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Choosing a Cellular Amplifier for your RV

December 4, 2015
Wilson Cellular Amplifier

There are a number of Cellular Amplifier options on the market made by a number of manufacturers.  The Wilson brand (now being rebranded as WeBoost) is the most common and seems to be best selling brand.  There are pricing options from as cheap as $100 up to around $1000 depending on the options you want.  Even the cheapest cell amps can make a huge difference in signal strength when in fringe areas, however it is important to note that you cannot amplify a signal that does not exist.  But with a properly designed setup you can turn a very weak signal into a very strong signal and have fast data speeds in the most extreme fringe areas.  The biggest trick to setting up is to ensure you have sufficient distance between the Amp/inside antenna and the external antenna.

* In the US you are required to register personal cell amps with your carrier where as in Canada there is no requirement.

Here are some potential factors when choosing an amp:

Cradle based Amps:

  • With these amps the cell phone or hotspot sits directly on the cradle
  • Lowest cost
  • Easiest setup and can run off any USB power source (car or house)
  • Portable, can easily be moved from Car to RV to House
  • Cannot share with multiple devices, so best suited for a single phone (with Bluetooth) or a hotspot

Whole house/RV Amps

  • Cost is roughly 2X-3X the cost of a cradle amp
  • Setup usually needs to be permanent or semi-permanent, in some cases professional install may be required especially when trying to run the antenna wire thru/out the RV
  • Can be shared by multiple phones/ hotspots
  • Requires an internal and external antenna to be mounted, but amplifier can be hidden
  • Many of the lower $300-$500 solutions have very limited internal range (less than the size of a typical RV/Trailer).  I have actually heard reports of some where signal drops dramatically when the phone is more than 3-4 feet from the internal antenna (that is a coverage area the size of your dinette).

Speeds

  • Many of the 3G amps outperform the 4G or LTE amps for range, so in extreme fringe a slower 3G amp will likely give a more stable signal.   3G speeds are still comparable with lower to moderate DSL speeds so for light to moderate use by one to two devices they are more than sufficient.  3G amps are often half the cost of 4G/LTE amps.
  • 4G/LTE amps provide quite a bit more speed vs 3G amps when in areas that have 4G or LTE service, however many fringe areas do not have 4G or LTE service anyway.  Getting full LTE speeds cannot be done with typical home amplifiers, as one of the things LTE does to increase speed is channel bonding (MIMO) and each bonded channel requires its own separate antenna.  However LTE off one antenna is still dramatically faster than 3G and it is better suited for heavy usage, multiple users or if you stream video like Netflix.

Antenna selection

  • Selecting the right antenna and antenna wire can get quite complex and it is very easy to create a custom setup that has less coverage than the out of the box antenna setup that came with the amp.
  • The antenna (little 4″ stubby) that comes with many of the Wilson Amps is sufficient for most people, but it does require a metal ground plane (about 4″ across) if mounted on a TPM or other non metal RV roof.
  • Upgrade antennas from the cell amp manufacturer are the next option as they are guaranteed to be tuned to the right bands and will have the correct connectors to use with their amps.  However it is worth noting that some antennas like the Wilson Trucker antenna advertises an increase of an additional 6db, however this is only on certain bands.  In fact if you look at the chart and cross reference it to your cell provider and their 3G, 4G, LTE bands you will find a wide variance, in fact for one of the T-Mobile LTE bands there is a -2db loss vs the 4″ stubby antenna and many other bands show no additional improvement from the stubby antenna.
  • Custom antenna’s are an option as well but this requires some understanding of cabling and antennas.  There are higher gain antennas available that will improve the signal even more as long as they are tuned to the right bands and you do not create too much loss from the antenna cable.
  • Directional antennas are probably the next biggest bang for the buck as they will improve signal dramatically.  However the biggest drawback for them is they are directional… they need to be aimed every time you move.  This means you need to know where the cell tower for your carrier is.  Directional antennas can have a very narrow window to aim them.  You will need to know the direction of the tower and its height.  Line of sight along with a compass and binoculars/rifle scope are necessary when aiming over very long distances.  Some people will use a rifle scope mounted directly to a Yagi antenna for aiming over extreme distances, however I would recommend you remove the scope from the rifle before aiming to avoid unnecessary visits from the SWAT team.

Wilson Sleek Cradle Amps on Amazon.com

Wilson Booster Kits on Amazon.com

WP_20150516_15_37_21_Pro2

Wilson Sleek Cradle Amp

WP_20151202_08_49_46_Pro

Wilson Home/Office Amp

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