By Greg Illes
There are a lot of places to go in an RV, but sadly only a small percentage of them have decent cell phone coverage. Fewer areas have good data coverage (3G) and only a fraction of the U.S. has any 4G.
What this means to us wandering nomads is that we have regular difficulty in getting email, browsing the Internet, or even just calling friends and family to keep in touch.
There are products intended to help us out. They are generally called signal boosters, and they have widely variable reviews from five stars (“wonderful”) to one star (“and I wish I could give a zero”).
The most significant aspect of a booster is that it is allowed a much higher broadcast power than cell phones. With higher power, it’s more likely to stay in contact with a distant cell tower. This, combined with an efficient antenna, is why any booster works at all.
There are caveats. Here is what you can expect from a good booster product:
•It will “increase your bars” — signal strength will be improved.
•It will improve reliability — fewer dropouts and lost calls.
•It will NOT create something from nothing — if you have absolutely no signal, you will still have absolutely no signal.
•It will NOT create 3G from 1X, or 4G from 3G — you might get improved phone calls, but if there’s no data signal, you won’t get data.
Given these limitations, a $200 investment must be carefully evaluated. So far, I’ve found it to be useful — but not earthshaking.
In order to get the best performance, I combined a cell phone booster with a dual band antenna. I mounted the antenna on an aluminum pole to about six feet above my coach roof. It can all be deployed or stored in a couple of minutes.
Several places I’ve been have been ideal for this setup: only a bar or so of signal, no reliable connection, calls don’t connect or are dropped. With the booster, things work again. Not like being in downtown San Jose, but, yes, working.
As they say, YMMV (your mileage may vary) but it could be worth a look.
[Editor: Here are many cell phone boosters available at Amazon.]