NEWS AND RESOURCES

What's New in Technology for February, 2010

Technology: Cell Phone Signal Boosters

Several manufacturers unveiled new cell phone signal boosters at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show. These new offerings tackle the most fundamental and frustrating problem that can stymie cell phone users: a weak signal that results in dropped calls, poor sound quality and limited range. Even with today's plethora of Internet applications, music playing options and camera/video possibilities, the most sophisticated smart phone can't function without a good signal. As we all become increasingly reliant on our smart phones for information, news and day-to-day dialog, our demand for access to consistent, clear communications at work, on the road and at home becomes even more compelling.

Cell phone signal boosters have evolved quickly to meet users' needs. The first products were in-house booster devices designed to improve the strength of cell phone signals used in office or residential buildings. These boosters were designed to be mounted on a roof or high wall to remedy problems experienced by people who lived or worked in buildings with dead spots. Mobile boosters soon came along to offer the same solution for cell phone users on the road. The exterior antenna is placed on the vehicle’s roof or window to feed the signal into the car. Later models offered a completely wireless option.

Whether they are in-house or mobile, signal boosters work by using a powerful antenna to capture and strengthen weak signals that cell phones can't pick up. Some manufacturers, including AT&T, offer a different option that uses an Internet connection to get a signal. Advantages of the Internet boost, according to the manufacturers, include a better bang for the buck from your cell phone plan and less drain on your phone’s batteries.

The new booster products offered at the CES were slimmer, user-friendly and easier to install and operate than earlier models. Here are some that attracted a lot of attention:

  • Wilson Electronics Sleek signal booster, $129
    Designed to fit around most cell phone models, the Sleek allows users to hold the phone in the usual manner or to use an earpiece. It is powered through a car cigarette lighter adaptor and works on all major 3G frequencies except Nextel. Users report that it significantly increases ambient wireless signals.
  • CelLynx 5BARz Road Warrior, $299
    Perhaps the most versatile option compatible with all carriers and wireless devices is the CelLynx 5BARz Road Warrior device, which plugs into electrical outlets and car cigarette lighter adaptors. Simple to pick up and use, this device works with cell phones and data-enabled laptops.
  • zBoost, products range from $119 to $ 499
    A variety of products created to solve the problems of dropped calls, poor signal reception or dead zones are available at www.wi-ex.com. Wi-Ex offers a number of different zBoost products for home or mobile use. The zPocket YX110 is perhaps the closest competitor to the Sleek. The less expensive models designed for 800 MHz and 1900 MHz frequencies have a shorter range and are most useful in smaller spaces such as hotel rooms and dorms.

Before rushing out to buy a cell phone signal booster, make sure that it will benefit you. Boosters will not conjure up a signal where there is none. If you are not entirely sure that coverage exists, be sure to find a retailer that will allow you to return the booster if it doesn’t work in your area.

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