazon still.
- Verizon does sell theirs still, which you can buy from Verizon directly.
- T-Mobile will assign you one if you put down a $25 deposit, which must be returned should you cancel service. You also must have a post-paid account (ie you pay them every month, not a pre-paid account). According to this T-mobile resource page, the easiest way to get one might be to go to the nearest corporate owned T-mobile outlet and ask about a ‘Personal Cellspot’.
- Sprint users, I wouldn’t even bother at this point. You are looking at 3G service which is set to sunset in 2019 anyway.
- All other carriers, this won’t work for you anyway. Only the big three have hardware in any form.
Signal Boosters far more interesting category. It doesn’t rely on some sort of software system or need to connect up with your provider to enable something. This is just pure radio science applied. This has a number of advantages:
- There isn’t a hard limit on number of people who can use it.
- You don’t need to seek approval or assistance from your provider
- It works at a frequency level, not a protocol level, so it won’t go outdated as technology changes year to year.
- It works for most carriers simultaneously
You get a directional Antenna and mount it up high somewhere (typically a roof), and point it towards the nearest cell phone tower. You can download a really helpful app if you need help finding the nearest tower. Opensignal will turn your phone into a little signal dowsing rod and you will be able to figure it out in no time. Then you run a cable into the amplifier, and another cable from the amplifier to the antenna to broadcast inside the home.
The best options in this space are all made by Wilson Amplifiers, either under their Pro line, or the WeBoost consumer line. Typically the WeBoost system is good for smaller homes, and once you start talking 5000sqft homes or extremely poor signal quality to start with outside, it starts to make more and more sense to look at the Wilson Pro line instead.
There are two options worth talking about:
The WeBoost Connect 4G 470103 Kit should solve the average home’s problem. The WeBoost line has another slightly more powerful unit, but at that price/performance point it makes sense to just go for the Pro series instead.
The Wilson Pro 70 Series is a significant step up and is actually their best selling product. People tend to want to make sure they can cover everything in the house with some padding to spare, and that gets sorta borderline as houses get larger.
These kits are expensive, but will age far more gracefully than the Femtocell options, and be useful far longer. They probably help with resale value as well especially in areas with poor telecom infrastructure. Carrier configuration is just a few buttons so it will always be a useful selling point for buyers. In the end, it’s a quality of life improvement thing, as it’s quite annoying to have bad coverage in your own home.
Signal Boosters are the most elegant solution to the problem of poor cell signal. It helps you, it helps your guests, and it’s not going to go out of date because your carrier changes some technical protocol. It just boosts signals, whatever they are.