Solving A Cellular Signal Problem

Wilson Electronics zBoostMy wife’s family is from Thorndale, TX. Bert, her oldest brother, lives at the family’s homestead. In his late 60’s Bert recently got his first cell phone. It’s as pretty basic flip-phone. It’s exactly what he needs. However, he’s having trouble receiving calls when he’s in the house.

The rear portion of the old house has a steel roof. That’s also where Bert’s bedroom is located. As far as I know the cellular signal is ok in the yard, and even in the front portion of the house. But if Bert is in the rear of the house his cell phone loses it’s connection to the nearest tower.

Bert’s cell service is a prepaid account. I don’t know what company provides the service, but Googling for the phone number I see it belongs to Cingular. That suggests that the service provider is using AT&T’s network. This tells us what kind of network it uses (GSM) and the frequencies involved.

A week ago I tweeted an inquiry about cellular signal boosters. Rakesh Agrawal replied, telling of a good experience with Wilson Electronics Wi-Ex signal boosters. Apparently Rakesh’s company, Snapstream, had cellular connectivity issues in their former location. He described that building as a metal box.

On the strength of that recommendation Stella ordered a Wireless Extenders zBoost YX540 Metro Dual-Band Cell Phone Signal Booster. Offered for $149 on Amazon.com and promising to provide a up to 1500 sq ft of cellular coverage it seemed a sensible solution.

The kit includes an antenna that mounts to an exterior window, then a long length of coax cable that connects it to the amplifier unit. A monopole antenna on the amplifier redistributes the cellular signal inside the house.

For tough situations the company offers optional enhancements, including a range of directional antennas with better signal gain properties.

For the situation Bert faces the zBoost YX540 appears to provide a solution that’s easily installed, even for someone with no specific technical skills. In our case Stella may well install the device herself when next she visits Thorndale.

I set it up in our house just to get some sense of it’s installation. It was pretty simple. The key thing being to keep some distance between the window-mounted antenna and the powered module. The instructions say that they should be separated by at least 8 feet.

Since Both Estella and I carry cell phones from T-Mobile we were not able to evaluate the zBoost device at home. T-Mobiles phones operate in a slightly odd frequency range known as AWS that is not covered by the zBoost device. This also explains why T-Mobile always has a slightly different list of phones available. They need handset manufacturers to include an AWS radio in order offer the device.

I’ll post the results of our experience with the zBoost device once we have it installed at the homestead in Thorndale.

  • Greg W

    Looking forward to hearing the results.  Do you know what device would be correct for use with Sprint?  We have radiant barrier.  Cell service outside is great, inside is a 1 bar affair.  Although Ive never missed a call, I wouldnt mind bumping up signal quality for a reasonable fee.

    • Greg W if you have internet at the location. I use Sprint Airave in my home, otherwise I have no Sprint signal, which is strange since my Wife’s Verizon phone has full 4G LTE. Just had to call up Sprint and say I don’t have good signal in my home and they sent it to me for free per month (just a buck or 2 in extra taxes) http://now.sprint.com/airave/?ECID=vanity:airaveaccesspoint 

  • lifespeed

    Isn’t a micro-cell connecting you over the internet via low-power cell radio preferred to a two-hop radio repeater?

    • Perhaps, but we’re on a budget in this case. The zBoost device was only about $160. Also, the site in question doesn’t have broadband internet access.

      • lifespeed

        Lack of broadband is a showstopper.  But for those with internet, microcells are competitive on cost.  I have a friend who uses a microcell and it works well for a cellular call.  Nowhere near as good as VoIP over smartphone, though.    😉