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3 smart ways to boost cell signals inside your home

3 smart ways to boost cell signals inside your home
© Antonio Guillem | Dreamstime.com

In a perfect world, our mobile phones would work correctly, all day long. Every time we entered a number, a crisp voice would answer, “Hello?”

However, the real world is a labyrinth of obstructions: thick walls, metal frames, competing signals, distant cell towers, and whole skyscrapers stand in our way.

Drive behind a mountain, and you’ll scream through static until the signal finally cuts out. Delays and echoes can make phone calls even more frustrating, and most of the time your environment is to blame.

There is an insider trick that works wonders. Tap or click here for a secret smartphone trick that will boost your weak signal on the go.

Ironically, many people struggle with poor signals inside their homes. Your house – which used to be the only reliable place you could make a call – may be filled with signal-muffling architecture and distracting devices. If your home doesn’t afford a clear shot to the nearest cell tower, you’ve got a problem because you’re probably not going to move anytime soon. Then again, what if your house is one giant dead spot? Should you never place a call from your living room?

Related: Maybe you need a new phone? Tap or click here for the 10 best smartphones in the world.

There are at least three ways to keep the signal strong. Improving your cell service is a trial-and-error task, and it’s impossible to tell whether these techniques will work unless you try them. In the end, you may just have to switch carriers. But if you’re willing to troubleshoot, you may find yourself with much clearer conversations.

1. Get a signal booster

Also called a "repeater," a signal booster does just that: it boosts your cell signal. Put the unit in an area of the house where you have good reception, such as a window sill, and it will extend that stronger signal to the rest of the house. Some repeaters also come with an external antenna you can mount outside.

Boosters are a little pricey; some carriers sell reasonably priced models, but this isn’t always ideal because a booster usually only works with that carrier's signal. So if you have family members or visiting friends who use another carrier, and they also have a weak signal, this won't help them.

A third-party company like zBoost or weBoost makes boosters that do work with multiple carriers. However, you're probably going to have to pay for this out of pocket. On the lower end, these gadgets set you back about $200.

Plus, if you want higher speed 4G coverage, you can expect booster prices to balloon to $300 or more. However, 4G is mainly an advantage only if you use your phone for internet connections. If you already have Wi-Fi at home, you can use your home internet connection on your phone and not the more expensive 4G booster.

2. Try a femtocell

Femtocell is also called a "microcell" (AT&T) or a "network extender" (Verizon), which sounds suspiciously like a booster. You even use it similarly: stick it in your house and femtocell broadcasts a strong cellular signal.

The difference is that the femtocell needs to plug into your router so it can use your internet connection. That's how it connects your phone to the carrier's servers. This enables femtocell to work in an area where you have absolutely no signal at all. So it's suitable for rural locations or an apartment surrounded by high-rise buildings.

Related: Tired of your phone’s battery not lasting long enough? Tap or click here for a list of the phones with the best power ratings.

The downside is that if you get one of these from a carrier, it will only work for that carrier's phones. Also, in this case, third-party options that cover multiple carriers are practically non-existent. It also doesn’t work very well with satellite internet.

The strangest side effect of a femtocell is that almost anyone can use it, as long as they subscribe to the same carrier – even people strolling past your house. Their calls will go through your internet connection, possibly slowing down your Wi-Fi traffic and affecting high-volume activities, like streaming videos or large downloads. With Verizon, you can set priority numbers, so you always get service first. Still, other people could still be leeching off your internet connection.

Many times your mobile provider will loan you a femtocell for free or for a one-time fee. It's better for the carrier to provide a femtocell for free than to lose a customer.

If your carrier doesn't loan it to you for free, femtocells will set you back anywhere from $50 to $250, depending on the brand and the amount of data.

3. Make calls over Wi-Fi

You may have a Wi-Fi wireless network already set up in your home. If you’re using it for home internet access on your smartphone and tablet, then you’re already saving money on your cellular data plan and avoiding overages.

Wi-Fi can also make calls and send texts using apps like Skype, Google Hangouts, Apple's iMessage and other third-party messaging apps like WhatsApp. So if you don't have a signal, not to worry. Historically, this has meant both parties (caller and receiver) using the same apps.

However, now, all four major carriers – T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon – have developed Wi-Fi calling for their phones. When this feature is enabled due to a weak signal, your phone will automatically switch over to a nearby open Wi-Fi network so you won't even notice.

You can also switch to a phone system like Republic Wireless, which uses Wi-Fi calling as a primary feature. Republic Wireless offers low-cost plans because it mostly relies on Wi-Fi for calling and texting and only uses cellular when Wi-Fi isn't available. Again, the switch is seamless.

Of course, calling over Wi-Fi means you need a Wi-Fi network. Tap or click here to always find the closest free Wi-Fi. Easy!

What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call my national radio show and click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.

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