Barnaby in the cloud

Advocate | Ally | Mentor | Challenger | Technologist

26 Jul 2010

Improving your cell phone reception

I bought my first cell phone in 1995. I remember it well - it was an analog Nokia phone and I had bought a full car kit with headset so I didn’t have to hold on to it while driving, and with the external antenna it didn’t drop the signal too frequently. Fast forward to today, and I have owned more cell phones than I can remember from almost all of the major manufacturers – Nokia, Motorola, Sony-Ericsson, Palm, Apple, Samsung, LG, and HTC. Over the past 15 years the technology has changed, from analog to digital; from phone to PDA; and from PDA to Smartphone. We have moved from voice only to voice+data, and moved through 3G and now onto 3G+ / 4G.

The one thing that seems to remain constant however is network coverage. In the never ending quest for more features, smaller size, and better battery life, the transmit and receive power has dropped (don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing so you don’t cook your brain) and in doing so, the locations on the fringe of the network towers’ coverage area continue to be a source of frustration when trying to make a call, download your email, or surf the web.

This weekend I was again reminded of this as I spent sometime visiting my father-in-law’s trailer at a park in north Waterloo. The park is pretty much a dead-zone for cell coverage as I usually have either one bar of signal, or the phone spends the entire time searching for signal. For the record my current phone is an unlocked HTC HD2 on Rogers and my wife has a 3G iPhone also on Rogers and they both exhibit the same behaviour.

Fortunately this weekend I had a new gadget to play with – the good folks at Wilson Electronics had sent me their new Sleek™ cradle and bi-directional amplifier to try out. All I can say is WOW – this thing works exactly the way the website advertises it. Setup was a snap and from un-boxing (sorry – no pictures, I was too excited getting it setup) to getting it installed and working took maybe two minutes. If you want your setup to look a little cleaner and more professional you will probably want to take a little longer, however, I wanted to see if it lived up to the advertising, and sure enough it did.

Up in the north part of Waterloo, I went from 1 bar of cell phone signal to a full 5 bars, and the RSSI went from –108dBm to –74dBm – a huge improvement. As an aside – to access the field test mode on the HD2, dial the following from the phone *#*#364#*#*.  For other phones, Wilson Electronics has put together a handy PDF with the test mode setting for many popular phones –

Next up, testing in-building options for my father-in-law’s trailer…

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