Updated review: Our Surecall cell phone booster has become essential for travel in the east half of the country. This was totally unexpected. Our cell phone coverage by both AT&T and Verizon has been very limited while we have been traveling in the mountains of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina.
Both AT&T and Verizon coverage maps would indicate that we should expect to have cell phone coverage most of the time. This is not even remotely true.
This article is an improvement to our previous article on cell phone boosters. Everything in that article still applies and really you need to read both to get the full picture of our equipment and set-up. There is also more information about how to use a booster in that article. Here is a link. RV Cell phone boosters
Very poor cell phone coverage
We had very poor cell phone coverage while camping in these two places: Smokemont Campground Great Smoky Mountain National Park (11 nights) no coverage, booster had no effect. Linville Falls Campground Blue Ridge National Park (8 nights) almost no coverage, signal greatly improved by the booster.
We occasionally picked up sporadic coverage, usually while driving. While camping at Linville Falls we used every tool we had to try and squeeze out a signal. Since coverage was so weak for more than three weeks, we were able to test different antennas on our Surecall Cell Phone Booster.
Different Antennas Tested
We have three different types of antennas all matched to the Surecall Cell Phone booster. Two of the antennas required a ground plane. This is a metal surface that helps the antenna get a signal. One of the antennas is a small omnidirectional NMO antenna (more later). We also have a large RV omnidirectional antenna and a directional Yagi antenna.
Here is our breakdown and comments on results in poor cell reception areas for the different types of antennas.
Since we only have one booster, we had to swap the antennas every time we wanted to compare results. Each antenna type was tried for a day until we determined that there was no hope, then we went back to the directional antenna to confirm that it was the antenna that was not producing rather than a loss of signal.
Outdoor Omnidirectional Ground Plane Antennas
We installed these antennas on a flat sheet of galvanized steel (shown in the photo above). They were about twelve feet off the ground located at the same elevation as the top of our solar panels. They did not perform well. Rather I should say that they did not make a perceptible difference.
It shouldn’t have been too large a surprise and they worked when we tried them in our car. But we were testing while we were driving and it is hard to tell when driving if you have a good signal or poor signal because your location is always changing.
Standing on top of our RV, with my cell phone I didn’t have a connection. These small antennas connected to a booster were probably better than my direct cell phone signal but the result was the same. AT&T’S and Verizon’s 4g Nation Wide coverage didn’t work for me.
The omnidirectional antennas didn’t work either in Smokemont Campground or at Linville Falls. They might have worked a little at Linville Falls but not enough to say that they did anything.
At the Smokemont campground from the top of the RV with my cell phone in hand, we had no cell coverage to measure. At Linville Falls, standing on the roof with the cell phone in hand same story, nothing. See my note below about daytime versus nighttime… I did not stand on my roof after dark or before 9 am.
At most, we thought we had some cell phone coverage only to realize that we really didn’t have anything useful. Bouncing numbers were entertaining.
The gray portion of the picture is my cell phone signal (no service detected). The bottom portion of the picture shows my signal strength from my hotspot to my phone. It shows that I have a connection to the hotspot. It does not show that I have a connection from the hotspot to the internet.
I have a more in-depth presentation of the Network Cell Info Lite application in my original cell phone booster article. Here is a link. RV Cell phone
Here is a link to the outdoor omnidirectional (ground plane) antenna I tested. Exterior Vehicle Antenna
None of our antennas made any difference in Smoky Mountain National Park. We tried every combination and nothing worked. We could not even send text messages.
Cell Phone Math
Cell phone math works exactly like this…. ten times zero equals zero. If you don’t have a signal it doesn’t matter that you amplify, you still have nothing. For the largest parts of three weeks, we had no signal to amplify.
Other Omnidirectional Antennas
We have two of these antennas, a small one about the size of a really thick cigar and a larger one the size of two soda cans. The smaller sized antenna is called an NMO antenna. The initials NMO stand for the Non-Magnetic Option. This antenna is a permanent mount antenna and is screwed through the roof. The wire to the booster is routed under the headliner on a car. We tested this antenna small one both with and without a ground plane.
The results were the same for the magnetic mount antennas that require ground planes. We got nothing with or without ground planes from the NMO antenna.
Here is a link to the NMO antenna we tested. NMO Vehicle Antenna
Outdoor RV Antenna
The larger RV antenna however installed at the same elevation as the small antenna started producing results. It is about the same size as two soda cans stacked on top of each other. When installed at the elevation of the solar panels we were able to get enough signal to occasionally send text messages.
The conclusion was that there was a signal that could be amplified and we were amplifying it.
Real changes happened when we put the RV antenna well above the roof. The elevation between three to six feet above the roofline produced good results. Elevation below three feet did not produce good results. We decided that a minimum of three feet (two feet above the solar panels) was needed to make this antenna work well. With six feet of elevation, well above the highest item on the roof, the omnidirectional antenna produced up to eight megabits per second internet speed. This level of service is totally acceptable. On this antenna, we went from nothing useful to fully functional at Linville Falls. Again see the daytime versus nighttime results.
Here is a link to our RV omnidirectional antenna. Outdoor Omni Antenna
We only tested this antenna at six feet above the roof. When this antenna was pointed in its maximum signal position then sometimes we had the real magic formula. The way to get the signal dialed in was to slowly rotate the antenna and run speed tests over and over again at different azimuths. On the directional antenna sometimes you had nothing. Directional antennas must point at the signal. In the best positions, the directional antenna produced up to ten megabits per second internet speed. This maximum speed was the result of about thirty minutes of pointing effort.
Here is a link to our directional antenna. Outdoor Yagi Antenna
Daytime and Nighttime
At Linville Falls there was a week signal on a small hill just to the north of our location. If the call was made before 9 am I could talk without a cell phone booster when standing on top of this hill. The signal started at about 9 pm and lasted until 9 am. In our campsites (#6 and #8) the cell phone booster picked up a signal for the same time period. With the cell phone booster, our maximum data speed was 10 megabits per second, at night. With or without our booster the signal died at about 9 am in the morning only to reappear at about 9 pm.
Here is a link to our review of the location. Linville Falls Campground
Even during the night, even when prior to the rain we had a good signal when boosted, during and after a rain shower the signal disappeared. I blame this on the water in on the leaves of the trees in every direction.
Line of Sight
I do not believe that we had a direct line of sight to the cell tower. Cell signals are very directional but they also reflect and refract (bend). With a direct line of sight, my directional antenna pointed directly at the cell tower, even if you can barely see it, or even just know where it is and can’t see it, performs miracles.
At Lineville Falls the closest cell tower was about 030 degrees from the RV, but the best signal from the directional antenna was 060 degrees from the RV. This was pointing at a mountain that didn’t have a cell tower. If the signal was a direct line of sight pointing the antenna 030 degrees to the right of the signal can cause the signal strength to drop to almost nothing.
My conclusion was that the antenna was picking up a reflected signal. This is why the performance of the omnidirectional antenna was nearly equal to the directional antenna. All my efforts in pointing resulted in about a 20% gain in speed.
We have been using our cell phone booster for nearly the last three years. We only use it to amplify a weak signal. Do not try to amplify a strong signal. Sometimes, when playing, in the past we turned the booster on, when we already had a strong signal and saw the signal quality decrease.
In previous locations, when we had a weak signal and direct line of sight to the cell tower, the directional antenna has created a much stronger signal than the omnidirectional antennas.
On the inside of the RV, our primary go-to antenna is the indoor whip antenna mounted directly to the booster. We use this antenna 99% of the time we are using the cell phone booster. Here is a link to the indoor whip antennal. Interior Vehicle Whip Antenna
When using the booster in the car (rarely) we used the candy bar antenna that is mounted to the bottom of our cell phone. The reason for choosing this antenna versus the indoor whip antenna is that this antenna allows us to put the booster under the seat and have a remote antenna.
The reason we don’t use the candy bar antenna in the RV is that it has a shorter range. The intent for this antenna is that you would lay your cell phone on top of the antenna. Here is a link to the candy bar antenna. Interior Vehicle Antenna
We have also tested using the magnetic mounted outdoor antenna for indoor use. Again with and without a ground plane. One possible application for this antenna is if you have the booster mounted in a cabinet and want the antenna on the outside of the cabinet. This worked fine.
I didn’t see a noticeable improvement between the exterior magnetic mounted antenna and the whip antenna. The reason for this is our hot spot devices live in the same cabinet as our booster and our primary use for the booster is to increase the signal strength for these devices. Here is a link (again) for the magnetic mounted antenna we tested and used as an indoor antenna. Exterior Vehicle Antenna
Cell phone boosters work best with a large distance between the outdoor antenna and the indoor antenna. This distance prevents the indoor antenna from confusing the outdoor antenna. This cable needs to be a quality low loss shielded 50 Ohm coaxial cable. I believe that one of the reasons that our RV omnidirectional antenna, located at the same place as our exterior vehicle antenna worked better than the exterior vehicle antennas was the quality of the cable. Here is the cable we used during our tests for both the RV omnidirectional and directional Yagi antenna. Low-loss SC-240 coaxial cable
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.
If the 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. If the omnidirectional RV antenna can find a signal and the network cell info lite application can find a cell tower location, and if we are staying for more than overnight 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. If a signal was available then I use that signal to determine the direction to start pointing the directional antenna using the Network Cell Info Lite program.
Both of the cell phone apps and a much larger discussion is found in our previous article on this subject. Here is a link. RV Cell phone boosters
At Lake Norman State Park we again had marginal cell service. This is in response to an email about this article requesting real results. Here are the results before and after installing the booster using our omni antenna.
Before turning the booster on.
After turning on the booster with the omnidirectional antenna.
My recommendations have changed slightly over the last two years. Before having visited the east half of the country my inclination was to always use the directional antenna. Now I think the omnidirectional RV antenna is the easiest and almost as effective.
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.
If you are stationary for a long period, and you have a direct line of sight to the cell tower (assuming a weak signal, the directional antenna is the way to go. I am glad I have both and have started to use the omnidirectional antenna more and more. It is just easier to use.
More reading on the subject
You don’t have to put together a kit of various parts to get a great Surecall cell phone booster. Surecall has done it for you. It is called the Fusion2Go. 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