A cellular booster can be better in some situations than just using a cellular antenna alone, particularly in places with weak cell signal. Otherwise, if you’re camped in an area with fair to good cell signal, you may find that your upload and download speeds get worse with a booster. So which is better, a cellular booster vs. cellular antenna?
Cellular Booster Vs. Cellular Antenna, Which is Better?
To sum it all up, we’re not fans of boosters.
In our years of boondocking across the United States, we’ve found that cellular boosters have a life span that could be shorter or longer depending on how often you use them. Because we lived full time in our trailer, and spent 80 to 90% of that time boondocking, we used it every day, and just left it running 24/7.
We bought a WeBoost Drive X RV (see it on Amazon). After 18 months of use, we found that it wasn’t boosting very well. Whereas when it was brand new, we could see a gain of about 30 decibels at a particular campsite. 18 months later, at the same campsite, we ended up getting only 5 decibels of gain. And it was not just that campsite either, we found that over time, the WeBoost had lost its ability to boost a signal.
I had our boosting unit plugged into a 12 volt port in our trailer so that it could stay running at all times. The boosting unit would get very hot. It seemed to me that running hot for such long periods of time caused it to lose its ability to boost signal.
Why a Cellular Booster Fails in Fair to Good Signal Areas
A cellular booster is really only advantageous in areas with weak signal. If you’re camped in an area with fair to average signal, it may help some or not at all. But if you’re camped with good to strong cell signal, a booster will actually make your upload and download speeds get worse.
This is because a cellular booster not only boosts cell signal, it also boosts the noise. There is static noise within the very-high frequency bands that cellular signals broadcast through. They interfere with the transmission of data packets, and often cause your cellphone to request the same packet be sent over and over until it finally receives a clean transmission.
So, if you’re in an area where cellular signal is strong, then boosting that signal only increases the surrounding noise.
Ideally, in those areas, you should turn off your booster. However, testing your cell signal along with your upload and download speeds gets to be a chore each time you change campsites. You’d rather just “set it and forget it”. If you cut out the booster and just go with a really good antenna, you can do that.
Will I Get a Better Signal If I Don’t Use a Booster?
It depends on how good your antenna is…
- The taller the antenna, the better. We’ve seen some boondockers with antennas that reach 30 to 50 feet into the sky. They have them mounted on telescoping poles attached to the side of their rig. When driving, they retract them and secure them.
- The larger the antenna the better. Antennas larger in physical size do a better job of capturing more signal.
- MIMO antennas are better. “Multiple in, Multiple out” antennas are designed to capture all of the frequency bands that cellular signal broadcasts over. This allows your router or hotspot to select the strongest band to tune into.
- Grounding the antenna improves performance. Make sure the metal portion of the antenna itself is grounded to your vehicle (good), or grounded into the Earth (better).
- Directional antennas are better than omni-directional. A directional antenna has be to pointed towards a cellular tower to capture the most signal. Meanwhile, an omni-directional is designed to capture signal from any direction. The disadvantage of a directional antenna is that you have to physically turn the antenna towards the direction of the signal. An omni-directional allows you to “set it and forget it”, but does not give a stronger signal than directional.
- Two antennas are better than one. Most cellular router devices will have two antenna ports for this purpose. Some older hotspot devices have dual antenna ports as well.
- The shorter the cable the better. Cellular runs through coaxial cable, and will bleed through the cable. The less distance the signal has to travel, the stronger the signal. You can get shielded cable or “low loss cable” to maximize signal strength.
Where Does an Antenna Plug Into?
Your antenna will plug into either a cellular router or a hotspot device…
- Cellular routers are becoming increasingly popular with boondockers as of this writing. Peplink makes the most popular cellular routers, and there are thousands of videos on YouTube about them. Most routers made by Peplink allow you to insert two SIM cards from your cellular provider. From there your devices connect to it via wireless the same way a hotspot device works.
- Older hotspot devices have antenna ports on them, which can accept a cellular antenna. Verizon still sells hotspot devices with antenna ports on them, whereas AT&T and T-Mobile no longer do. You can still buy older hotspot devices online from eBay, Amazon, and even Facebook Marketplace, and activate them on your cellular plan.