In order to improve your wireless signal for either a cell phone or a data card, some chasers find that an external antenna alone will not suffice, especially in more provincial locales. The best way to decide whether or not you really need a cellular amplifier is to examine the regions that you’re most apt to frequent on a chase, view carrier coverage in that area, and then ascertain whether or not your signal is sufficient with an external antenna alone. If you do not have adequate signal, you may wish to consider a cellular amplifier to enhance your performance. To compare coverage in different areas, visit 3GStore.com and enter a zip code into the map; zoom in or out to view data coverage in your designated area.
There are two types of amplifiers: direct connect and wireless repeaters. Each type will require, at minimum, a 12-volt power source, as well as an external antenna. See our article on external antennas for more information on how to choose the right antenna for your cellular application.
The “direct connect” amplifiers connect directly to your cell phone or data card with the use of an external adapter, which usually must be purchased separately. The direct connect amplifiers, standing alone, are only usable with one device (i.e. cell phone or data card). A wireless amplifier/repeater essentially acts as an in-vehicle wifi network, amplifying cell service for multiple users within and possibly even proximal to a vehicle. Note: actual range will vary depending upon placement of the device’s in-vehicle wireless repeater antenna, as well as the actual signal strength.
When choosing which amplifier is right for you, you’ll first need to decide whether or not you want an amplifier that’s exclusively for one device (direct connect), or one that can be shared with other users in your vehicle (wireless repeater boosters). The direct connect devices will only work if your data card or cellular phone has an external antenna option; many newer devices DO NOT have the dexterity to conjoin with an external antenna application. If you do not have an option to directly connect your device to an external antenna, then you’ll have to choose a wireless “repeater” amplifier.
Which product manufacturer does one choose? If you feel that a cellular amplifier is right for you, then there are several major brands to choose from. While this is not necessarily a complete listing of manufacturers, several suppliers that have earned reputable names include the following: Cyfre (software controlled), Wilson Electronics and PowerMax. Cyfre and Wilson Electronics are arguably the two most popular brands within the chasing and spotting communities.
There is at least one known product comparison analysis that has been done by an end-user who frequents one of the major RVing forums, which plays host to a community that heavily utilizes cellular amplification products due to their remote travel and camping entradas. This informal product comparison analysis between Maximum Signal and Wilson wireless signal boosters can be viewed here.
It should be noted that a variety of opinions exist within the chasing community regarding personal preferences for specific cell amplifier brands. The reader is encouraged to review the variety of brands and vendors available before making a purchase. You may also wish to consult other end-users to receive anecdotal product reviews. It’s very important that you select an amplifier that’s compatible with your cell carrier’s RF frequencies, as well as one that best fits your needs and works with a properly matched antenna. Please visit this page to determine your cell carrier’s specific wireless frequencies.
Jesse L. Risley, K9JLR