How does it work? When and where is it necessary?
I made my first cell phone booster out of a collection of electronic parts in 2015. Making this earned me a visit from AT&T. They zeroed in on my rebroadcast cell signal and told me to knock it off — because my booster and antenna was the best signal in the area. The people up the hill were not very happy. They had a good signal from the cell tower and also a rebroadcast signal from my cell phone booster. My cell phone booster for them was a cell phone jammer.
Fast forward to 2018 – I am a full-time RV traveler and am getting horrible cell service because I am picking remote locations with hardly any signal. I knew that if I had a booster I could fix it. I also knew that AT&T wouldn’t be able to find me because, by the time the complaints rolled in, I would be gone.
So starting in 2018, I started boosting my cell phone signal with a SureCall Cell phone booster with a directional antenna, and the only time since then that I didn’t have cell service was camping at the north end of Death Valley and then in North Carolina.
Here is what you need to know about boosters:
- Start with nothing and then boost — you still get nothing.
- Have a weak signal and boost it the correct way — you can get a useable signal.
- Have a strong signal and boosting it won’t make it better.
In 2018 I told the folks at Surecall my cell phone jamming story from 2015 and they shipped me a big box full of electronic gear to evaluate. The box included several outside antennas, wires, a cell phone booster with several indoor antennas, and three different power supplies. When you buy a Surecall Cell Phone booster today for your RV you will be getting a simplified version of the components that worked best for me.
Do you need a cell phone booster?
The most effective combination of RV cell phone booster components that I have found is the product Surecall Fusion2go 3.0- RV. My directional antenna is merely a swap of the omnidirectional antenna that comes with the Fusion2go 3.0- RV with a directional antenna.
Details and results in 2021
I was really starting to trust the cell coverage and thinking I could rely on cell coverage for both voice and internet access. Traveling to the mountains in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina changed my opinion I had to start boosting again aggressively. Cell phone coverage was poor enough that I even retested different antennas and different antenna configurations. The answer is that the Fusion2go 3.0- RV is still the most effective and easiest to use RV cell phone booster.
How boosting works
You mount an external antenna above your roof. This antenna is about the size of two cans of soda. For external antennas, bigger is better than smaller, and higher is better than lower. It is very important to get as much distance between your external antenna and your internal antenna as possible. Horizontally my distance is about 30 feet and my external antenna is about four feet above the roof.
On the inside of the RV, you mount the booster with the internal antenna above your head near the location you want to use your cell phone or hotspot devices. My hotspots are about one foot away from the internal antenna.
The signal will be picked up by the external antenna, travel down the wire to the booster, and then get re-broadcasted by the internal antenna. The difference between an omnidirectional and a directional antenna is that you have to point the directional external antenna at the cell tower. If you point the directional antenna at the cell tower, the directional antenna will work better than the omnidirectional antenna. If you do not point the directional antenna at the cell tower the directional antenna will not work as well as the omnidirectional antenna.
Data Speed is everything
The only way to test effectiveness is to measure data transfer rates. Signal strength (bars) means nothing. You need a strong-high-quality signal.
Some RVs, most notably Airstreams, block cell phone signals. In these RVs, cell phone boosters with external antennas can make a huge difference in cell phone signal. In one location we discovered our boosted signal was being jammed by our electric space heater. Turning off the heater turned off the jammer.
After arriving at a campsite, we measure our cell phone data speed on both AT&T and Verizon. Typically one will be stronger than the other. Assuming that the data speed is sufficient on one of the two networks, we do nothing. To do this, we use the free version of the OpenSignal app.
If data speed is insufficient then we plug in the booster and raise the omnidirectional RV antenna to full height and try again. This usually brings the speed up enough to be sufficient on one of our two cell providers. If the omnidirectional RV antenna can find a signal but it is weak, I then use the free Network Cell Info Lite app to find the cell tower location. Then I get out the directional antenna and see if I can perform a miracle.
Before using the directional antenna I always use the omnidirectional antenna to see if there is a signal strong enough to be boosted. You have to have some signal to start boosting. If the omnidirectional antenna signal is good enough I stop there and don’t use my directional antenna.
Here are the results before and after installing the booster using our omnidirectional antenna.
Speed after I turned the booster on.
Do you need a cell phone booster?
My recommendations have changed slightly over the last three years. Before having visited the east half of the country my inclination was to always use the directional antenna. Typically in the west, I was trying to get a signal from a distant cell tower. Now I think the omnidirectional RV antenna is the easiest and almost as effective. In the mountains of North Carolina, the towers are closer but trees attenuate the signal, so the omnidirectional antenna works and I don’t have to use the directional antenna as frequently.
Elevation makes a huge difference in the results. Get lots of distance between the antenna and the top of the RV. I fold my RV antenna down when traveling.
My directional antenna is on a mast attached to the side of the RV that I can twist and rotate. Obviously, we have to put the directional antenna away when we are not using it. If you put the omnidirectional RV antenna at the same elevation as the directional antenna, it produces a signal almost as good as the directional antenna.
I think that location means everything with cell boosters. Depending on where you camp, you may not need one. Nothing can fix a zero signal. In an almost no cell zone part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, I made a one hundred times improvement for our AT&T signal. Verizon also had a better signal at that location. Using the same antenna, pointed at the same cell tower my Verizon data speed increased by way more than double. With AT&T we created a miracle, with Verizon we made good enough into much better.
I have heard stories about cell-based routers being the next answer to mobile internet data. A key to any solution is the external antenna. My cell phone booster helps both my cell phone and hotspots at the same time. When I get some real experience with cell-based routers I will report back. Until then I rely on my ability to boost a cell phone signal for internet access. Sometimes it works great. Then there are still locations with zero service and zero amplified is still zero.
Zero cell signal problems may be fixed in the future with satellite-based internet solutions. Right now they are available at a high cost but only for fixed locations.
More reading on the subject
Here is a direct link to the products I use. Surecall Fusion2Go 3.0 RV
Here is a link to the items on Amazon. We do not get income or commissions. The links are provided only to help our readers. SureCall Fusion2Go 3.0 RV Cell Phone Signal Booster & SureCall Wide Band Yagi Directional Antenna