Cellular Boosters for RVs Overview

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cellular-boosters-for-rvsOne of the problems with cellular internet is that the signal can be quite variable depending on many factors:

  • The built in antennas on your phone or mobile hotspot
  • The location of the cellular tower relative to your location
  • Weather
  • How many people are also using the tower
  • Local terrain - mountains and valleys
  • Nearby buildings
  • Your own RV’s construction.

You can, however, get external antennas and cellular boosters that can help overcome some of these obstacles.

For those who depend on cellular signal for mobile internet, these are lifesavers and can make a finicky signal usable enough to get online to surf the web, get work done or even stream video.

Other times they might make no difference at all, or might even degrade your signal.

These devices range from boosters that work with just one device at a time to boosters that can provide RV-wide improved signals for multiple devices simultaneously across multiple different carrier networks.

2016-cover-large copyThis is a living document meant to compliment the 'Cellular Signal Optimization' chapter of The Mobile Internet Handbook, where you can find more information on boosters, antennas and optimizing your signal.

Check back, we keep this document updated as new products are announced or we hear any news about this product category.

How does a Booster Work?

rv-cellular-boosters

A booster works in basically four parts...

  1. An external antenna that you place on the top of your RV, or perhaps even in a window, is more capable and much better positioned than any antenna that might be built into your phone, mobile hotspot or tablet.
  2. The signal is passed through an amplifier, that is installed inside your RV, that makes faint distant signals louder and easier to pick up.
  3. An interior antenna rebroadcasts the amplified signal, allowing any cellular device within range of the interior antenna to receive an improved signal for both voice and cellular data.
  4. When you transmit back to the cellular tower, this is all done in reverse – the more powerful transmitter inside the amplifier allows the tower to be better able to hear you. This can result in better upload speeds and faster requests.
However, boosters are not miracle devices – they can’t make signal out of nothing. There has to be some signal nearby for a booster to work with, and even then it may take some tweaking.

Brand New: Video Overview

Here's a quick video overview to cellular boosters and how to choose one that is right for your needs.

Common Questions on Cellular Boosters:

If you're mainly stationary and already getting a great signal & speeds - then a booster is probably not needed.

However, if you're going to be moving around a lot and relying on cellular as part of your connectivity setup, then we generally advise considering signal enhancing.  A booster might be the right option for you. They can do a lot to improve the signal strength and stability of a connection - which can result in less dropped calls, a smoother web surfing experience and even faster data speeds.

A booster (or just an antenna if your devices support them) can help with these situations:

  • Distance to the cellular tower
  • Overcoming obstacles that may be between you and the tower
  • Your own RV's construction (metal RVs like Airstreams and bus conversions can actually block signals).

A booster can not help in these situations:  Using an overloaded tower, if there is no signal to begin with or if you are already getting a great signal (a booster can actually decrease performance if you already have a great signal.)

At each stop, always check the signal and performance of your connection with and without the booster on - don't just assume you need it on all of the time.

The maximum legal gain for a mobile cellular booster is 50dB, and for a home stationary booster the maximum gain is 70dB. RVs cross the line between being a home and being mobile. While stopped, RVs are stationary, and while in motion they are, well, mobile.

But generally speaking, the size of most RVs make the additional power of a 70db home booster difficult to work with, often causing problems with oscillation (when the exterior roof antenna picks up the signal transmitted from the interior antenna, instead of the tower.)

Boosters made for stationary situations often come with directional antennas that you have to aim - which isn't a big deal if you're just setting it up once. And while directional antennas can give better performance, omni-directional antennas require no fuss at each location to setup. Just install it on your roof and they can find signal from any direction the tower might be in.

Unless special attention is paid to signal separation, we recommend mobile boosters for most RV applications.

Most boosters on the market are multi-carrier compatible and will work on Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and some Sprint bands (and some regional carriers too, like US Cellular). Always compare the bands that your carrier & devices support with the frequency bands the booster is rated for before purchasing.

Boosters that can handle multiple devices at a time can boost multiple carriers at a time too. However, single device boosters (such as the 4G-S cradle) can only handle one device at a time.

Of particular note however - no booster handles Sprint's Band 41 due to the way this particular frequency works. For Sprint, using a dedicated antenna has shown more consistent results - however this does require a cellular device that has antenna ports, for which there are very limited options.

No, a cellular booster only boosts cellular signals. They will only help bring in voice and data from the cellular tower of your carrier(s).

WiFi signals are on a different (higher) frequency, and require different equipment to help extend their range. There are some wide band antennas that cover the frequencies of both WiFi and cellular, but the amplifiers themselves do not.

If you're looking to increase distance you can receive WiFi signal (such as from a campground, coffee shop, library or friend's house), then you'll want to look into WiFi extending gear. Popular brands that RVers tend to choose include WiFiRanger, Pepwave, Ubuiquiti, RogueWave, Alfa, JefaTech, BearExtender and Cradlepoint.

For more information, our member article on: WiFi as WAN Routers.

Kitted Antennas with Boosters

The antennas that come with the default bundled kits from the manufacturer, believe it or not, are actually well matched with the boosters and optimized for all of the current frequencies and carriers.

They perform consistently and very solidly in our extensive testing. For most folks, we recommend trying what comes with the kits first (and make sure you install a proper ground plane if the antenna requires it - a common reason RVers report underperformance of boosters.)

And by FCC regulations, if you use an antenna not approved by your booster manufacturer then you may be required to discontinue use if it's found to be interfering with a cellular tower's performance.

Skipping Boosters - Just using an Antennas?

In some cases, if your cellular device has antenna ports, using a direct wired higher gain antenna can outperform a booster. Selecting an upgraded antenna requires understanding frequencies, gain, MIMO and the trade-offs of various styles of antennas to know how to pick one out.

Selecting Antennas

Selecting an upgraded antenna is not a straightforward thing - we consider it more like putting together a golf bag of clubs. There are specialty antennas that can help in particular situations, but you have to weigh if they're worth carrying around or installation for your particular travel style.

We have a full member guide at: Selecting a Cellular Antenna based on our extensive head-to-head testing of various antennas & booster combinations that also goes through the trade-offs.

You can also check out our top picks in our Cellular Antenna Review Center.

RV Kits?

You will find vendors out there that sell special 'RV Kits' with an upgraded antenna, and there are some bundled by the manufacturers (such as the weBoost 4G-X OTR).  You should first understand the antennas included with these kits before selecting them. They come with extra installation & deployment challenges.

You will need to route the exterior antenna to the roof of your RV. We recommend looking for existing ways to your roof before creating new ones - such as through a fridge vent, cable routing for other roof accessories (satellite or TV antennas, air conditioners) or even a waste tank vent.

Most manufacturers will require that the interior and exterior antenna have a minimum number of feet of separation to avoid signal oscillation (the exterior antenna picking up the signal from the interior antenna, instead of the tower - which creates a feedback loop). If you opt to use upgraded larger antennas, you will need to be even more cautious of this with your placement.

For optimal performance, many external antennas will also require a ground plane be installed.

For more installation information:

 


Mobile Cellular Boosters On the Market:

Tracking & testing mobile cellular boosters is a top priority for us. This section contains all of the mobile boosters currently on our radar.

For your convenience, here are some Amazon listings showing current pricing on some popular models:

To further determine which is the right booster for you, use our product listings below - click on any tile, and it will open up product info in a new tab for you. Use the filter buttons to refine your search by the features important to you.

Many of the boosters we have tested extensively, and offer free quick reviews on, as well as in-depth reviews & field testing results available to our premium members.

SureCall TriFlex2Go

SureCall’s carrier-specific booster line – now discontinued.

Overall Review:

weBoost Signal 4G

A direct-wired amplifier for use with a single cellular device with an antenna port.

$249

Overall Review:

SolidRF MobileForce 4G

A solid all carrier booster from SolidRF (formerly Top Signal).

$399

Overall Review:

weBoost RV 4G

Based on weBoost’s stronger residential booster, and only usable while stationary.

$399

Overall Review:

Uniden UM50

Uniden’s mobile 4G booster for cars, trucks and RVs.

$497

Overall Review:

SureCall Fusion2Go

SureCall’s 5-Band mobile booster is the evolution of the original TriFlex2Go.

$449

Overall Review:

weBoost eqo

Booster designed for home use, and not overly suitable for most RV deployments.

$349

Overall Review:

Maximum Signal Max-Amp RV

The MaxAmp promises RV-wide coverage, stronger boost, and less need for antenna separation.

$649

Overall Review:

Maximum Signal Max-Amp Mobile

The Max Amp Mobile is designed for smaller RVs and automobiles.

$579

Overall Review:

HiBoost Travel 4G LTE

Hiboost USA’s mobile cellular booster.

$349

Overall Review:

Smoothtalker Mobile RV X6

Smoothtalker’s mobile cellular booster just released in January 2017.

$479

Overall Review:
We are constantly testing gear here at RVMobileInternet.com, and many of the boosters and antennas we report on are in constant active testing while we travel about the country.

Our premium MIA premium members have access to our in-depth guides that are a direct result of this testing, and even our raw field testing results:

Guide: Selecting a Cellular Booster 
Guide: Selecting a Cellular Antenna

Late 2016 Testing: We're currently testing the Max-Amp Mobile, weBoost 4G-X OTR (trucker/RV kit) and some additional cellular antenna combinations. Members can follow the field results at: [Current Testing] Cellular Signal Enhancing Field Testing Results

 

Here's a comparative grid showing the differences in specifications between the various mobile boosters suitable for RV use side-by-side (each model is describe below):

Home/Office Models

Th weBoost line up of home and small office boosters are intended for stationary use. The FCC has not approved these for use in an RV, even while parked. Thus, weBoost does not officially recommend these products for RVers.

These will require more setup and fiddling at each stop, as you must aim the antenna and manually adjust the settings to fine tune the boosters. Because of the higher power of these units, they will require more separation of the external and internal antennas to avoid oscillation - which may be difficult in a RV setup, particularly in smaller rigs.

      • weBoost EQO - A new generation of home cellular booster (released early 2016) that is designed to be mounted near a window with relatively good cell coverage, and the signal is then "echoed" out via a separate indoor antenna placed up to 20' away, extending coverage indoors. This two piece design without the need for an outdoor antenna makes initial setup extremely easy, but the need to mount the booster near the "best" window makes this a poor fit for most RV deployments. Retail price: $349
      • Home 4G - Multi-user home booster with a 60dB gain, formerly known as the Wilson DT 4G. Retail price: $399 (This is what the RV 4G is based on.)
      • Connect 4G - Multi-user home booster with a 65dB gain. Retail price: $549
      • Connect 4G-X - Multi-user "large home" booster with a 70dB gain. Retail price: $899

On Our Future Radar

Smoothtalker Six-Band Booster

The Mobile RV X6 Pro is Smoothtalker's new flagship mobile booster.

Canadian booster manufacturer Smoothtalker has a long track record manufacturing 2G/3G cellular boosters, but had fallen off our radar since it had no products compatible with the primary LTE cellular bands - leaving the Smoothtalker boosters much better suited for "talk" than data.

But in January 2017, Smoothtalker is launching an entire new lineup of "six band" cellular boosters. Read our news story for all the details.

Nextivity Cel-Fi

Cel-Fi makes a different kind of booster than any of the other booster manufacturers. The Cel-Fi digital booster actually rebroadcasts the signal from the carrier, recreating a new 5-bar signal from even a weak remote signal. Because it is actually rebroadcasting on licensed frequencies (and not just amplifying an existing signal), Cel-Fi boosters are carrier specific and only work with a single carrier.

Cel-Fi boosters are also not designed or intended for mobile or RV use - but Cel-Fi has indicated that they may be working on a future mobile booster.

 


Related articles on mobile boosters:

 

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