You may have heard about 4G mobile boosters (also called cellular repeaters or range extenders) which if used correctly can improve the mobile phone signal indoors. But what do they do? Is a mobile booster going to be an effective means of solving the challenges you may be facing? What are the limitations?
Australia is a seriously big country and with that comes reception blackspots particularly inside buildings whether it be homes, community centres, underground car parks, commercial offices or public spaces. A booster for mobile signal may be an appropriate fast and relatively cost effective solution to improve the mobile phone reception whether it be at home, the office, a public space or perhaps even a vehicle or campervan. There are some dependencies as to whether it’s a viable solution for your use case, and they come with some limitations, however, if suitable they can be a quick and relatively inexpensive way to improve the number of mobile reception bars users get on their phones and resolve dropped or missed calls.
Are Mobile Signal Boosters Legal?
For a long time, the use of repeaters in Australia was greatly limited and only available to the operators themselves (Telstra, Vodafone and Optus). This was for good reason as misuse often created significant issues on the network and could significantly impact the cellular experience of many nearby users. Consequently, any mobile boosters or repeater which one could buy for some time were largely sourced from overseas and not approved for use and regulated by the ACMA
Some mobile boosters have now become smarter than their legacy predecessors allowing the Telstra, Optus and Vodafone to approve the use of a limited range of products available to the public although proper deployment and engineering is still key to getting a successful outcome. Whilst there is plenty of illegal repeaters available for sale online, many of which are very hard to configure, their use is not permitted, the use of approved operator hardware only is permissable.
Wireless Coverage Solutions are a team of experienced cellular coverage specialists with in-house engineering and deployment resources. Contact us now for a free consultation to discuss how a legal booster or similar solution could meet your needs and improve the connectivity in your space.
How does a Mobile Signal Booster work?
A mobile booster takes a low 4G signal from the outdoors before amplifying it and redistributing it around a given number of indoor serving antennas to increase the 4G range into the building. But the exact implementation will vary greatly based on the location of nearby mobile sites, the number of mobile carrier services required, and the cable pathways within the building.
The Donor Antenna in most circumstances is located on the roof or building facade, ideally with clear line of sight to the closest macro tower for the relevant mobile carrier, for example, a Telstra macro site. This location may be visible to the naked eye or may require specialised RF equipment to determine an optimum bearing. Typically a donor antenna will be a directional antenna used to improve the strength of the donor signal as much as possible. It also helps with proper tuning eliminating noise from other sites to improve the quality of the signal received.
The Signal Booster will be located indoors protected from the elements where it requires AC electrical power. Several boosters may be grouped together to cover larger buildings or cater for the addition of other operators. The booster will amplify the signal as much as possible, however, is dependant on the isolation achieved between the donor and serving antenna.
Isolation is essentially the effective ‘signal loss’ that occurs between the donor and serving antenna. This ensures that the input to the booster cannot ‘hear’ the output of the booster or else it would create what is known as ‘oscillation’. Consequently, the booster will only amplify the signal by the maximum amount of gain which is limited by the isolation available. Failure to create enough isolation between antennas is one of the top mistakes in deploying of signal boosters and often results in their failure to improve the service significantly.
One or many Serving Antenna would be placed around the building where coverage is required. The antennas may be omnidirectional or directional antennas mounted to walls or ceilings. The determination of antennas is largely guided by the desire to maximise isolation to improve the performance of the booster.
Mobile Booster performance
A function centre where there is no reception whatsoever, impossible to make a phone call
After the installation and setup of a 4G mobile booster, a significant improvement and 100% coverage of the ballroom on all three operators (Telstra, Optus and Vodafone)
Key Benefits of a Mobile Booster
Improved cellular reception (more bars!). Decreasing the likelihood of signal dropouts and missed calls
Improved mobile battery life as a result of phone transmitting at lower power
Improved data throughput speeds over the 4G network
Quick deployment time and relatively inexpensive compared to traditional DAS systems.
Requirements for a Mobile Signal Booster
There is often a misconception that a booster is fed from an internet connection and is self-sufficient. There are such devices often call femtocells or small cells, but they are not publicly available.
A mobile booster requires you to have some signal to begin with, so if you have any reception even just 1 bar, perhaps you know there is a side of the building where the signal gets better or even just outside the front door where you normally take phone calls, there is a good chance a booster will be a viable solution. If you have no signal whatsoever and are consistently sitting on SOS only calls, it’s unlikely to be the right solution for you.
We can almost make a signal booster suit almost all environments, but if in doubt contact us to discuss your specific use case.
Limitations of a Mobile Signal Booster
• Ultimately a booster is extending an existing outdoor signal and the capacity of the outdoor network. It will not create any additional capacity so if the outdoor network is congested, potentially at peak times, the performance of users connected to the booster can be likewise capacity limited which may not provide the quality of experience deemed satisfactory for the use case.
• Boosters get best results when set up by a professional with appropriate specialised equipment to take accurate RF measurements and determine the best configuration of the donor antenna and serving antennas to maximise performance
• The individual boosters have a maximum output power which is typically designed for only 2-3 antennas maximum. Larger buildings may require additional boosters to cover the footprint so by nature they are suited to smaller areas
• Each booster is matched to an operator, so, for example, a Telstra signal booster will do nothing for the Optus reception. It’s perfectly viable to have multiple operators share some of the common infrastructure but it does add complexity to the solution and the need to work with experienced parties.
• As described as a pre-requisite a signal booster will do nothing for a situation in which there is no signal to begin with.
But what about 5G?
At the time of writing the boosters available in Australia are 3G and 4G only, more often than not when considering a mobile booster the primary intention is adding basic connectivity for phone calls and data throughput. Realistically this does not require 5G connectivity and several the 5G feature sets would not largely carry through in the context of a booster other than getting a 5G logo in the phone taskbar. Wireless Coverage Solutions have a whole blog post dedicated 5G for futher information
5G boosters will become available in due time particularly with the Telstra 850MHz 5GNR refarm which begins shortly. However its unlikely to add much value and will not replace the need for 4G units as voice calls are looking to remain on the 4G network for the forseeable future.
Wireless Coverage Solutions are a team of experienced cellular coverage specialists with in-house engineering and deployment resources. Mobile coverage solutions have been designed and installed including a multitude of high-end Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) solutions as well as a variety of bespoke multi-operator mobile booster solutions in residential and commercial environments. Contact us now for a free consultation to discuss how a booster or similar solutions could meet your needs and improve the connectivity in your space.