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Cell Phone Antenna

Updated on February 16, 2010

What is a cell phone antenna, and why would you need one? Cell phones are ubiquitous these days, and it seems like where ever you go you see a cell tower, but they aren't always reliable. My cell phone service is terrible. I won't mention the company, but it's national, so it's not some local two bit player. At work, I have to go outside and walk around to find that sweet spot where I can actually get some bars. I don't live in some backwater either, my actual city is in the top 100 cities, and it's in the second largest metropolitan area in the state. So you'd think that getting cell service would be a no brainer. You might even have the same problem yourself. A lot of buildings have problems with cell service. That's not so much a problem with the service as the building. A metal framed building acts as a large antenna, soaking up radio waves. It's kind of like your old AM radio in your car going out when you drove through a tunnel or under a bridge. Well, if any of this sounds familiar then a cell phone antenna might be something you could use.

We expect cell phones to just work, and usually they do, and we just take it for granted. However for their size they are the most complex devices we use daily. They must take our voice, turn it into a digital signal, and send it, at the same time they're uncompressing the signal they're receiving and turning it into what we hear. They must make millions of calculations a second just to work. Back in the early 1980's it would have taken a room full of equipment and computers just to work.

Just receiving cellular signals is amazing itself. The cell in cell phone refers to small antenna areas.  Since there are so many people in a city, there aren't enough frequencies to go around, and it takes two for each conversation.  Think about a walkie talkie, only one person can talk at a time, it uses one frequency.  Anyway what cell companies must do is reuse frequencies in different cells, of course these cells can't be right next to each other.  So when you talk on your mobile phone while you travel you're being switched off from cell antenna to cell antenna.  

Cell Phone Booster Antenna

Photo by PChow98 via Flickr
Photo by PChow98 via Flickr

Of course mobile phones are "mobile" so you need to be able to move around with them. Unfortunately, you'll need to be in either a vehicle or building. There are cell phone antenna boosters, that you're supposed to be able to stick on, but they don't work. Here's a test somebody did with different stickers, and 3 different cell phones in different locations. He found that they actually made reception worse. Remember cell phones are two way, anything metal that you stick on could potentially block reception. Plus they're not connected to anything inside your phone.

Cell phone antennas come in two types, an external cell phone antenna that plugs into the RF port on your cell phone, or some of the data cards allow the connections of a cell antenna too. The second type, a cell phone antenna signal booster, which takes an existing signal and them amplifies it. The cell signal booster is meant to be used in a car or a building. It will amplify the cell signals it receives, it's not tied to a particular carrier, it will amplify any signal. There are portable versions that you can use in your car, or take with you and set up in whatever building you go into. These cell signal boosters or repeaters need to be plugged into the wall, or your car cigarette lighter, but they do not get plugged into your phone. Basically they take whatever signals are in the air and make them stronger. You can also get them permanent versions, these are often installed into skyscrapers or other buildings that typically get poor reception.  

The external antennas like the wilson cell phone antenna, need to be plugged into the phone itself.  These are typically used in a car situation.  You'll need to get one that works specifically with your cell phone.  Different phones have different type plugs.  Some are in the power port, some on the bottom port, some phones can be slipped into a cradle, the sends the signal to the phone.  Some phones don't have any place to connect the external cell antenna, in that case cell signal doubler would be more appropriate.  


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