I live in a rural area which is fantastic for wide open spaces and natural beauty … yet not so great for timely FedEx deliveries or wireless service. We have much better GSM (AT&T & T-Mobile) coverage than CDMA (Sprint & Verizon); 3G is not here yet, so we must be content with EDGE. The nearest tower is several miles away from our home, and our area is hilly, so although we do get a cellular signal, it can be weak.
When standing outside our house I can get three to four bars on the iPhone 4, which is pretty fantastic; calls are clear and everything is good. But step inside, under our metal roof, and the signal will quickly drops to one or two bars. The immediate side-effects of the diminished signal are dead zones in certain parts of our home where no calls can be made or received, dropped calls and … garbling. Urgh.
I had been using a Wi-Ex zBoost, which I reviewed in May 2009, but late last year we started having issues with the signal post-boost. We were experiencing more dropped calls than usual; we would have to stand in certain areas of the house in order to understand our callers — much less be understood, and even when our iPhones displayed three or four bars, we certainly weren’t getting the signal and service implied. Something was totally out of whack. We tried to correct it by resetting the Wi-Ex several times, adjusting the interior antenna, and even checking outside to make sure that the exterior antenna hadn’t been blown down — because weirder things have happened, right? But there was no obvious reason why the signal had deteriorated.
I must have tweeted something about how frustrated I had become due to these signal issues, because Clay Blackham — a PR guy that we have worked with for ages, replied on Facebook and asked if I would like to take a look at a product one of his clients offered, which is how I found out about the Wilson Electronics SignalBoost DB Pro.
We’ve reviewed a few Wilson Electronics’ products previously; Dan checked out the Sleek Cell Phone Signal Booster, and I tested the MobilePro Wireless Cellular/PCS Dual-Band 800/1900 MHz Amplifier, but neither of us had tried one of their “In-Building solutions”. Curious about how the DB Pro differed from the booster we’d been using, I took a look at the Wilson site.
As expected, I learned that the DB Pro would only work if there was some sort of signal available; in other words the DB Pro is not going to magically produce a signal where there wasn’t one before. Fair enough.
These were the other benefits and features mentioned:
• Significantly improves voice and data quality
• Greatly reduces disconnects and drop-outs
• Multiple cell phones and data cards can be amplified simultaneously
• Significantly improves voice and data signal quality
• Increases data communication rates needed for 3G technologies
• Receives and transmits better than your cell phone
• Designed for use with standard TV cable common in many homes
• Extends cell phone battery life
• Easy to install and use, and it’s affordable
• Complete package – everything you need is in the box
• Wireless operation – no connection to cell phone or data card
• Works in any inside location where improved cellular signal is needed: homes, offices, buildings
• Power control logic ensures maximum output power is within cellular standards
• Works wirelessly with multiple cell phones and data cards simultaneously
• Works on all generations of CDMA, TDMA and GSM
• FCC and IC type accepted
It wasn’t long before a Wilson’s Electronics box showed up, and I made a big mistake. I let the fact that this kit had extra pieces which required additional installation over what the Wi-Ex had required intimidate me. I called the guy who had installed our Wi-Ex to set up an appointment, and over a month later I was still waiting for him to come to our area. The wait was getting so ridiculous (and our mobile phone service was getting so poor) that Kevin decided to take matters into his own hands. He opened the box, took a look at the contents, read through the instructions … and he got started. My hero. 🙂
Inside the box were the Wilson® SignalBoost™ DB Pro Cellular Signal Amplifier, a 75 Ohm omni outside antenna, a wall mount inside panel antenna, a 20’ white RG6 coax, a 30’ white RG6 coax, a 50’ white RG6 coax, and an installation guide.
Frequency: 824-894 MHz / 1850-1990 MHz
Gain: 62 dB / 62 dB
Max Output Power: 2.5 watts
Max RF (up/down): 34 dBm / 15.7 dBm
Noise Figure: 3.5 dB nominal
Flatness: ±5 dB
Isolation: > 90 dB
Power Requirements: 120-240 V AC, 50-60 Hz, 8 W max
The Wi-Ex required an outdoor antenna mount and a hole drilled in the side of the house to bring in the coax cable for connection to the indoor base unit; the DB Pro required the further installation of a panel antenna 50 feet away from the wireless amplifier.
Ideally the panel antenna would go in the center of the house, but because of our previous Wi-Ex install and the size of our home (it’s only 48 feet long), we had to improvise a little bit.
The coax that comes through the wall is connected to the exterior antenna, and we are using the same cable that used to run to the Wi-Ex’s base unit; now it goes to the DB Pro’s wireless amplifier and the DB Pro’s exterior antenna. And yes, that’s the same ugly board we used before to hold the old exterior antenna, but it’s lasted almost two years and it works.
The wireless amplifier was placed under the shelf that used to hold the Wi-Ex because it needed to be plugged into the exterior antenna and there had already been a hole drilled. There are two coax cables going into the box along with a power cable; one coax goes to the external antenna, and the other one would need to be run from the amplifier to the other end of the house. I do wish there was a way to better camouflage these cables, but at least they aren’t in the living room or anywhere else truly noticeable.
We don’t have an attic as our house is pier and beam (that’s post and beam to those of you who live in the north) … which meant that someone was going to have to crawl under the floor to drive the cable from the freshly drilled hole in the laundry room’s floor.
Whoever did it was going to have to belly shimmy from the south end of our house all the way to a closet on the north end. Kev wasn’t volunteering to do this part, either.
For a few days, the actually ran across our floor; Daisy wasn’t bothered by it, but I was sure I would trip over it and kill myself. 😉
Before we drew straws to decide who was going to go crawling under the house to complete the install, Kev and I wanted to see if the DB Pro system made a difference over what we were used to with the Wi-Ex. We followed the instructions, and turned off all of our mobile phones before powering up the amplifier. We didn’t quite have the amplifier and the antenna spaced 50 feet from each other, but that couldn’t be helped. We had both coax cables (exterior and interior antennas) attached to the amplifier in our laundry room. We plugged the power supply into the back of the amplifier and then plugged it into an outlet … and we breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the light on the amplifier glow green — a sign that the unit was “powered up and working properly at maximum gain.”
The relief quickly turned into near-euphoria once Kev and I turned on our mobile phones and saw full signals. We ran around the house checking signal strength in various rooms and made calls to friends to test the signal. Most satisfying was talking to my best friend Holley, who said I sounded like I was on a landline when we were speaking. I consider this the highest praise, since I made the call while sitting at our dining room table, a place that had become a garbled call zone at best but more typically a dropped-call zone.
Kevin’s brother Mark is a plumber, and since he has no reservations about crawling under homes we asked him to run the coax for us. Once he did that, our system was properly and permanently installed.
We’ve been using the DB Pro for several months now, so let’s see if it has lived up to all of the promises made on the Wilson Electronics’ website:
• Significantly improves voice and data quality: As I mentioned before, we don’t have 3G so I can’t address whether the DB Pro helps with that, but we have noticed a huge improvement in our call quality. I’ve also found MMS texts sent go through more consistently, and that was a hit or miss deal before.
• Greatly reduces disconnects and drop-out: Absolutely. Both Kevin and I have noticed a massive improvement in this area, in fact — the only dropped calls we get anymore are ones where the person we’re talking to is in a bad area and their call drops. W00t!
• Multiple cell phones and data cards can be amplified simultaneously: We don’t use data cards here since we have a wireless satellite-driven network, but we can make phone T&T and T-Mobile calls simultaneously without disconnects or drop-outs.
• Significantly improves voice and data signal quality: The DB Pro definitely improves out voice signal quality; we both consistently see between four or five bars on our iPhone displays, depending upon where we are standing in the house.
• Increases data communication rates needed for 3G technologies: I couldn’t say whether it does or not.
• Receives and transmits better than your cell phone: I don’t have the tools to test this.
• Designed for use with standard TV cable common in many homes: Absolutely true; we are using the coax cable that was previously hooked up to the Wi-Ex’s antenna and base unit. Everything works perfectly.
• Extends cell phone battery life: I haven’t really noticed this, but that is because my phone is plugged in much of the time when I am home. I understand how this could definitely improve battery life if you were on a fringe EDGE / 3G area, as alternating between the two is a terrible battery killer.
• Easy to install and use: The DB Pro was much easier to install than we thought it would be, but there are some parts which would be tricky for those without the proper tools. Consider that the external antenna has to be mounted up high outside, the internal antenna has to be mounted on a wall inside — preferably in a closet or somewhere that it won’t look out of place. Then there are the two coax cables that will need to be run; one requires a hole through an exterior wall, and the other needs a hole either through the ceiling or through the floor. Someone will have to crawl through the attic or under the house; if you aren’t comfortable doing all of the above, there is no shame in hiring someone to do it professionally. Once installed, the DB Pro is always on in the background; making and receiving calls is a natural process that doesn’t require any thought … or anxiety over whether or not the call will go through.
• It’s affordable: Well, it does seem expensive up front, there is no way around that. But let’s put it into perspective: if we had to have a phone line run to our home and if we had a monthly phone bill, the DB Pro’s cost would be made up in much less than a year (assuming my phone bill was a minimum of $50/month). When you consider the fact that we can now make and receive calls without any thought as to whether or not they’ll go through, we no longer have dropped calls (not on our end, anyway), and the fact that we can use our mobile phones as our primary phone line, the price seems much more reasonable.
It would be easy to complain about the conveniences I gave up moving to the country: lightning fast cable internet, take-out pizza, 24 hour grocery stores … neighbors’ homes 10 feet away from my house, traffic, barking neighborhood dogs in the middle of the night, small back yards, having to lock the doors every time I go somewhere, nosy neighbors, noisy neighbors … never mind, I’m not complaining!
But there is a fly in the ointment: the CTIA is trying to take away our right to use cell phone amplifiers such as this one, and Wilson Electronics is trying to raise awareness about this issue:
Wilson is fighting what it sees as carrier resistance to signal boosters stemming from concerns over interference with their own networks. The cellular industry group CTIA has asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to rule that any device that uses a mobile operator’s frequencies has to be approved by the carrier. Wilson contends that its current boosters don’t cause interference but that some others do, and it wants the FCC to impose stricter requirements on new signal boosters to solve the problem.
The new site, Hear-Me.org, is part of Wilson’s ongoing campaign to make sure third-party vendors can continue to provide boosters as long as they don’t interfere with carrier networks. It offers written testimonials and videos by users who say they depend on signal boosters for either personal or public-safety calls. In addition, the site includes information about the issue, a list of government agencies that say they rely on boosters, and a link to write to lawmakers and others about the need for boosters.
My family’s outside communication would greatly suffer if we weren’t allowed to utilize the better call quality provided by the Wilson Electronics DB Pro. It blows my mind that the CTIA and possibly the FCC want to limit or eliminate Wilson Electronics’ ability to help us and others like us. But that is a rant for another day, I suppose.
I love everything about living in the country, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. If you live in a rural area where cellular signals can be a bit sketchy, having a cell phone amplifier is an absolute necessity; the best signal amplifier I have tried is the Wilson Electronics DB Pro.
The Wilson Electronics SignalBoost DB Pro Cell Phone Signal Amplifier is available online and from various local dealers (found by entering your zip code).
MSRP: $599.99 — but shop around online, you can likely find them for much less!
What I Like: A significant improvement in the quality of phone calls; increased signal strength in areas that are prone to disconnected or dropped calls; works in the background — hook it up and forget it; landline quality voice calls over your mobile in places you never thought them possible; eliminates dead zones
What Needs Improvement: You may need to pay for a professional installation; the purchase and installation costs are significant, even if ultimately justifiable