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What's the difference between a cell phone signal booster and a femtocell?

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Both are used in situations where cellular reception is limited. But they operate very differently.

A femtocell (or microcell) is a cellular base station that uses a broadband Internet connection to create a cell signal to cover a small area.

A signal booster amplifies the ambient cellular signal and makes the amplified signal available for use by cellular devices.

Cell Phone Signal Boosters

A booster system has three main components: (1) A tower (outside) antenna that receives the signal from the tower; (2) an electronic signal amplifier that boosts signal strength; (3) a device (inside) antenna to retransmit the boosted signal inside a building or vehicle.

These systems are bi-directional. When your phone transmits back to the tower, the above process is repeated in reverse order. Signal boosters are particularly effective in areas of weak signal or in buildings that cellular signals cannot penetrate.

  • Signal boosters operate independently of the Internet.
  • Boosters maintain the connection when your cell phone switches from receiving signal through the signal booster to receiving signal from the cell tower, and vice versa.
  • They are a one-time purchase with no monthly charge.
  • Signal boosters amplify signals for multiple carriers and will boost both voice and data.
  • Wireless boosters can support simultaneous connections of multiple cellular devices on different carriers.
  • Various models of signal boosters are available for vehicle installation.
  • Signal boosters also help conserve your device's battery charge.
  • Depending on the system configuration they can cover an area from a single room up to a large building.

However, a signal booster does not create a cellular signal. There must be a detectable signal available for a booster to work.

Femtocells

A femtocell is connected to the Internet to create a voice over IP (VOIP) signal that covers a small indoor area. These devices are sometimes offered by a cellular service provider as a solution to help users in a poor signal area.

Pros

  • These devices can provide a cell signal indoors even if there is absolutely no cellular signal outside.
  • They may offer a faster connection for data than typical cellular signals.
  • Can cover anywhere from a single room up to a large building.

Cons

  • Femtocells require a high speed Internet connection.
  • A femtocell cannot pass a connection to a cell tower. For example, if you are inside your house talking to someone using a femtocell connection and you step outside, the call will drop.
  • Femtocells will only support cellular devices for your specific carrier.
  • Femtos require that any cellular devices be synched, or paired, to the femtocell before they can use the femto's connection.
  • There may be additional monthly charges for using the equipment from your cellular service provider.
  • A femto uses some of your internet connection’s bandwidth to operate.

For more information on comparing signal boosters and femtocells, see our blog post and video at Cell Phone Signal Booster or Femtocell?

If you have specific questions about which type of device is a better fit for your situation, please contact our Customer Support team at 1-866-294-1660 (U.S. and Canada) or support@weboost.com.

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