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EVDOinfo Tip Of The Week #51: iPhone Signal Boosting Options

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Thursday, 20 May 2010

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.

  

iPhone Signal Boosting Options


The Wilson Sleek (above) is one way to boost the signal to your iPhone

Since its debut in 2007, the iPhone has been a major hit with consumers around the world - including several members of the EVDOinfo/3Gstore staff! One downside many users have been frustrated by with this otherwise amazing device is that unfortunately the iPhone has no antenna port. If you're struggling with weak signal on your iPhone, you can't simply plug in an antenna like you can with some phones. With AT&T's well-known coverage issues, the lack of antenna port on the iPhone has proven particularly frustrating for some users who can't enjoy their phone as much as they'd like, simply because of a weak signal!

Luckily, there ARE ways to boost the signal to your iPhone! While you can't plug an antenna directly into the phone, you can use a wireless signal booster - and there are a number of options available.

Loyal EVDOinfo readers know that we typically recommend doing some testing before investing in signal boosting equipment. If you're looking for a solution to boost your signal on the road or in your car, you don't need to worry about testing (because obviously you won't be able to test everywhere!) and skip right to the suggested signal boosting options below, but if you're looking for a signal booster just for one location, we highly recommend doing the following simple tests before investing in signal boosting equipment so that you can make sure that a wireless amplifier will improve your iPhone's signal and performance: 

First, you'll need to view your true signal strength. You are probably already quite familiar with where to view your signal on your iPhone: it appears in "bars" in the upper left corner of your screen. Using "bars" 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, iPhones 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 RSSI on your iPhone, follow this simple step: open the phone app, dial "*3001#12345#*" (without the quotes), and hit "call". That's it! Your iPhone will switch to "field test mode" and the signal bars will change to display your RSSI, which appears as a negative number:

Left: the iPhone in the default mode. Right: the iPhone 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 iPhone signal issues, you'll want to do the following testing (which we call a "site survey"):

  1. Start by noting what your RSSI is at the location you want to use your iPhone. 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 iPhone browser (or with the speedtest.net app, which is free!) and note the results.
  2. Next, head outside and note the best RSSI you can find immediately outside/around your house (hit "refresh" to ensure the RSSI is being updated). Did the call quality improve outside? Do another speedtest at speedtest.net and note the results.
  3. If the signal outside your house is not significantly better than it is inside, consider walking/driving in the direction of better signal until you find a -80 signal. At that location, what are your speedtest.net results? What's between you and that -80 signal? Trees? Elevation?

If better signal and performance is available immediately outside, that is a very good sign that an amplifier/repeater WILL help you! If signal and performance are not better immediately outside, but things do improve somewhat nearby (less than a mile), an amplifier/repeater with the external antenna mounted outside the building will be your best bet. If NO better signal is available anywhere nearby, then there is nothing that any signal boosting equipment can do for you (you can't improve a signal if there is no signal available to boost!). If you're not sure how to interpret your site survey results, contact 3Gstore and we'll be happy to help.



Our Favorite iPhone Signal Boosting Options:

Option A: Wilson Sleek Cell Phone Signal Booster

The Wilson Sleek is the most affordable and most compact option for boosting the signal to any phone. Included in the kit is 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 the car. It's perfect for vehicle use, or can be used inside with the optional home/office accessory kit.

Pro's:

  • Cost - the Wilson Sleek is just $129.95 from 3Gstore.com, making it the most affordable option!
  • Includes everything you need for in-vehicle signal boosting in one kit.
  • Small, compact, easy to install and move from vehicle to vehicle
  • Works with just about any phone from any North American carrier (except Nextel/iDen) or even a 3G modem. If you get a new phone someday, no problem - you don't have to worry about getting a new signal-booster.
  • Adjustable arms allow you to use any size phone, and the cradle doesn't block buttons/ports on the side, top, or bottom of your phone.
  • Optional home/office accessory kit is available for using the kit indoors (the optional kit includes an AC power supply, suction cup window mount for the antenna, and a desktop mount for the cradle/amplifier)

Con's:

  • Doesn't come with an AC adapter or the suction cup mount for indoor use (sold separately in the home/office accessory kit)
  • The iPhone must stay in the cradle, which means you will need to use a hands-free method to use your phone while it's in the cradle.
  • Only boosts the signal to the one phone that is in the cradle.

Bottom line: The Sleek is a great, affordable choice for anyone who spends a a lot of time in their vehicle and wants to make sure they have the best possible signal.


 Option B: Wilson iBooster

Similar to the Sleek, the iBooster is an all-in-one cradle amplifier kit that includes 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 the car. It is made specifically for the iPhone and also charges your phone while boosting the signal!

Pro's:

  • Cost - the Wilson iBooster is more affordable than most other repeater options
  • Includes everything you need for in-vehicle signal boosting in one kit.
  • Small, compact, easy to install and move from vehicle to vehicle
  • Optional AC adapter available for home use
  • Charges your phone at the same time!

Con's:

  • The iPhone must stay in the cradle, which means you'll need to use the speakerphone or a Bluetooth headset to make calls
  • ONLY works with the iPhone - if you ever switch to a different phone, it will not work with the iBooster.

Bottom Line: The iBooster is a great option for folks who want to boost their signal and charge their phone at the same time on the road.

 

Option C: SignalBoost Mobile Pro

signalboost mobile proThe SignalBoost MP is the most portable wireless signal boosting solution for boosting the signal to your iPhone without a cradle - unlike the Sleek and iBooster, the Mobile Pro does not require your phone to be in a cradle, and it will boost the signal to multiple phones at the same time. The kit includes everything you need to boost the signal to your iPhone 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 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 iPhone (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).
  • Flexibility - your iPhone doesn't have to be in a cradle to benefit from the boosted signal (it just needs to be close to the amp).

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 D: Wilson SignalBoost DT

The SignalBoost DT is a great solution for the home or office and includes everything you need for a stationary setup: external amplifier, antenna, mounting kit, 50 feet of cable and internal 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 iPhone (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!

The above options are the most popular setups used by many 3Gstore customers, but they are by no means the ONLY options available for boosting the signal to your iPhone. If none of these options are right for your application, we can help find one that is. We highly recommend contacting 3Gstore to discuss your goals and ensure that you select components that are compatible with each other and your equipment. If you are trying to boost the signal in one location, make sure to do your site survey before calling so that we can make sure you get the appropriate product(s) for your needs!


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Last Updated ( Friday, 11 June 2010 )
 
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