Make us your home page

Tips for getting a better cellphone signal

As more Americans drop their landline service in favor of a cellphone, the importance of a good voice connection at home grows. Unfortunately, a call that works well on the street often deteriorates significantly in the bedroom or the basement.

Barely adequate signals outside become even worse once they must penetrate concrete, metal and multiple walls. Fortunately, you can take some steps to reduce weak and dropped calls. And soon, you will be able to improve the quality of the voice itself. Here's how:

Your own cell tower

All of the major carriers offer a device or technology that allows access to the standard cellular network through a home's broadband connection.

Three of the carriers provide what is essentially a personal cell tower that looks much like a standard Wi-Fi router. The setup is simple: You plug it into your router, where it accesses the cellular network and sends a signal into your home that can improve your connection quality to as high as five bars. Standard voice minute charges apply.

Each carrier's device works only for that carrier's subscribers and is sold by the carrier directly. AT&T calls its product a 3G MicroCell. Sprint's is the Airave Access Point and Verizon offers the Network Extender.

T-Mobile offers a different solution, called Wi-Fi Calling. It allows customers to make calls using an available Wi-Fi network. To do so, you need a Wi-Fi Calling-capable phone. Those include models using the Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 8 operating systems, but Apple's iPhone will not work with it.

AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon claim that their personal cell tower devices will improve coverage by up to 5,000 feet. In tests of the AT&T device, coverage in some areas about 25 feet away from the unit went from zero to five bars.

Depending on the carrier, the price for the personal cell site can be as high as $250, although many subscribers pay much less or even nothing. In interviews, each carrier said that if subscribers experience a large number of dropped calls in their home, they have a good chance of getting the device free.

Direct signal boosters

Unlike personal cell sites, signal boosters amplify the strength of all cellphone frequencies, regardless of carrier. That makes them a better choice for commercial spaces, where cell users may be customers of different providers.

Phone numbers don't have to be registered and, because the device doesn't use broadband to gain access to the cellular network, broadband speeds are not affected.

Signal boosters are just as easy to set up as personal cell sites. In tests, the DB Pro model from Wilson Electronics performed much like the personal cell site, raising a one- and two-bar signal to five bars within 25 feet of the antenna, but not improving the signal at the opposite end of my home.

Unlike personal cell sites, signal boosters are bought from retailers, with prices ranging from about $225 to $350.

Sound quality

No matter how strong the signal, the limited frequency range used by cellphones means that the calls will still sound worse than virtually any landline call. That is slowly beginning to change.

A technology called HD Voice promises to sharply reduce background noise and also improve voice fidelity. This YouTube video — — can give you a sense of HD Voice.

But there are caveats: The technology works only if you have an HD Voice-compatible phone (the iPhone is HD Voice-compatible on some networks), both parties are using an HD Voice phone on the same network and the network offers HD Voice technology in both locations.

A simpler way

If neither a personal cell site nor a signal booster is right for you, and you don't want to wait for HD Voice, there is one easier way to ensure that your cellphone call sounds like a landline's: When you're at home, simply forward all of your calls to your landline number. If the other caller is also using a landline, the quality will be great. On the iPhone, go to settings/phone/call forwarding. On Android phones, you'll find the feature at settings/my device/call/additional settings/call forwarding.

Tips for getting a better cellphone signal 08/04/13 [Last modified: Sunday, August 4, 2013 6:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, New York Times.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. New apartment complex delivers unique floor plans


    RIVERVIEW — A new luxury apartment community has opened in the Progress Village area touting itself as a distinct living option just 10 miles from downtown Tampa.

    Alta at Magnolia Park dubs its new apartment community, that opened earlier this year in Riverview, a modern and distinct option for living just 10 miles from downtown Tampa.
  2. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming


    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]
  3. A sports rout on Wall Street


    NEW YORK — Sporting goods retailers can't shake their losing streak.

  4. Grocery chain Aldi hosting hiring event in Brandon Aug. 24


    BRANDON — German grocery chain Aldi is holding a hiring event for its Brandon store Aug. 24. It is looking to fill store associate, shift manager and manager trainee positions.

  5. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik backs film company pursuing global blockbusters


    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's latest investment might be coming to a theater near you.

    Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner, invested in a new movie company looking to appeal to a global audience. | [Times file photo]