Cheap Way to Boost a Cell Phone Signal
By Michael Cox
Your phone may include a camera, GPS, gyroscope and 120 apps, but none of that helps you get reception when you are a little too far from the nearest cell tower. Your wireless provider is more than willing to help you -- if you're willing to shell out for a repeater or femtocell. If you're not flush with cash, or if you're in a pinch, you have cheaper options at your disposal.
The cheapest way to boost your phone's signal is by making like MacGyver: a paper clip, twist tie or piece of scrap wire may get you enough of a boost to complete a call. If your phone has a jack for an external antenna, slip the clip or wire into the antenna port and anchor it to the phone with some duct tape. More ambitious do-it-yourselfers have soldered together food cans and antenna parts to make devices capable of a serious signal boost. Some people have even discovered that slipping a phone into an empty drinking glass adds a bar or two, although you'll have to use a headset or speaker function to make a call.
If your dead zone is at home or in another place where you can walk away from your phone, find the spot with the best reception and leave the phone there; use a Bluetooth headset to make your call. A Bluetooth signal has a range of only about 30 feet, but that may be enough to allow you to make a call from your desk or sofa while your phone is in the kitchen or near a window.
A step up in cost from DIY is an external antenna booster, which uses an adapter to connect to your specific phone model. Antennas vary greatly in price and most have a specific application -- some are magnetic to attach to a car hood or roof, others mount to windows or stand on a desk. A simple antenna and adapter won't cost much, but if you don't see enough improvement, you may need to splurge for an amplifier to increase the signal.
If none of the cheaper methods work to improve your signal, you may need to consider a more expensive, long-term option. Repeaters and femtocells, both sometimes known as extenders, can offer a significant improvement, especially when your signal woes occur at home. Repeaters require placement in a spot with at least some signal, which they capture, amplify and rebroadcast to your phone. Femtocells act like miniature cell towers. They use a broadband connection to connect to the wireless provider's network, so you can use one even where there's no signal at all. However, a femtocell can only be used in one location and can only be purchased through your wireless provider.
Michael Cox writes about lifestyle issues, popular culture, sports and technology. In a career spanning more than 10 years, he has contributed to dozens of magazines, books and websites, including MSN.com and "Adobe Magazine." Cox holds a professional certificate in technical communications from the University of Washington.