In-Vehicle Signal Boosting: SignalBoost MP (801241) vs In-Vehicle Repeater (801201)

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Friday, 19 March 2010

In-Vehicle Signal Boosting: SignalBoost MP vs In-Vehicle Repeater

left to right: the 12" magnetic mount antenna (included with SignalBoost MP), SignalBoost MP amplifier, In-Vehicle amplifier, "candy bar" internal antenna (included with In-Vehicle amp), 12" magnetic mount antenna (one of the antenna options for In-Vehicle amp)

For truckers, traveling professionals, RV-ers, and road-trippers who spend a great deal of time in their vehicles, cell phones and mobile broadband devices are crucial to getting work done or simply staying in touch with the rest of the world. As many of these on-the-go wireless users have experienced, a weak cellular signal can be a major pain (dropped calls! Internet speeds slowing to a crawl!) or even a safety hazard (imagine a flat tire in the middle of nowhere... and your cell phone can't hold a signal long enough to call AAA).

With wireless connectivity being such a vital part of life on the road, signal boosting equipment is understandably a major concern for many of these types of customers. For folks that just need to provide a signal boost to one device and it has an antenna port, an antenna directly connected to their device may be all they need. This isn't an option for everyone, though: many users have phones that don't have an antenna port, or want to boost the signal to multiple devices at once, or simply don't want to be physically "leashed" to an antenna. In those cases, a wireless repeater is the answer.

There are a wide variety of repeaters available, and it's not always easy to determine which one best suits your needs - many products look similar and are intended to achieve essentially the same goal (wireless signal boosting to more than one device), making it hard to know which one to buy. To learn more about repeaters in general and the differences between all the different models, we recommend checking out our Repeater FAQ, but in this article we're going to compare two of the most common choices for in-vehicle signal wireless signal boosting: the Wilson SignalBoost Mobile Professional Kit (801241) and Wilson Cellular 40dB In-Vehicle Repeater (801201).

The SignalBoost Mobile Pro is typically used by mobile users who need to boost the signal wirelessly to up to three devices (phones or aircards) in a small area and need something portable (for example, traveling sales reps who frequently use rental cars in rural territory). The MobilePro requires no permanent installation and can easily be transported, but it is not the most powerful option and the devices must be very close to the amp to benefit from the boosted signal. Click here to read our complete review of the SignalBoost MP.

  • affordable
  • super portable
  • compact - doesn't take up much space
  • easy to install
  • dual-band (boosts the signal to cell phones/aircards on most US/Canada networks except direct-connect)
  • includes everything you need in one affordable kit
  • can also be used indoors - since it's powered by USB, you could power it through a computer
  • your devices must be very close (within a few feet) to the amp to benefit from the boost
  • powered by USB, so it's not as powerful as other amps

The in-vehicle amplifier is a more powerful option than the SignalBoost MP and can provide coverage to a slightly larger area, but still offers the convenience of a portable, compact kit that doesn't require a lot of separation between the internal and external antennas like building amplifiers do. The in-vehicle amp also gives you more options for the external antenna - you can purchase a kit that includes the magnetic mount antenna (which would be the most portable option) or a kit that includes a 32" omni external antenna (less portable, but a taller antenna often provides better results), or you can even buy the amplifier alone and use it with an existing Wilson antenna if you already own one! No permanent installation required, simply attach the antennas, plug in the cigarette lighter adapter and your setup is complete.

  • affordable
  • portable
  • easy to install
  • provides noticeably more range than the MP
  • "candy bar" style antenna (which is included and serves as the internal rebroadcasting antenna) can be velcro-attached to seat back or the device itself
  • can be purchased alone if you already have an antenna or as part of a kit if you need all the components
  • several options for external antenna
  • dual-band (boosts the signal to cell phones/aircards on most US/Canada networks except direct-connect)
  • can be used inside with optional AC adapter
  • still need to be relatively close to amp to benefit from boost
  • more expensive then MP
  • slightly more bulky than MP

Side-by-side testing: To compare the performance of these two popular options, we performed some "side-by-side" testing to see the gain each provided and how close we really needed to be in order to see a signal boost. The tests were completed inside of a Acura Legend (just so that you can have an idea of the size of the car) on the same day, in the same spot. Our test devices were a Sprint Sierra Wireless 598U aircard and the iPhone 3Gs. Below are our tester's initial RSSI and speed test results in the car without either repeater:
Sprint 598U
Download speed
Upload speed
iPhone 3Gs
Download speed0.14mbps
Upload speed0.2mbps
Before moving on, a disclaimer: Since our Sprint signal at this testing location is already so great, we would not expect to see much improvement speedtest-wise with any signal boosting product. With an RSSI below -80, you may still be able to improve the signal, but it's unlikely that the performance will get any better.  This is simply because at a certain point, you are already getting the best performance that the tower you are connected to can provide.

Installing either of the two repeaters in our tester's vehicle was very simple - literally just a few minutes and everything was set. The SignalBoost MP is a bit easier to carry around and slightly easier to install simply because the In-Vehicle repeater has more pieces (external antenna + amp + power cable + internal antenna). As described above, the SignalBoost MP comes with the 12" magnetic mount antenna, but the In-Vehicle repeater gives you some options for antennas - you can either purchase an antenna separately, or you can buy a kit that includes an antenna. For the purpose of this comparison, we used the same 12" magnetic mount antenna that comes with the MP for our In-Vehicle repeater testing.

With both repeaters, our tester's iPhone and 598U had to be fairly close to internal antennas in order to benefit from the signal boost. This is to be expected - these two models are designed specifically to be used in a car, where range is not as important as it would be in a large home or office. In both cases, with the internal antennas positioned in the front seat of the car, the best results - obviously - came when the iPhone and 598U were also in the front seat. When the devices were moved to the back seat, the signal gain was not as great. Compare the results below:

Wilson SignalBoost MP:
Sprint 598U
AT&T iPhone 3GS
-55 dB (20db improvement!)
.99mbps DL, 0.27mbps UL
-89 dB (10db improvement)
.53mbps DL, 0.24mbps UL
-75 dB (no improvement)
.8mbps DL, 0.36mbps UL
-99 dB (no improvement)
.47mbps DL, 0.24mbps UL

Wilson In-Vehicle Repeater + Mag Mount Antenna:
Sprint 598U
AT&T iPhone 3GS
-48 dB (27db improvement!)
1.19mbps DL, 0.36mbps UL
-77 dB (22db improvement!)
.79mbps DL, 0.11mbps UL
-72 dB (slight improvement)
1.06mbps DL, 0.29mbps UL
-87 dB (12db improvement) improvement)
.48mbps DL, 0.23mbps U

As you can see from the results above, the In-Vehicle repeater produced better gains, and was able to provide a boosted signal to a slightly larger area - this is to be expected, as the In-Vehicle repeater is more powerful than the usb-powered SignalBoost MP. Both repeaters worked well when the devices were in the front seat near the rebroadcasting antennas, but when we moved to the backseat - just a few feet away - the difference between the SignalBoost MP and the In-Vehicle repeater became clear. The In-Vehicle repeater, for example, was able to boost the AT&T signal for the iPhone in the backseat even better than the SignalBoost MP was able to boost it in the frontseat.

The bottom line: Either repeater can be a good option - the MP is the most affordable and works well for people needing to boost signal to a couple devices very close to the amp (for example, two people in the cab of a truck, or the front seat of a car). The In-Vehicle repeater is slightly more expensive, but you do get what you pay for in this case - a more powerful amplifier and better range.

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Last Updated ( Friday, 26 March 2010 )
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