002: Accessories That You Should Consider
Chapter 4:Accessories That You Should Consider
While every booster kit includes everything that you need to get started boosting signal, there are some accessories that can improve the effectiveness of your system or provide added protection against failure.
In this chapter, we'll review the accessories that we recommend you take a look at, including:
- Lightning Protectors
- Splitters & Tappers
- Pole Mounts
After purchasing a high quality signal booster system, the last thing you want is anything to happen to the amplifier. This is where a lightning protector comes in.
Contrary to its name, a lightning protector (also known as a lightning surge suppressor or arrester) does not protect specifically against a lightning strike, as that would physically destroy the building that the amplifier is in, but rather it prevents against the build up of static electricity in the air caused by storms or other atmospheric conditions that can travel down the antenna cable and electrify the amplifier.
The lightning protector prevents this by connecting directly to the outside antenna cable between the outside antenna and the amplifier. The protector acts as a fuse, so if there is too much current running down the line, the fuse will blow and prevent the surge from reaching the amplifier.
If your building signal booster did not come with a lightning protector, we highly recommend that you purchase one to protect your amplifier. Electrical surges are not covered under any manufacturers equipment warranty, so it's worth the investment to protect your signal booster.
Cables are an important part of any signal booster system, as the quality and length of each cable determines how much signal will be lost between the amplifier and the antenna(s). The less signal you lose in transit, the larger the inside coverage area will be, so it's good to understand the types of cable available.
Quality and Length
In theory, you would want to use the lowest loss cable possible, but there are tradeoffs to consider.
The lower the loss of the cable, the larger it is in diameter with extra insulation and shielding, making it less flexible and harder to work with. Extremely low loss cable can be as thick as a garden hose and very difficult to run in anything but a straight line. In addition, the lower loss the cable, the more expensive it is, so long cable runs can dramatically increase the cost of a system.
Each cable type will lose a certain amount of signal over a distance, with lower loss cable obviously losing less signal. Depending on how much signal you have to begin with, a long cable run can result in all of your signal being lost, with none left when you get to the end of the cable.
It's important then to use the shortest length cable possible, and use the highest grade (lowest loss) cable that you can afford and that you're able to run from the amplifier to the antenna(s).
Types of Cables
There are a few different types of cables that are used with signal booster systems. We'll cover them in depth below:
- RG174: This is the cable type that comes attached to the magnetic mount antennas included in the vehicle kits. It is the most flexible, so it can be run through a closed car door, but that also means it has the most signal loss of all of the cables we'll cover. The length for this type of cable is typically limited to about 10 ft to ensure minimal signal loss.
- RG58: This cable has less signal loss than RG174, but is still fairly flexible. RG58 is usually limited to about 20 ft in length and is used in situations where a short but flexible cable is needed, such cable runs in an RV or boat.
- RG6: This is the standard coax cable that you get with cable TV. RG6 is low loss and flexible enough to run throughout a house or small business, with cable lengths kept to a maximum of 50ft.
- RG11: This is the lower loss, more shielded cousin of RG6. It can be used for longer cable runs than 50 ft, or for less loss during shorter cable runs. RG11 is less flexible than RG6, so it's a bit more difficult to install.
- LMR400: This is the ultra low loss cable included with our large building signal booster kits. LMR400 is very shielded, so it is challenging to run the cable during an installation, but the cable runs can be up to 100ft in length.
- LMR600 and above: This and any higher grade cable types have even more shielding than LMR400 and are used in professional installations for either very long cable runs or to prevent as much signal loss as possible for maximum coverage. This cable is typically sold in rolls and a cable expert uses special tools to terminate the desired cable length. You will typically find this cable our commercial installations.
- Plenum: This is a special type of cable that is required in plenum spaces in buildings in the United States by the National Fire Protection Association for fire safety. It is available in different grades of cable.
The cables that are included in the signal booster that you purchase will usually be sufficient for your situation, but if you have a unique floor plan, very large area, or require professional installation, then it may be worth taking a look at other cable options.
The performance, gain and distribution pattern of your antennas can greatly affect the performance of your booster system. We'll cover the different building antenna and mobile antenna options available, and discuss the pros and cons of each.
Building antennas are designed to be permanently mounted in one location and handle a signal environment that is fairly consistent (unlike mobile antennas that are constantly in motion). These antennas are typically larger and more powerful than their mobile equivalents.
While most signal booster kits come with a single inside antenna, in many cases adding an additional antenna(s) can help to increase the inside coverage area, or to craft the way that the signal is distributed in uniquely shaped areas. If you have a medium to strong outside signal and aren't getting full coverage throughout your space, then you an additional antenna could be a good option for you. Please note: adding an additional antenna also requires a splitter or tapper and additional cable, so please feel free to contact us for assistance selecting the right components.
We'll cover the different types of antennas for both outside and inside the building.
Building Outside Antenna Options
There are two main types of outside antennas for buildings: omnidirectional and yagi directional:
- Omnidirectional (Omni) Antenna: This type of antenna is designed to send and receive in all directions simultaneously, so cell towers from different carriers can be in opposite directions and the booster will still be able to communicate with them. An omni antenna is a great option for situations where you have a medium to strong outside signal and need to boost multiple carriers at the same time, or if you have fluctuating outside signal due to the signal bouncing off other objects and need to be able to receive the signal from any direction. The downside of an omni antenna is that it is not as strong as a yagi directional antenna, because it's sending in all directions, and not focused on one direction.
- Yagi Directional Antenna: This type of antenna is designed to send and receive in one direction, so it is ideal for targeting distant cell towers in weak signal areas. If you have a weak outside signal and need too boost one carrier, or multiple carriers with towers in the same general direction, then a yagi antenna is a great option. They are not recommended if you have a fluctuating outside signal, as the bouncing signal will not be received by the yagi antenna if it's not coming from the direction in which it is aimed.
Building Inside Antenna Options
There are three types of inside antennas for buildings: dome, panel and whip:
- Dome Antenna: This type of antenna is designed to be mounted to a drop ceiling tile or a location where you can run a cable to the back of the antenna, and broadcast signal in all directions on the same floor. Dome antennas typically should not be mounted higher than 15 ft above though floor, though some dome designs may allow for up to 20 ft. Domes are most often used in professional installations.
- Panel Antenna: This type of antenna is shaped like a square and is directional, with the signal being broadcast in one direction from the front of the antenna. It can be used to penetrate and cover multiple floors with signal when mounted facing downwards or to cover a long, narrow space if mounted on a wall and facing across the space. A panel antenna is most often found in signal booster kits designed for residential use, because it is so versatile and can handle many different situations. In some entry level kits, the panel antenna is used as a directional outside antenna, instead of the inside antenna.
- Whip Antenna: This type of antenna is designed to attach directly to the "inside antenna" port on an amplifier and broadcast signal in all directions, similar to a WiFi access point. While it is less powerful than other types of antennas, it compensates by having no signal loss between the amplifier and the whip antenna. This type of antenna is typically found with entry level signal booster systems.
Mobile antennas are typically designed to be easy to install in a vehicle, like a car or truck, though they are sometimes more permanently installed, like with an RV, semi-truck or boat. All need to be able to handle a constantly changing outside signal and to be able to efficiently deliver signal to the mobile devices in the vehicle. We'll cover the different types of antennas for outside and inside the vehicle.
Mobile Outside Antenna Options
There are three main types of outside antennas for vehicles: magnet mount, spring or fixed, and marine:
- Magnet Mount Antenna: This type of antenna is designed to easily attached to the roof of a vehicle using a strong magnet as the base of the antenna, and then have a flexible cable run inside to the amplifier. Magnet mount antennasare typically either 4 inches tall for multi-band systems or 12 inches tall for dual band, and are omnidirectional, so they send and receive in all directions while you're on the move.
- Spring or Fixed Antenna: This type of antenna is more of a permanent mount and is designed for use on larger vehicles, like semi-trucks, RVs, delivery trucks, and more. It comes with either a spring mount, which can handle an impact with a low clearance object, or a fixed mount, which is not able to handle an impact. Each type comes with a 3-way mount to allow for flexible mounting options, and both types are omnidirectional antennas, so they send and receive in all directions at the same time.
- Marine Antenna: This type of antenna is designed to be permanently installed on a boat in marine environments, and the included marine mount will attach to any standard marine fixture. The marine antenna is omnidirectional, so it sends and receives in all directions while you're on the water or at the dock, and can withstand the elements during any type of weather. It also has no exposed elements, so is safe for use on a sailboat.
Mobile Inside Antenna Options
There are three types of inside antennas for vehicles: low profile, cradle and panel:
- Low Profile Antenna: This type of antenna is designed to be a balance between size and broadcasting power. The low profile antenna is the standard antenna included in most of the mobile signal booster kits, and is omnidirectional, so it will send and receive signal in all directions from where it is located. The low profile antenna is typically mounted on the dashboard of the vehicle or on the side of a seat to provide boosted signal to the driver and passenger of the car or truck.
- Cradle: This type of antenna is typically connected to a mobile amplifier (or the amplifier is built into the back of the cradle) and funnels all boosted signal to the mobile device that sits in the cradle. If you are in a very weak signal area or need to ensure that all of the boosted signal is passed to your mobile device, then a cradle is a good option for you. Please note: with a cradle, the phone or mobile device must sit in the cradle at all times, so you would need to use speaker phone or a headset to make and receive calls.
- Panel Antenna: This type of antenna is meant for larger vehicles that have extra room to fit a building level antenna. The panel antenna is the same that is found in our building kits and is directional, so the signal comes out of one side of the antenna. It is more powerful than the low profile inside antenna, so should provide more coverage, but its size makes it challenging to use in a smaller vehicle, like a car or truck.
Splitters & Tappers
Splitters and tappers are important components of any signal booster system, as they allow you to split the signal being passed over a cable so you can create a network of inside antennas to distribute boosted signal throughout a location. They can also be used to combine signal coming from multiple antennas into one input for an amplifier. We'll cover both in more depth below.
A splitter is a component that evenly splits signal from one input to multiple outputs, and vice versa. Splitters typically come in two, three and four-way versions, so you can split a single signal into up to four evenly split outputs. There is typically a small amount of loss when you use a splitter, so you should take that into account when designing an efficient signal booster system.
A tapper, otherwise known as a coupler, is like a splitter, but it splits a signal unevenly, rather than evenly distributing the signal across multiple outputs. It is a critical component and is used when designing signal booster systems for situations where you need to split a signal, but send more signal in one direction and less in another. Tappers come in different ratios of splitting, depending on how much signal you need to send in each direction.
The yagi directional antenna that comes with most building signal boosters is designed to be mounted to a vertical pole or mast on the roof of the building and then aimed at the nearest cell tower. A pole mount is an accessory that includes the vertical pole and mounting hard to make it easy to install a pole on the roof and mount the external antenna.
Pole mounts vary in length, width and functionality, with some being a very basic one foot pole with an L bracket, to more complex units that use angled poles and mounting hardware with multiple installation options to precisely situate the pole in the best possible location. Choose the one that will solve your specific situation the best.
Chapter 5:Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Booster
Every situation is a little different, so you may encounter some challenges while installing and using your cell phone signal booster.
In this chapter, we'll cover the most common issues you may run into with your booster and how to fix them, and then discuss some tips for getting the best performance from your system.
Already know what you're looking for? Jump ahead to learn more:
- Performance Tips
While there are many different issues that can arise when boosting cell signal, most fall into one of two buckets: oscillation and overload. We'll cover both of these below and discuss the steps on how to fix each.
If your problem does not fall into either of these buckets, then contact us and our team of signal experts can talk through your situation and recommend ways to remedy it.
Oscillation occurs when the boosted signal that is being broadcast from the inside antenna(s) reaches the outside antenna and causes a feedback loop, similar to a high pitched sound you hear if you take a microphone too close to an amplified speaker.
The signal booster amplifier will try to mitigate this issue by reducing the boosting power on the band that is causing the oscillation, which shrinks the coverage area so that it doesn't get back to the outside antenna.
This works a lot of the time, and because it does it automatically, you typically would not notice that it even happened. If you're seeing warning indicators on the amplifier that it is experiencing oscillation, then that means that the amplifier has tried to fix the problem and has reached it's limitations, so we need to do other things to fix the problem.
One other thing to note: If the carriers that you need to boost all have roughly the same outside signal strength, then having the amplifier adjust the boosting power to fix oscillation is a good solution. If one carrier is strong and others are weak, then the strong carrier is going to have a much larger coverage area inside of the building, but the amplifier will reduce all boosting by the same amount, and shrink the weak carrier signals to almost nothing while it's trying to fix the strong signal causing the large coverage area. In this case we'll want to try and fix the problem in another way and let the amplifier work at full power.
The very first thing to check when dealing with oscillation is whether the directional antenna is pointed across the roof or away from the roof (if you're using an omni antenna, then this does not apply). If the directional antenna is pointed across the roof, then there is a high likelihood that it is picking up boosted signal radiating out, so you should move the antenna to the other side, so that it is facing away from the building.
Once you've confirmed that the outside antenna is facing away from the building, then the main way to fix oscillation is to move the antennas further apart. Typically this means moving the inside antenna further from the outside antenna, but if there is an opportunity to move the outside antenna further away, and potentially higher, while still receiving the same outside signal strength, then that is a good option.
When moving antennas, vertical separation is more important than horizontal, though a combination of both are good. We also recommend powering down the amplifier before moving the antennas. Once the antennas are in the new positions, power up the amplifier and see if you're still experiencing oscillation. Keep moving the antennas if so.
If you've moved the antennas as much as possible and are still experiencing oscillation, one last thing to try is to introduce shielding for the outside antenna. If the antenna is outside on the roof, then moving it so that an object, like the chimney or air conditioning unit, is between the antenna on the roof and the rest of the building. If the outside antenna is installed inside, then placing metal, like foil or a metal filing cabinet, behind the antenna to block the boosted signal is an option as well.
Overload occurs when the outside signal from one or multiple carriers is very strong and is overloading the amplifier with too much cell signal. The amplifier will attempt to compensate for this by reducing the boosting power, but frequently the signal is too strong and the amplifier reaches its limitations before the problem is solved.
If you're using a yagi directional antenna for the outside, then the best way to mitigate overload is to change the direction of the outside antenna to receive less signal, and allow the amplifier work to at full capacity to boost and distribute the signal.
Follow the instructions in the How to Aim a Yagi Directional Antenna guide to incrementally change the direction of the yagi antenna, and then check the amplifier for overload indicators and take signal readings inside with cell phones on each carrier you need to boost.
If it turns out that you're in an urban area and have multiple towers nearby that are overloading your antenna with strong signal from every direction, then the next best option is to use an attenuator, which is a component that sits on the antenna cable and cuts out a set amount of decibels from the signal coming in. An attenuator will cut back the cell signal across all carriers and bands, irrespective of if they are strong or weak, so it's not an ideal solution and should only be used if re-aiming the outside antenna does not help, as it may cause carriers with weak cell signal to have sub-part coverage and performance inside.
Finally, if re-aiming the outside antenna and cutting back the existing cell signal with an attenuator does not provide you with adequate coverage, the last option is to move to a more advanced amplifier that can handle a much stronger outside signal.
Tips to Improve Performance
While most standard signal booster installations should provide you with sufficient coverage for quality voice calls and fast data, if you're looking to tweak your system to provide even more performance, here are some things that you can do:
- Reduce cable lengths: If the cables that you received with your system are longer than you really need, then purchasing a shorter cable will reduce the amount of signal loss and increase the amount of coverage that your system will be able to provide. Also, be sure that your excess cable is NOT coiled, but rather laid out in a back and forth pattern, as coils can cause interference.
- Upgrade to a lower loss cable: In addition to shortening cable lengths, you can upgrade your cable to a lower loss version (more shielded), so your system has more signal to work with and provide more coverage inside.
- Add more antennas: If you're using one inside antenna, and have a medium to strong outside signal along with a powerful amplifier, then you may have excess boosting capacity that is not being used by the single antenna. Adding another antenna can take advantage of this excess capacity and increase your total inside coverage area. You'll need to add additional cable and a splitter to add the second antenna to the system.
- Upgrade your antennas: We offer higher performance antennas that can replace the existing antennas that come with your signal booster system, for more coverage and a better looking installation.
- Increase the separation between your antennas: Amplifiers automatically reduce their boosting power if there is any oscillation (feedback) from the inside antenna(s) to the outside antenna. If your amplifier shows any indicator lights or readings that there is oscillation and it's working at reduced capacity, then increase the distance between antennas to allow the amp to work at full boosting power.
Chapter 6:Additional Resources & Assistance
While this guide should address most situations that you'll encounter when choosing and installing a booster, especially for residential or vehicle use, we wanted to provide you with a list of resources for continued reading and to reference for further assistance.
- Further Reading
- Professional Design & Installation Assistance
- Product Wizard
You can also always contact us at any point with questions and we'll be happy to help.
The following reading will dive further into topics discussed in this guide:
- How to Aim a Yagi Directional Outside Antenna - The complete guide to aiming a yagi directional outside antenna.
- How to Use Field Test Mode on Your Phone - Everything you need to know about enabling and using field test mode on your phone.
- How to Boost Signal in your RV - Everything you need to know about boosting signal in your RV, Fifth Wheel or other large vehicle.
- How to Boost Signal on your Boat - Everything you need to know about boosting signal on your boat or marine craft.
- How to Boost Signal in your Mobile Home - Everything you need to know about boosting signal in your mobile home.
If you have a large project and require a custom system design and installation, please feel free to call us or send us a message. You can also request a consultation online and provide us with some preliminary information, and we'll follow up to schedule a call and discuss your situation.