Tech Answers: Do I need a Wireless Signal Booster?
If your cell phone isn't getting the signal it should or your wireless router isn't doing the job, you need to look at boosting the strength of your signal. Increasing the strength isn't always easy but there are several ways to do it depending on the source and what you’re transmitting to. I'll go through several solutions that can help no matter what kind of wireless device you’re using.
You May Have Everything You Need
The solution to transmitting a stronger signal to and from your gadget might be relatively simple overall. Sometimes it’s just a matter of choosing the solution that works for you. Below are several options that will work with any normal wireless device, with cell specific options near the bottom.
Upgrade the Router Itself
If you’re not getting the wireless signal you need, you should first look at the source of your connection. Not all wireless routers are equal in either their signal strength or their wireless technology. If you're using an older router it might help you the most to swap it out with a router that’s designed to work well at more extended ranges as well as using Wireless N technology. Even if you’re not using a gadget that's designed to work at 'N' levels, a new router may be able to direct signals to your device better or simply use the different frequency channels more effectively.
Upgrade Your Antenna
If it’s not the router itself that’s the issue, the likely culprit is the antenna. Not all antennas are the same. There two different types of antennas that are used in routers: Omnidirectional and Unidirectional. Omnidirectional antennas are designed to send a signal out in all directions. If you change over to a both a high gain and larger antenna for your router your signal will go further to your gadget. Even though you’re not increasing the signal strength of your gadget itself the better antenna on the router will be able to detect and read signals at a lower strength more effectively. A unidirectional antenna is designed to either send or receive signals that are in a certain direction. A satellite antenna is an example of a unidirectional antenna. Unidirectional antennas work best when you have a particular zone you know you’re sending and receiving signals from. If you’re directing your efforts in that one direction, the antenna will have an easier time with those signals. You can even DIY your normal antenna into being unidirectional with a bowl and some tin foil.
Sometimes it’s not directly the antenna itself that’s the problem, it’s the location. Wireless signals travel through some materials easier than others. Certain materials can weaken the signal, and others may introduce interference making it even harder for the signal to get from one place to another. Antennas always work best when you have a clear line of sight from one point to another. You generally can't eliminate walls from the equation but you can minimize the effect. There are generally more objects lower to the ground then higher up, so put your antenna in the highest point you can manage.
Sometimes no matter what you do to boost the signal, it’s just not enough to get a connection to certain spots. This is when a Repeater can be useful. These are also marketed as range boosters can be either a wireless or a wired device that speaks to your router and repeats everything that it 'hears' and will relay the messages from your router to your gadget and vice versa. A wired repeater would be best for speed, and as such it is much more common, but a wireless repeater can still be effective.
The Wired Option
Wireless is great for the freedom that it gives, but nothing beats a wired signal for both speed and consistency. It might not be an option for all of your devices, but if you use a wired connection for some of your devices, it might enable you to move the router and/or antenna to a new location and help cover the other spots that need a bit more love.
Cell Phone Options
Cell phones are a little different in that you don't control both ends of the wireless connection. Things that technically could work just aren't possible. That means you need to go straight to a signal booster to improve your signal strength. Depending on where you need the increased signal strength there are different options for you.
Getting Better Cell Signal Strength at Home
When you need a signal booster at home it generally comes in a kit with two pieces. Like a wireless router it consists of an antenna and box that process the signals. If it’s an omnidirectional antenna the best place for it is the highest spot that you can put it in. The roof is the best place as it gives you the best chance for a clean line of sight to the tower. If you’re using an unidirectional antenna simply pointing it towards the tower where it has a clear line of sight is good enough. Put the signal relay near the spot that will reach the most coverage and you're done.
Although not a true signal booster you can also get a device from your cell company that will use your internet connection rather then a connection to your local cell tower to improve your connection. Both can be quite effective at eliminating dropped calls and keeping your signal strength powerful.
Getting Better Cell Signal Strength on the Move
Similar to the signal relay that you can put in your home, if you need a signal booster on the go you can also buy one for your car. Some of these are permanent kits that you can attach to your car, but you can also get temporary ones that have magnetic antennas that can be removed. Using these larger antennas that are on the outside of the vehicle you can relay the signal to the inside and keep yourself connected even in areas that you would normally drop calls.