The vast majority of the US population have never heard of cell boosters or have misconceptions about what one is. Basically, a cell booster is a powered cellular signal booster with 4 main components:
- Receive antenna (outside antenna)
- Powered booster
- Broadcast antenna (inside antenna)
Cell boosters can be called different names and can vary widely in functionality. So let's break down the names, how they work, and other cell boosting products on the market.
When it comes down to the names of the products, manufacturers brand their products with different names for boosters to differential themselves from other manufacturers. Cellular boosters years back were commonly referred to as amplifiers, repeaters, and BDAs (Bi-directional amplifiers). Now, repeaters and BDAs are associated more with two-way radio and various other frequency amplification. It's important to know a little about cellular frequencies to understand how cell boosters work and they're variances.
When cellular was just being developed it came on 850 MHz on either Channel A or Channel B. There were 2 channels because the FCC wanted to prevent monopolies. When more competition and demand came along the FCC setup the 1900 MHz band with 6 channels and this went on for quite a while through the transition from analog to digital then 2G to 3G. Now things have got a little haywire. Back in 2008 the FCC auctioned off the analog tv airwaves to transition to digital in the 700 MHz range. In addition carriers added new frequency ranges all with the hopes of adding bandwidth and transitioning to the latest 4G technology. In all the frequencies for cellular are; 700 MHz, 800 MHz (fazing out), 850 MHz, 1700 MHz 1900 MHz, 2100 MHz and 2500 MHz.
Cell boosters are packaged as channel amps, single band, dual band, tri-band, quad-band, and 5-band. Basically, dual-band is commonly referring to 850 MHz and 1900 MHz. The others are combinations of the different frequencies. For example you can get a tri-band that is designed to boost 2G, 3G, and 4G from Verizon which would be a combination of 850 MHz, 1900 MHz, and 700 MHz.
It's important to know that almost all cell boosters are bi-directional meaning they amplify cell signals both to and from the cell towers. It wasn't always this way. The term BDA was derived to differentiate between non bi-directional amplifiers. As we said before BDA is now commonly referring to two-way radio amplification.
The next important thing to differentiate is the functionality of the different products. Cell boosters can be wireless requiring no physical connection, cradle or antenna requiring the device to physically make contact, and hardwired (almost entirely for M2M technology). There are products for vehicles, buildings, and M2M (machine-to-machine).