Despite the growing number of cell phone towers across this vast country, there are plenty of locations where you can’t get a signal, or it is so weak as to be useless.
People such as First Responders need a steady supply of strong signals. Campers, off-roaders and RV owners want one as well, when they are out of reach or at the far fringes of a conventional signal. The answer for all of these folks may be a booster that can magnify a weak signal, resulting in fewer dropped calls, better voice quality, greater hotspot capability, and faster internet connectivity.
Signal boosters increase cell signal strength by collecting signals with a powerful antenna and delivering them to the booster, which amplifies the signal. Users within the vehicle are thus able to receive a strong, steady signal. The unit also sends a boosted signal back to the nearest cell tower through a separate antenna.
One such device is Drive Reach by weBoost. Advertised as a “powerful, in-vehicle cell booster”, Drive Reach claims weBoost works on every major Canadian network (Rogers, Telus, Bell, SaskTel etc.) and can provide a gain of up to 50 decibels (db). The company says the multi-user wireless booster allows you to get a signal 60% further from the closest tower than other boosters.
I put a Drive Reach to the test.
Installation and setup
Setup was easy – at least at first. The package contains a magnetic, external antenna with a long cord, strong enough to withstand being squeezed between a weather strip or seal and a door/hatch. I put it on the roof at the rear. That antenna is plugged into the main unit which I secured to the floor beneath the passenger seat with a provided hook and loop material.
A separate antenna also plugs in and can be placed anywhere in the vehicle. I later learned this placement is critical, and it should be as far from the external antennas as possible, yet allow the phone to be brought into close proximity for maximum results.
A third plug, with a 5V, 2.1-amp USB-A port for rapid cell phone charging, goes straight into any 12-volt outlet. It contains an on/off button to deactivate the booster if the 12-volt outlet is constantly on, as was the case with my test vehicle, to prevent draining the vehicle battery when parked.
The booster does not function properly when in close proximity to a strong signal, so should be turned off once back into normal cell range.
After turning the unit on, I played around with antennae locations to get a green light. I tested with both Analogue (Samsung 7) and Apple (i8) phones, Rogers and Telus providers. The signal was actually stronger on both phones without the unit!
A call to the helpline revealed I was too close to a strong signal, which is how I learned it should be shut off in such conditions. This proved to be the first of four calls for assistance. Obviously, the installation manual could be improved!
I then drove to a location where the signal fluctuated between one and no bars. (It should be noted that the number of bars on a phone screen are not an accurate measure of signal strength or speed because there are no standards pertaining to them. Three bars on one phone may not be the same strength as three on another.)
The best way to determine the strength of signals received is to view the signal strength reading expressed in decibels (dBm). Signal strength measured with this method is expressed in negative numbers. The closer the number is to zero, the better the signal the device is receiving. Thus, a reading of -70 dBm is a stronger signal than -120 dBm.
I had to search the web to learn how to set each phone to measure strength in decibels. There I discovered and used an app called Speedtest, to record download and upload speeds expressed in megabytes per second.
The results? Drive Reach works. Signal strength jumped immediately with either phone when the unit was turned on. Several calls to the helpline and subsequent tests, revealed the results varied greatly depending on the distance between the phone and the external antennae. Obviously, results will also vary depending on initial strength, distance from the tower, etc. But with both Android and Apple units, the results were rewarding.
I tested with the phones approximately one foot and again two inches from the internal antennae. The numbers in parentheses (below)are for the closer proximity.
|w/o Drive Reach||with Drive Reach|
|Strength||-125 db||-105 (-77) db|
|Speed - Download||No signal||10.6 (12.2) Mbps|
|Speed - Upload||No signal||0.2 (0.65) Mbps|
|Bars||No bars||5 Bars - Full|
|Strength||-124 db||-121 (-105) db|
|Speed - Download||2.3 Mbps||22.5 (23.8) Mbps|
|Speed - Upload||0.4 Mbps||0.79 (.9) Mbps|
|Bars||1 Bar||3 Bars|
If you regularly find yourself in locations where your carrier's signal strength is too low. You might consider a booster such as the Drive Reach from weBoost. At $699 it is a serious investment. But, the lack of dropped calls, improved voice quality, greater hotspot capability, and faster internet connectivity could be worth every cent. Especially in an emergency. https://www.weboost.ca