HiBoost's Cell Phone Signal Booster Guide for 2019
For most people purchasing a cell phone signal booster is a first time thing and everyone, especially before they spend a few hundred dollars, wants to make sure they understand what they are about to purchase. That's why we have put together our comprehensive cell phone signal booster guide to help those unfamiliar with the industry and technology learn enough to make an informed decision about them.
Table of Contents
- What is Good Signal?
- What Causes Bad Signal
- How Cell Phone Signal Boosters Work
- Radio Frequency Bands and Applications
- The Generations of Cellular Technology
- Decibels and Gain
- LCD and Manual Gain Control
- How to Access the MGC Function
- What the Unit 's Buttons Do
- The Typical Home Signal Booster Installation
- Installation Tips and Tricks
- Choosing the Right Outdoor Antenna
- Choosing the Right Indoor Antenna
- Identifying What Booster is Right for You
- Consumer Boosters
- Commercial Cell Phone Signal Boosters
- Industrial Cell Phone Signal Boosters
- Vehicle Signal Boosters
- Low Output Power
- Isolation or Overload
- The Benefits of Signal Supervisor
- Using Signal Supervisor
An Introduction to Signal
What is Good Signal?
Everyone has had the experience at one time or another of being in a location that had poor cellular service. It may have been on a road trip, inside a basement, at Aunt Rose’s farm or at a sporting event. There are many factors that influence how and if a good signal reaches our mobile devices. Radio signals used in radio telephony fade significantly over distance, it is something that is factored into the design of the system. It allows frequencies to be re-used repeatedly and thus vastly increases the number of subscribers that can communicate with one another. Radio signals also can be blocked by terrain, buildings, vehicles and even people. Each tower location can only support a finite number of users. In some cases, it is not economically feasible for carriers to provide services in certain areas. Other areas may have an excessive amount of interference from other radio frequency sources. For our discussion, we will classify good signals under the following criteria:
1. Calls do not drop.
What about bars?
Bars are more a marketing tool then a measurement tool. In fact, the carriers and device manufacturers program mobile devices to show what they want you to see. Two bars on one carrier can be four bars on another. There is in fact no standard that anyone goes by or that is enforced by consumer groups or regulators. It is the wild west out there!
The figure directly above displays a range decibels (dB) relative to distance from a cell phone tower. The higher dB represents what good and poor signals look like when measured with a signal meter. Keep in mind, some areas with excellent signal will measure over -50 dB. In the downtown Dallas area where I live the signals regularly reach into the high -30’s while I am in my car. Note that the closer the number gets to zero the better the signal. The more negative a signal becomes the worse it gets. -50 is very good, -100 is just at the edge of usable signal.
The figure above represents a signal strength measurement of your phone from the cell phone tower. If you are curious about how to measure signal quality, see the figure below. Please note that this quality measurement system is used for 4G LTE only. Below the figure is an explanation of what the terms means.
Signal Quality and Strength
SINR/SNR – The signal-to-noise ratio of the given signal.
What Causes Bad Signal
Poor signal is usually a combination of four different factors and just one being present can be enough to block reception and cause dropped calls, deadzones, and missed text messages or emails.
One of the most common culprits of poor signal is building material. Not only is older material such as brick, stone, cement, and steel hard for cell phone signal to penetrate. Newer materials such as radiant barriers and low E Glass are designed in a way that maximizes heat insulation while unfortunately blocking cell reception very effectively as well.
It should come as no surprise that cell signal strength and quality is not after traveling miles and miles from the tower to your phone, much in the same way that your voice isn't as loud trying to talk at a distance. While this isn't typically an issue in densely populated areas if you live on the outskirts of a network you could be struggling to communicate with just one tower as opposed to the multitude of towers in urban and suburban environments.
It's important to note that even naturally occurring obstacles will negatively impact your cell signal. Everything from hills and trees to valleys and mountains can and will block signal.
When your phone is in between many towers operating on the same frequency they can sometimes interfere with each other in their attempts to keep you connected. This lowers the signal quality you are receiving and sending and can lead to dropped calls and poor call quality.
How Cell Phone Signal Boosters Work
Cell towers give off signal but it weakens over distance and as it encounters obstacles.
A HiBoost outdoor antenna picks up the weak signal.
The HiBoost cell phone signal booster strengthens and amplifies the weak signal.
The now boosted signal is sent to the indoor antenna which distributes it within your space.
Boosted signal allows you to make phone calls, send texts, and surf the web using 4G LTE.
Cell phone signal boosters bring cell phone coverage into buildings that have poor or no cell phone coverage. HiBoost’s broadband system consists of one or more outdoor antennas connected to one or more indoor antennas linked by a bi-directional amplifier. The bi-directional amplifier actively boosts the signals from both the cell tower and the user’s mobile device. The signal booster system provides an active uplink path from the mobile device to the cell tower while simultaneously providing an active downlink path from the tower to the mobile device. The bi-directional amplifier in the cell phone signal booster system provides automatic gain control and signal processing to ensure trouble free operation.
Cell Phone Signal Booster Block Diagram
Cell phone signal boosters are often referred to as bi-directional amplifiers and or repeaters. If you are familiar with land mobile radio systems, the term repeater will be familiar to you. Their basic operation was described in the previous paragraph. In block diagram above, you can see the set-up for a typical analog cell phone signal booster. Some of the key components are:
1. Duplexer. This is a set of band pass filters that allow the indoor and outdoor antennas to both receive and broadcast at the same time. Cellular technology is based on the concept of full duplex communication. Your wireless device transmits a signal on one set of frequencies while the tower communicates with your wireless device on another set of frequencies. This is what makes normal conversation possible. This is unlike using a two-way radio or “walkie talkie” in which the radio can either “listen” or “transmit” but can’t perform these operations simultaneously. A two-way radio is an example of a half-duplex system.
Radio Frequency Bands and Applications
At this point, you've probably noticed that we have referred to frequency bands a few times and you might be confused as to what they are. These bands reference the part of the radio wave spectrum they belong to. The FCC sells licenses to these bands of the spectrum to telecom carriers for them to allow customers to operate their phones on. HiBoost cell phone signal boosters operate use a broadband technology that amplifies all bands, unlike some of our competitors that cannot amplify a few select bands.
Carriers don't use one single band to provide their services throughout an area. Your phone's radio is programmed to switch between bands to provide the best quality and strength of the signal. Despite the fact that HiBoost cell phone signal boosters provide a complete solution in that they are guaranteed to boost any signal regardless of band frequency or network it is still important to know what band your carrier uses in your area.
High frequency signals, while easily impeded, make up the backbone of the LTE networks that allow faster data transmissions and higher quality phone calls.
The Generations of Cell Phone Technology
Mobile technology has now been around for decades. What started as beepers and pagers has evolved into small computers that have more computing power than the Apollo 11 spacecraft. This has been marked by many innovations and each key one has ushered in new generations, or "G's". Currently, we use 4G LTE for most of our cellular needs but we are going to quickly go over each generation to explain the differences and how they relate to cell phone signal boosters.
Decibels and Gain
For the purposes of comparing the performance of one cell phone signal booster over another it is important to understand the relationship between gain and power output. The two units of measure are the decibel and the decibel per milliwatt. Abbreviated dB and dBm respectively. Both are logarithmic progressions, and both are well suited to dealing with the large numbers encountered with radio frequency technology. Decibels are used in product specifications to describe how much a signal is boosted. Decibels are ratios that describe the magnitude of amplification of a signal. The higher the number the more the signal is boosted. A decibel does not describe power, it simply expresses a ratio as a log. Decibels are shorthand for describing a ratio such as 1:100, 1:1000, etc.
Decibels per milliwatt or dBm express power output. The chart above illustrates the relationship between dBm’s and power in watts and milliwatts. Most of our products operate in the 250 to 500 mW range or quarter to half watt range respectively.
Signal gain (dB) and downlink power (dBm) have an interesting relationship when choosing a cell phone signal booster for an application. If you have a weak outdoor, or donor signal, your booster’s performance will be limited by the signal booster’s gain figure. In other words, your signal booster will probably never reach its maximum downlink power, because the tower signal is simply too weak. In this scenario your cell phone signal booster’s performance is limited by the amount of signal gain it can produce, not by its maximum downlink power.
If you are in a situation where the installation site already has a strong donor signal, then your cell phone signal booster will be limited by its downlink power. Gain is not an issue if you have a strong donor signal. With a strong donor signal you will reach the maximum downlink power long before the unit runs out of gain. In installations where the donor signal is strong, the best performing system will be one in which the downlink power figure is the greatest.
Getting to Know Your HiBoost Cell Phone Signal Booster
HiBoost cell phone signal boosters all come with an LCD screen that shows real time signal updates and shows important information for troubleshooting. Here is a quick guide to understanding the LCD screen and LED lights on a cell phone signal booster.
Band - Shows the working frequency bands where the booster is operating.
The above chart should be referenced when reading through the following ISO, ALC and ISO.
ISO- Isolation Alarm Indication. When a system oscillation occurs, a flashing “ISO flash” will appear at the top of the LCD screen. The flashing “ISO flash” message demonstrates that the unit is lowering the gain in one or more bands to keep the system from oscillating. Pressing the set button at the bottom of the display changes the display to the next screen showing the bands that are being adjusted. An oscillation condition is a type of feedback loop that sends a distorted uplink signal to the carrier’s tower. It can be induced by several factors, but the main reason this would occur would be due to the proximity of the indoor and outdoor antennas being too close to one another.
Occasionally the signal environment where the cell phone signal booster is installed will prevent the ISO and or ALC controls from working normally. When this happens, it may be necessary to make manual gain adjustments to the booster. The three buttons at the bottom of the LCD display from right to left are: Decrease, Set and Increase. If at any time during the adjustment process you would like to start over, simultaneously press the decrease and increase buttons for three seconds. This will reset the booster back to the factory default settings.
How to Access the MGC Function
Press the set key for 3 seconds. This changes the signal booster’s display to the “Gain Set” mode shown in Figure 10. Once in the gain set mode simply push the set button briefly to scroll thru the values to be changed. The third and fourth columns display the values that can be manually changed. The uplink and downlink values should be reduced in 3 dB increments until the cell phone signal booster performs normally. (No flashing messages on the LCD screen and no status warnings on the LED panel).
What the Unit Buttons Do
Short press on the set button. A short press on the set button will take you to the next screen when the ISO or ALC message is flashing on the LCD screen. It will also allow you to scroll from value to value when the booster is in the “Gain Set” mode. Short press on the increment or decrement button. A short press on the INC or DEC button will change a value up or down by one step in the “Gain Set” mode.
How to Adjust Gain Using MGC
When the LCD is in the fixed display mode, press the set button for three seconds. The “Gain Set” mode will be displayed on the LCD and one of the gain values will blink.
Installation of A Cell Phone signal Booster
Installation of a cell phone signal booster is not an extremely complicated task, but it does require some planning before jumping directly into it.
The first step in the installation process is to assemble all the components and place them in the locations where they will ultimately be installed. This allows the system to be powered up and tested. This is called a soft install. Since the performance of the booster system is reliant on the positioning of the indoor and outdoor antennas, a soft install will quickly reveal if the planned installation is workable. Once the optimal positioning of the antennas and booster is determined, then you can drill the necessary holes and install any additional accessories.
It’s important to understand that cell phone boosters are precision pieces of telecommunications equipment. Installing an exterior booster antenna is more like installing a satellite dish instead of a radio or TV antenna. Like a satellite dish, the outdoor directional antenna for the signal booster must be positioned correctly both in elevation and azimuth (direction). Also keep in mind that the booster's antennas are both receiving and transmitting devices and as such need to be installed with care in order to work properly. Additionally, the low loss transmission and antenna cable used with our signal boosters must be handled with care. The cable jackets must never be penetrated with nails or staples and should never be squeezed or crushed during installation. Also, the minimum bend radius and maximum pulling tension for these cables must also be observed.
Planning a Soft Install
The first step of the soft install is to determine the best location for the outdoor antenna. The outdoor antenna is also referred to as the donor antenna. This is the antenna that both sends and receives signals to a nearby cell tower. We encourage customers to perform an online search to determine the locations of several towers in their area. The closest tower available may not be the best, especially if that tower receives very heavy traffic. Towers located near sporting venues or major highways may or may not be good choices. Emphasize the importance of a well-planned antenna installation with your customers. The booster’s LCD display and our Signal Supervisor App are purposefully engineered tools that will guide the installer to the best location for the outdoor antenna. Cellular signals are easily blocked by physical barriers, so it is important to keep in mind that the outdoor antenna needs to have a clear line of sight to the cell tower. It is often necessary to install a mast on the roof in order to prevent the peak of the roof or adjacent buildings from blocking the outdoor antenna.
Outdoor Antenna Installation
The single most important step of any cell phone signal booster installation is the installation of the outdoor antenna. If this step is done improperly it will negatively impact every other aspect of the boosters performance.
As discussed earlier we suggest that the installer use an internet search to locate a few towers near them. If the planned installation location already has a strong outdoor signal the height of the cell phone signal booster’s outdoor antenna may not be as critical. If the outdoor signal is one or two bars, the height of the outdoor antenna will be more critical. Ideally in all installations the outdoor antenna needs to have a clear line of sight to the tower.
Installing Your Internal Antenna
Installation of your indoor antenna is much simpler and can be finished with just a few steps.
First, determine which portion of the building you need the strongest cell signal in. This should be the location you prioritize the installation of your antenna.
Next consider what kind of antenna you are installing. If you are using a directional internal antenna such as a panel antenna it is important that you do not install them facing each other. This will cause the two antennas to interfere with one another and reduce the boosters effectiveness, sometimes entirely.
The final consideration to make when installing your internal antenna is the amount of distance between your indoor and outdoor antenna. It is critical for receiving the best results from a cell phone signal booster system that you are able to get at least 20 feet of vertical distance between the two antennas. This reduces the amount of feedback in the system and allows your booster to work most efficiently.
Choosing the Right HiBoost Cell Phone Signal Booster for You
Each cellular service problem requires a unique solution. While we typically recommend getting a professional to look at your property to help create a custom solution for you we understand that many people prefer to do this themselves.
To determine how strong a signal you are receiving outside of the building you are looking to cover you can do a few things. One simple way to determine your signal is to simply walk around the building looking at your cell phone and look at the bars. This is not the most accurate way to interpret this but if you are consistently receiving 4 to 5 bars you have strong enough signal to use a lower gain cell phone signal booster. To more precisely determine the signal you are receiving it is best to get on the roof of the building and determine the amount of bars you are receiving from there.
If reception is poor you will need a higher gain system regardless of the amount of square footage you need covered.
Consumer Cell Phone Signal Boosters
When selecting a commercial or industrial strength signal booster it is often best to have a professional solutions engineer come to your site and provide a solution custom designed for you. HiBoost has a nationwide team of installers and integrators that provide turn-key solutions for property owners dealing with these kinds of issues. For more information on getting a free quote for this kind of service let us know here.
Commercial Cell Phone Signal Boosters
Industrial Cell Phone Signal Boosters
Selecting the Best Signal Booster Accessories
Another important part of designing your signal solution is understanding which accessories you need. We always recommend using a lightning surge protector for each of our cell phone signal booster systems to protect your new valuable equipment. But that is not the only choice you'll need to make when we talk about cell phone signal booster accessories.
Selecting the Right Outdoor Antenna
Your outdoor or "donor" antenna will be the first and most important of your antenna choices. The outdoor antenna used and how you install it can often be one of the most important decisions in successfully using a cell phone signal booster. There are two kinds of antennas, omni- or multidirectional antennas, and directional antennas. Both of these antennas can be used either outdoors or indoors.
For most systems we recommend using a directional antenna for the best solution as you'll be almost guaranteed to be getting the highest amount of signal from them.
Selecting the Right Indoor Antenna
Indoor antennas come in two varieties typically, omnidirectional style dome antennas or directional panel antennas. Both of these are potential solutions depending on the layout of the space you need signal in.
Dome antennas work best when you are trying to cover a wide area such as a spread out room, they are not effective at covering hallways or staircases. Also when installing a dome antenna you will need to be able to access the space above them. So either an office setting where you can easily get behind the ceiling tiles or if you are installing one inside a residence you need to be able to access either the attic or crawl space. Because dome antennas broadcast multi-directionally, similar to how a multidirectional donor antenna receives from all directions, you should place them directly in the middle of the space you are looking to provide the boosted signal.
Panel antennas distribute signal in a conical shape similar to a flashlights beam from the forward face of the antenna. This is ideal for covering large rectangular rooms or hallways. They are also easier to install than dome antennas as you don't need to get into the ceiling.
One final reminder to make sure you are putting at least 20 feet of vertical distance between indoor and outdoor antennas to prevent them from interfering with each other.
Optimizing Your Cell Phone Signal Booster
After you set up your cell phone signal booster you might not always be getting the most out of it right away. Sometimes you'll need to do a little bit of fine tuning to make sure your running at full efficiency. Here's a brief overview of some of the most common issues people have with their cell phone booster and how you can fix them in just a few minutes.
Low Output Power
Low output power is the most common issues that occurs after a consumer's cell phone signal booster installation. It occurs when your booster is attempting to boost the signal it is receiving but either it is unable to boost it enough or it is not receiving enough signal.
Fixing Low Output Power
The best way to fix this is issue is to ensure that your outdoor antenna has been installed properly. It is crucial that if you are using a directional antenna you make sure that it is properly oriented at a cell phone tower and that it is not being obstructed by your roof, chimney, or nearby trees. Most users see the best success when their outdoor antenna is installed at the highest point of their roof or on a pole or mast that provides unobstructed line of sight of the nearest tower.
If this does not fix your low output power issues you will need to consider upgrading to a more powerful cell phone signal booster system. Whether that is simply upgrading an omnidirectional antenna to a more powerful directional antenna or upgrading the signal booster itself depends on how close to optimal output power you are at. For reference our 4K Smart Link unit should be as close to 10 dBM as possible and the 10K and 15K Smart Link should be as close to 12 dBM.
This happens when signals from the indoor antenna and outdoor antenna interact with each other and subsequently interfere with each other. An example of oscillation you might be familiar with is when someone brings a microphone too close to an amplifier and it causes a loud high pitched sound.
HiBoost cell phone signal boosters come with an automatic function that attempts to reduce this when it occurs. However, the drawback is that this also reduces output power on the bands and frequencies that are suffering from the oscillation. This leads to smaller coverage areas and a lower amount of boost within that area.
The simplest way to fix this is by moving the antennas farther apart. Since the issue is caused when their signals interact it can typically be solved by increasing the vertical (up and down) distance between the two antennas. Increasing horizontal distance can help as well, but increasing vertical distance should always be prioritized.
If there is no way to increase the distance between the two antennas you can improvise and add metal behind both antennas. This will add some extra shielding and block the signal that is traveling backwards into the other antennas.
Another common issue with oscillation is when users with two directional antennas accidentally install them facing each other. This should always be avoided.
Isolation or Overload
Overload is an issue that occurs when your cell phone signal booster is receiving too much signal. This is referred to as an Isolation or ISO issue on HiBoost signal boosters for the reason that is typically an issue with the booster filtering or isolating the strong signals from each other.
Fixing Isolation or Overload
For those using a directional antenna it is relatively simple to fix these kinds of issues. Simply change the orientation of the antenna in very small increments until you receive improved signal. We recommend making quarter-inch turns and waiting 30 seconds to see if this has impacted the signal readings.
For users in urban and suburban areas this is a very common issue to encounter. One solution is to use an omnidirectional antenna instead of a more powerful directional. This will limit the gain you are receiving from the tower that is overloading your system and allow your cell phone signal boosters software level off the offending band or frequency,
The second solution for an urban user facing this is to add an attenuator to your booster system. What this does is act similar to a governor in a car, meaning it will limit the amount of signal your cell phone booster will receive from the outdoor antenna. This is not a highly recommended solution as it limits the signal gained on all bands.
HiBoost's Signal Supervisor App
The Signal Supervisor app is the first complete remote monitoring and troubleshooting solution available.
The powerful cloud based app helps users install their cell phone signal boosters giving them the ability to measure signal in decibels instead of bars and providing them with the tools to log optimal antenna locations. Customers can even share their phone signal booster information directly through the app to customer support for technicians to provide the most comprehensive technical support.
Installing and Registering With the Signal Supervisor App
Download the “Signal Supervisor” app on the App Store for iPhones or Google Play for Androids.
At the bottom of the screen select Tools > Register Device> Via Bluetooth
Select Wi-Fi at the top of the screen and then select your network from the list the list below.
If you have an IOT enabled device you can continue registering via Bluetooth, or you can switch to Ethernet.
Below is a very brief summary of everything we went over in the guide.
HiBoost cell phone signal boosters are capable of boosting signal on all generations and carriers. While most calls are made on 4G LTE as opposed to 2G or 3G unless you use Sprint, who still predominantly uses 3G for voice.
The bars your phone displays are tricky. They represent a combination of signal strength and signal quality when they display. Each phone manufacturer also uses a different algorithm to display bars which means they are somewhat arbitrary.
HiBoost cell phone signal boosters amplify the signal on all frequency bands. Despite this, there are a few important things to know about each band. Low-frequency waves are more capable of penetrating building materials, however higher frequency waves are able to carry more information.
The three most important things to consider when selecting a cell phone signal booster are; square footage covered, gain, and downlink power. If the outdoor signal is weak focus on maximizing gain. If your outdoor signal is strong focus on maximizing downlink power output. Also, remember that HiBoost boosters square footage coverage are designed for optimal conditions. If you have thick walls or multiple indoor obstructions you might need to use a more powerful cell phone signal booster than your square footage would otherwise indicate.
Our HiBoost cell phone signal boosters are designed to be as close to FCC and IC regulations as possible. Our commercial and residential cell phone signal boosters provide the maximum amount of gain possible without registering with the FCC and IC. Our industrial cell phone signal boosters are also designed for maximum gain, but they must be registered with the FCC or IC.
Outdoor: If your outdoor signal is strong an omnidirectional antenna will be easier to install and be cheaper. If your signal is weak or low quality, you'll need to consider a directional antenna. While they are more difficult to install it will provide you the best signal.
Indoor: When deciding on panel vs. dome indoor antennas the rule of thumb is to use panels in narrow areas that need directional support and to use dome in wide open spaces where you can also access the ceiling above them.
The purpose of this guide was to help simplify and eliminate confusion. However, when talking about technology it is sometimes unavoidable that technical vocabulary has to be used. In an effort to further simplify this we have provided a short glossary of terms that have been used in the guide or just on our website to help answer any further questions.
transmission rates. It is a backward-compatible extension of GSM. It is a pre-3G radio technology. It was used on GSM networks in 2003.