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Old 02-06-2011, 12:01   #1
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Offshore Cell Phone Signal Booster

anyone have any good leads on a booster for cell coverage 40 nm offshore down west coast? Anyone know if our vhf antenna mast top can be split and feed one of these boosters? lots of big claims out there from the manufactures- just wonder what really works?

I read the new cell phones operate at .25 mill, and the boosters raise to 3 mill, seems like a good idea to me.

many thanks,

Paul & Jan sv trimming-out
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Old 02-06-2011, 12:35   #2
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

Big claims are for wifi, not cellphones. But both work on line of sight. Not 40 miles, ever.
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Old 02-06-2011, 12:53   #3
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

"Wilson" makes an external cellphone antenna that boosts the signal up to 10 times,it's about $60.
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Old 02-06-2011, 13:01   #4
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

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Originally Posted by highseas View Post
"Wilson" makes an external cellphone antenna that boosts the signal up to 10 times,it's about $60.
and where do you plug the antenna on the cellphone?
None of my cellphones have any plug for it
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Old 02-06-2011, 14:11   #5
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

A friend of mine hoisted his up a halyard to get a text message from his very new girlfriend.
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Old 02-06-2011, 16:29   #6
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

I have a Digital Antenna DA4000 direct connect amplifier. I believe it was $400. A correct install requires a new antenna and wire up the mast. I hauled it up on a halyard at first to make sure it worked before permanently installing.

Direct connection to the phone gives the best range, but I don't like having to connect the phone directly to the amplifier. Most phones these days don't even have external antenna ports.

I think a better plan is to use a repeater model. I would go with Wilson the second time. A repeater looks like a tower to the phone, but it amplifies and repeats the signal between the phone and the actual tower. A certain amount of separation
between the internal and external antennas is required. A dedicated antenna at the top of the mast is definitely required, and may not work if your mast is too short. The direct connect and repeater models both work with data cards as well as phones. The repeater can work with multiple devices simultaneously.

I bought from wpsantennas.com and have found their sales people to be helpful and knowledgeable.
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Old 02-06-2011, 16:51   #7
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

We also have a Digital Antenna booster, but instead of going with the repeater antenna which seemed like it would be problematic on a 37' sailboat and not having a direct connection for an external antenna on our phones, we went with Digital Antenna's phone cradle. It allows you to set your phone in the cradle right next to an induction antenna so that you get a stronger signal right at the phone but not a signal beamed throughout the entire boat causing possible problems. So far we have been pretty happy with it and when we have low coverage (0-1 bars), if we put it in the cradle we see an increase in signal strength of several bars.

That said, we are considering buying a dedicated cellular USB adapter that accepts an external antenna directly. They only cost $30-50 and I think we would get even better signal strength. It would also clean up the connections and clutter at the nav station. Granted this wouldn't help for conversations, but we find when cruising we use the cell phone as a modem for the Internet more than anything, and the USB adapter would be perfect for this.

Hope this helps...
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Old 02-06-2011, 18:44   #8
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

What kind of range is everyone getting with the various boosters? OP asked about 40 miles which seems pretty unlikely, but what is the reality?

FYI without a booster the best I could get was 4-5 miles off the coast. The odd thing was I had 5 bars on the phone so was getting a great signal from shore but guess the tiny transmitter in the phone did not have enough kick to get back.
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Old 02-06-2011, 19:07   #9
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

Wilson make a number of different products. Some need to be cabled into your phone, others will work if you put your cell phone in a cradle, no wire link needed. Some work "in a room" instead of in a cradle. Different plusses and minuses to them all, ask Wilson support for details.

Almost all cell phones HAD a rubber plug or a socket under the battery door, so an external antenna could just tbe plugged in. Except Apple's line (too complicated for their market) and most of the new smartphones and most new phones just don't have it any more, because it is too complicated for the mass market (What, you mean, my phone needs something else to work?)

But the cradle type products were developed recently to solve that problem.

Cell phones are limited to 600mW (milliWatts) of power and they often power themselves down to ~20mW if they can still reach a tower with that low a signal. Car phones, bag phones, and boosters can run up to 3 Watts (3000mW) in the US, rules will vary in each nation. And a high-gain antenna can improve that further still.

So yes, a booster with a good antenna makes a big difference. Even with a cheap antenna, a booster in your car can turn 2 bars into five.

On the other hand, most cell phone companies have their software set up so that your call will be dropped if you are 32 miles from the nearest tower. They don't care how good your signal is, the assumption is that if you are that far away, you must be reaching other towers and the other towers should be handling your call. Ands that's a policy that varies with each carrier.

A Wilson booster with full 3W power will set you back about $300-400 discount, a good quailty high gain antenna may add another hundred to that. And putting it on top of the mast may not be a good idea, because every extra foot of antenna cable that you use--no matter how good it is--cuts the output power dramatically.
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Old 02-06-2011, 19:21   #10
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

Is there a formula for cable loss?
It sounds silly, but right now when I'm in a fringe area, I haul my iPhone aloft in a pelican box, and use the personal hotspot feature to my iPad to text or email. So far the best I ever got was about 20 miles from shore. Voice on the phone alone on deck, about 7 miles.
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Old 02-06-2011, 19:42   #11
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

No formula needed, every cable maker supplies tables that show losses per foot (or per hundred feet, etc.) at different frequencies. With cell phones you are looking at about 900MHz and 1.8GHz for the frequncies, and newer systems tend to emphasize the higher frequncies.
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Old 02-06-2011, 21:31   #12
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

In general, the best results will come from a wired amplifier (not a wireless one). If you're just going to put an antenna up at the top of a mast, you'll have much better results by just standing up with the phone in your hand - forget an antenna-only solution. An amp will make a difference that you'll notice.

The best range I've experienced is about 12-15 nm offshore - and that's not available everywhere. I'm not sure it's very possible to get 20 nm or more range offshore with normal cellular equipment.
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Old 04-06-2011, 15:01   #13
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

Quote:
Originally Posted by JayH View Post
I have a Digital Antenna DA4000 direct connect amplifier. I believe it was $400. A correct install requires a new antenna and wire up the mast. I hauled it up on a halyard at first to make sure it worked before permanently installing.

Direct connection to the phone gives the best range, but I don't like having to connect the phone directly to the amplifier. Most phones these days don't even have external antenna ports.

I think a better plan is to use a repeater model. I would go with Wilson the second time. A repeater looks like a tower to the phone, but it amplifies and repeats the signal between the phone and the actual tower. A certain amount of separation
between the internal and external antennas is required. A dedicated antenna at the top of the mast is definitely required, and may not work if your mast is too short. The direct connect and repeater models both work with data cards as well as phones. The repeater can work with multiple devices simultaneously.

I bought from wpsantennas.com and have found their sales people to be helpful and knowledgeable.
good info on the booster. Thanks!

sv trimming-out
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Old 04-06-2011, 15:10   #14
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

Quote:
Originally Posted by hellosailor View Post
Wilson make a number of different products. Some need to be cabled into your phone, others will work if you put your cell phone in a cradle, no wire link needed. Some work "in a room" instead of in a cradle. Different plusses and minuses to them all, ask Wilson support for details.

Almost all cell phones HAD a rubber plug or a socket under the battery door, so an external antenna could just tbe plugged in. Except Apple's line (too complicated for their market) and most of the new smartphones and most new phones just don't have it any more, because it is too complicated for the mass market (What, you mean, my phone needs something else to work?)

But the cradle type products were developed recently to solve that problem.

Cell phones are limited to 600mW (milliWatts) of power and they often power themselves down to ~20mW if they can still reach a tower with that low a signal. Car phones, bag phones, and boosters can run up to 3 Watts (3000mW) in the US, rules will vary in each nation. And a high-gain antenna can improve that further still.

So yes, a booster with a good antenna makes a big difference. Even with a cheap antenna, a booster in your car can turn 2 bars into five.

On the other hand, most cell phone companies have their software set up so that your call will be dropped if you are 32 miles from the nearest tower. They don't care how good your signal is, the assumption is that if you are that far away, you must be reaching other towers and the other towers should be handling your call. Ands that's a policy that varies with each carrier.

A Wilson booster with full 3W power will set you back about $300-400 discount, a good quailty high gain antenna may add another hundred to that. And putting it on top of the mast may not be a good idea, because every extra foot of antenna cable that you use--no matter how good it is--cuts the output power dramatically.
thanks for you thoughts! Really helps me decide how to spend my hard earned sailing journey money!

Can my vhf antenna be split to feed a booster? I read of mast top antennas that can do both.

My trip down the coast looks like we will be 30- 40mn out at most, or if I go further out , I can always come in closer to get the signal I would think.

Thanks

Paul & Jan, sv Trimming-out
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Old 04-06-2011, 15:13   #15
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Re: offshore cell phone signal booster

Quote:
Originally Posted by ActiveCaptain View Post

In general, the best results will come from a wired amplifier (not a wireless one). If you're just going to put an antenna up at the top of a mast, you'll have much better results by just standing up with the phone in your hand - forget an antenna-only solution. An amp will make a difference that you'll notice.

The best range I've experienced is about 12-15 nm offshore - and that's not available everywhere. I'm not sure it's very possible to get 20 nm or more range offshore with normal cellular equipment.
thank you for the good info! appreciate it much.

Paul & Jan sv Trimming-out
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