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. Massachusetts firm buys Tampa's Element apartment tower

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Downtown Tampa's Element apartment tower sold this week to a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company that plans to upgrade the skyscraper's amenities and operate it long-term as a rental community.

    The Element apartment high-rise at 808 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa has been sold to a Northland Investment Corp., a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company. JIM DAMASKE  |  Times
  2. New York town approves Legoland proposal


    GOSHEN, N.Y. — New York is one step closer to a Lego dreamland. Goshen, a small town about fifty miles northwest of the Big Apple, has approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park.

    A small New York town, Goshen approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park. Legoland Florida is in Winter Haven. [Times file  photo]
  3. Jordan Park to get $20 million makeover and new senior housing

    Real Estate


    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG —The St. Petersburg Housing Authority, which bought back the troubled Jordan Park public housing complex this year, plans to spend about $20 million to improve the 237-unit property and construct a new three-story building for …

    Jordan Park, the historic public housing complex, is back in the hands of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority. The agency is working to improve the 237-unit complex. But the latest plan to build a new three-story building for seniors will mean 31 families have to find new homes. [LARA CERRI   |   Tampa Bay Times]
  4. Coming soon at two Tampa Bay area hospitals: a cancer treatment that could replace chemo


    A new cancer treatment that could eventually replace chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants — along with their debilitating side effects — soon will be offered at two of Tampa Bay's top-tier hospitals.

    Dr. Frederick Locke at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa is a principal investigator for an experimental therapy that retrains white blood cells in the body's immune system to fight cancer cells. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved these so-called "CAR-T" treatments for adults this month. In trials, 82 percent of cases responded well to the treatment, and 44 percent are still in remission at least eight months later, Locke said. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  5. Regulator blasts Wells Fargo for deceptive auto insurance program


    Wells Fargo engaged in unfair and deceptive practices, failed to properly manage risks and hasn't set aside enough money to pay back the customers it harmed, according to a confidential report by federal regulators.

    Wells Fargo engaged in unfair and deceptive practices, failed to properly manage risks and hasn't set aside enough money to pay back the customers it harmed, according to a confidential report by federal regulators.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images, 2017]