As for the one that works best for you? Well, it all depends.
The options include:
• a femtocell (or microcell)
• Wi-Fi calling
• a cellular signal booster (or cellular repeater)
Each has its specific advantages, and its drawbacks.
If your cell reception is bad enough your carrier may offer you a femtocell at a discounted price, which still could cost you $150 or more. The femtocell works with your broadband Internet connection to enhance cell phone coverage by creating a cell signal source, a “micro” cell site or base station, inside your home or other interior space.
Voice and data traffic moves across your carrier’s network and is delivered to the femtocell via the Internet. Your phone communicates directly with the femtocell, which typically has a range up to about 50 feet.
Residential femto models usually support up to four or five cellular devices, while enterprise models can support a dozen or more. One drawback – you have to have a broadband connection in order to use a femtocell, so using your cell phone also uses your Internet bandwidth.
A femtocell works only for your specific carrier, and your phone must be paired, or synched, with the femtocell to in order to access the microsite signal. That means family members, roommates or coworkers with other service providers (or unsynched devices) can’t benefit from your improved cell service.
One more disadvantage: a microcell cannot “hand off” voice/data traffic as the cellular network does. If you move out of the femotcell’s range or step outside the building, you lose service.
That means while you’re on a call or downloading, your “mobile” phone is rendered stationary, or at least must remain within range, until you are finished with your call or download.
And depending on your carrier’s subsidy, or lack of, a femto can be an expensive option. Your carrier may charge a monthly service fee on your cell bill for use of the femtocell.
Wi-Fi calling works for some, and may be an option for you. Wi-Fi calling also uses your broadband connection at home or in the workplace, but doesn’t require special equipment like a femtocell.
It does however require that your cell service provider support Wi-Fi calling (not all carriers do) AND requires that you have a phone model that supports calls over Wi-Fi. Some newer models do, but most phones don’t.
Cellular Signal Booster
Finally, a cellular booster works by detecting the cell signal outside the building, bringing it inside and amplifying it, and then rebroadcasting the amplified signal to the interior space so your phone or other device can use it. As a result you get stronger, more reliable reception indoors.
You can think of this process as if it were describing an FM radio, which operates in very similar fashion. An antenna collects the radio signal, an amplifier boosts the signal and it’s then distributed as sound waves by the speakers.
A cell booster operates in the same fashion, but it also boosts the signal in both directions. When a cellular device transmits a signal back to the tower, the booster system repeats the process described above in reverse order. That is:
• the signal from your mobile device is collected by an inside antenna;
• the signal is amplified;
• the amplified signal is broadcast back to the cell tower by an outside antenna.
Signal booster benefits
Many cell signal boosters are universal – they work with all carriers and all cellular devices, including advanced services like 4G LTE. Because signal boosters operate on specific radio frequencies, just like your smartphone, no synching of devices is required.
A signal booster does NOT create a cell signal, so there must be a signal available to amplify. However, boosters typically have extremely sensitive receivers that can detect signal at a very faint level – far below the signal threshold detectable by a smartphone.
A booster is a one-time equipment purchase, so there are no recurring charges or fees on your monthly bill. The FCC requires that U.S. users report their signal booster to their cell carrier using an online registration system. As long as you comply, your carrier won’t try to prevent you from installing a booster.
For many situations of weak indoor signal, a cell signal booster may be your best option to improve cell phone reception.