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EVDOinfo Tip of the Week #14: Boost Your Blackberry Signal

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Friday, 31 July 2009

tip of the week by evdoinfo.com

 

EVDOinfo.com has long been your source for tips, tricks, hacks and suggestions for getting the most out of your EVDO service, and each week we will be highlighting a particularly interesting or popular topic in the "Tip of the Week" feature. To suggest future Tips of the Week, contact us at suggestions@evdoinfo.com or post your suggestions in the EVDO Forums

 



Boost Signal to Your Sprint/Verizon/Alltel/AT&T/T-Mobile Blackberry

Blackberry phones have been a favorite with PDA users for years, and in the past months RIM (the manufacturer) has cemented the popularity of their brand with exciting new models like the Rev-A Storm for Verizon, the Bold for AT&T, and the new Rev-A Tour for both Verizon and Sprint. There is a lot to love about these new models as well as the classic Blackberry's like the Pearl, Curve, and 8830. Blackberry's are super easy to use and provide a lot of great functionality - including tether-capability - but they do have one downside: no antenna port to connect a signal-boosting antenna.

Since voice and data quality is largely signal-dependent, Blackberry users on ANY carrier have likely experienced the occassional dropped call, lack of service, or slow internet connection. This can be very frustrating and the lack of antenna port has lead many Blackberry users to believe that there is nothing they can do to improve their signal. This is not true, however - there are plenty of wireless options to boost the signal to your Blackberry!

Before investing in a wireless solution to boost your signal, it is important to do some testing to determine whether an amplifier will really help your signal and performance. 

You are probably already quite familiar with where to view your signal on your Blackberry: it usually appears in "bars" in the upper right corner of your home screen. Using "bars" or even "percentage" to measure your signal is really not very accurate, however. RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) numbers provide a much more accurate numerical portrayal of what your signal strength is, and when you are doing your signal strength testing you will always want to look at your RSSI, not your "bars".

Like most phones, Blackberry devices do not show signal strength in RSSI as the default. However, it's easy to switch the display from showing bars to displaying the numerical RSSI!

To view the RSSI on your Blackberry device, follow this simple step (this should work on ANY Blackberry from ANY carrier):

While holding the ALT button down, type “NMLL”. 

That's it! Your signal bars wil change to display your RSSI, which appears as a negative number:

blackberry tour RSSI
Left: a screenshot of the Blackberry Tour in the default mode. Right: a screenshot of the Blackberry Tour showing RSSI

Now that you know how to view your RSSI, you'll need to make sense of the number and do some testing!

Your RSSI appears as a negative number. The closer the number is to zero, the better your signal strength is. For example, -65 dBm is a much better signal than -95 dBm, which is better than -100dBm, and so on. A good target RSSI indoors is -80 dBm; at that point, it is highly likely you are getting the best performance the cellular tower is able to provide to you.

In order to determine if an amplifier/repeater will help you with your Blackberry signal issues, you'll want to do some testing, also known as a "site survey" (this testing is very important for users looking for a signal boosting solution for ONE location - if you're hoping to boost the signal to your Blackberry in multiple locations - such as in your RV or car - you can skip this survey as obviously it is not practical/possible to test in every location you will use your phone!):

  1. Start by noting what your RSSI is at the location you want to use your Blackberry. Also note the performance at this location - do you experience dropped calls, for example? To test your data performance, do a speedtest by going to speedtest.net in your Blackberry browser and note the results.
  2. Next, head outside and note the best RSSI you can find immediately outside/around your house (make a call to ensure the RSSI is being updated). Did the call quality improve outside? Do another speedtest at speedtest.net and note the results.
  3. Next, locate the nearest location that has a solid -80dBm signal (this often includes driving!). Repeat your speedtest at speedtest.net and note the results. Also note what is between the location you want to use your Blackberry and the spot you found -80dBm (trees? Elevation?)

The reason we ask you to do this testing is because it is important to find out whether better signal is available in your area and to confirm that boosting your signal will result in better performance. For more information on why this testing is important, check out this blog post.

Once you've determined that you need a signal boosting solution for your Blackberry, there are several options:

The basic concept of a wireless repeater set-up includes one antenna to draw in the cellular signal, an amplifier to boost it, and a second antenna or transmitter to re-broadcast the boosted signal to the cellular device, plus the appropriate cables and connectors. Putting together a repeater setup can be a little confusing, but there are several easy-to-use kits available that include all of the necessary components! Below are our recommendations for boosting the signal to your Blackberry

Option A: SignalBoost Mobile Pro

signalboost mobile proThe SignalBoost MP is the most portable wireless signal boosting solution, requiring no permanent installation. The kit includes everything you need to boost the signal to your Blackberry on the road OR at home: AC & DC adapters, USB cable (for power), dash & suction mounts, pouch and 12" magnetic mount external antenna. It is not the most powerful option, however, and the range is rather limited - your device must be very close to the amplifier to benefit from the boosted signal.

Pro's:

  • Cost 
  • Portability - the MP comes with AC & DC adapters and requires NO permanent installation. You can move it from your car to your dorm and back again in the pouch it came in!
  • Supports multiple devices - if you have other cellular devices besides your Blackberry (data cards, other cell phones, etc), they will also benefit from the boosted signal the SignalBoost MP provides (please note that while there is no technical "maximum" number of cellular devices that can benefit from the boosted signal, the effectiveness will be limited by the available signal. The better the signal, the more devices that can benefit. All cellular devices must be close to the amplifier to benefit).

Con's:

  • Because it is powered by USB, the range is limited. Devices must be within a few feet of the amplifier to benefit.

Bottom line: Because of the limited range, the SignalBoost MP is best suited for folks who do not have the option of permanently mounting an amplifier in their vehicle or those living in a small apartment/dorm where installing an external antenna is not an option and range is not important.

 

signalboost dtOption B: Wilson SignalBoost DT

The SignalBoost DT is a great solution for the home or office and includes everything you need for a stationary setup: amplifier, antenna, mounting kit, 50 feet of cable and wireless antenna. The receiving antenna is a directional antenna, meaning you must know (or be willing to find out via research and/or trial and error) the general direction of the cellular tower serving you in order to properly install the antenna and obtain the best gain possible - this makes the DT an impractical solution for travelers but excellent for home or office use.

Pro's:

  • Greater range (2-5x what you'll see with the MP) - your devices can be further from the amplifier and still benefit from the boost.
  • Directional receiving antenna provides a higher gain than an omni-directional antenna, allowing you to grab signal from towers that are further away (but only if you know where the tower is or are willing to do a little testing to find out)
  • Supports multiple devices -if you have other cellular devices besides your Blackberry (data cards, other cell phones, etc), they will also benefit from the boosted signal the SignalBoost DT provides (please note that while there is no technical "maximum" number of cellular devices that can benefit from the boosted signal, the effectiveness will be limited by the available signal. The better the signal, the more devices that can benefit).

Con's:

  • Directional receiving antenna requires additional effort and testing and makes this inappropriate for mobile use
  • Higher cost

Bottom Line: For stationary use, the SignaBoost DT is an excellent choice. It's FAR more powerful than the MobilePro and you'll have quite a bit more range. If you aren't comfortable doing a little extra work to make install the directional receiving antenna (remember, if it's not pointed properly it won't do anything!), this setup is not for you, but the results are definitely worth the effort!

 

Wilson Sleek BoosterOption C: Wilson Sleek All-In-One SignalBooster

The Sleek is a universal signal booster for both voice and data, meaning you can use it with just about any cell phone (except Nextel/iDen), and Wilson has set the price to make it accessible to users with any budget - just $129.95! It includes everything you need to boost the signal to your MiFi (or a cell phone): the cradle, which has the amplifier built into it; the 5" tall magnetic mount antenna, which has a 12' of cable attached; a 39" mini-to-standard USB cable for power; and a DC plug-in power supply (for your car's cigarette lighter port). A home/office accessory kit (sold separately) is also available for using the Sleek inside (it includes an AC adapter, window mount for the antenna, desk mount for the cradle, and a carrying case).

Pro's:

  • Price: Wilson's MSRP for the Sleek is just $129.95! This is far cheaper than any other wireless signal boosting option available, making the Sleek accessible to just about everyone, regardless of budget.
  • Size: the short magnetic mount antenna and compact cradle/amplifier make the Sleek easy to fit in just about any environment
  • Portability: no permanent installation is necessary - you can easily take the Sleek from one car to another, or even use it inside (with the optional home/office kit)
  • Versatility: works with just about any phone from any North American carrier (except Nextel/iDen).
  • Simplicity: It is SO easy to set up and use the Sleek.

Bottom Line: With an MSRP of just $129.95 and impressive performance, the Sleek is a great choice for anyone who spends a great deal of time in their vehicle and wants to make sure they have the best possible signal. Unlike most repeaters, though, this kit can only provide a boost to ONE device at a time (whichever device is in the cradle), so if you're hoping to boost the signal to multiple cell phones at the same time, this would not be the best option.

 

What if NONE of these options fits your needs? These kits do not represent the entire spectrum of available repeater setups - as we mentioned earlier, another option would be to build your own setup by selecting the repeater, antennas, and cables separately. If you decide to go that route, we highly recommend contacting 3Gstore to discuss your goals and ensure that you select components that are compatible with each other and your equipment.


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Last Updated ( Friday, 11 June 2010 )
 
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