Mobile phone companies such as Vodafone, Orange and O2 have networks that cover a large percentage of the UK population but there are sometimes reasons why you may not be able to get a strong mobile phone signal, even if you are in an area that your network deems to have good coverage. Typically users will have the most problems with network coverage due to the design of some buildings and well insulated walls which means there are usually some “hotspots” in a home where you can get good mobile phone coverage, but all too often there are areas in the home where coverage is low or non-existent which can lead to dropped calls or even missed calls.
Fortunately mobile phone networks have recognised the problem and have launched a range of mobile phone signal booster boxes. The majority of the mobile networks in the UK have introduced their own boxes and they all work slightly differently. We have collated all the data and reviewed the current mobile phone signal boxes (sometimes called mobile phone repeaters) on the market today.
Vodafone Sure Signal
One of the first solutions on the market for improving mobile phone signals in the home came from Vodafone in the guise of the Vodafone Sure Signal. This is a small booster box that is suitable for home use or for a small office and it extends the network signal so that 3G coverage is enhanced which should result in better voice quality, fewer or no calls dropped and faster data transfer.
How does it work?
Sure Signal consists of a box that is about the same size of a broadband router which you connect to a broadband line that needs to be at least 1MB and the Sure Signal box will boost the 3G signal within the house so that fewer calls are dropped or missed, data transfer will be faster and voice quality will be better. The box can be used to improve the signal for up to four people at the same time and Vodafone state that the signal should be improved for up to 30 metres from the booster box.
What does Sure Signal cost?
Currently Vodafone are charging £50 for the Sure Signal booster box.
Vodafone Sure Signal Pros
- If you are currently a Vodafone customer and are tied into a contract but the coverage in your house is poor, you can improve your phone coverage significantly using the Sure Signal.
- Sure Signal is a one-off cost (no additional service charges are paid) which should improve your phone signal.
- Sure Signal is easy to install
- Sure Signal works if you are a Vodafone customer using a pay monthly phone contract, SIM only, pay as you go phone or even a Vodafone data dongle.
Vodafone Sure Signal Cons
- There is a £50 cost to improve your signal.
- It is necessary to have a broadband line to be able to use the service (although your broadband can be with any provider).
- Sure Signal is tied to Vodafone so if you have other people in your household that have poor phone coverage with providers other than Vodafone then they will not be able to use the Sure Signal box to improve their phone coverage.
- You need to have a compatible phone to be able to use the service. In other words it needs to be a 3G capable phone (the vast majority of phones are 3G capable other than very old models).
Orange Signal Boost
Orange introduced their signal booster services last year called Signal Boost and interestingly it is a free service because no additional hardware is required to get the Signal Boost up and running. Signal Boost will work on a wide range of handsets made by manufacturers such as BlackBerry and Nokia and it will run on the Android operating system.
How does it work?
Orange operates a UMA system which stands for Unlicensed Mobile Access for their Signal Boost service. It works by connecting your phone to your home WiFi broadband network and uses the WiFi connection to improve the phone signal. Essentially, all that is necessary is to “pair” the phone with the broadband router in much the same way as you would a laptop and as long as there is WiFi active in the house, you can use the Orange Signal Boost.
Signal boost does not cost any extra to use (calls and text messages are charged at your standard plan rate) and making a call will only take up about 100Kb/s of bandwidth.
How much does Orange Signal Boost cost?
Orange Signal Boost is a free service offered by Orange which works in conjunction with your home WiFi broadband.
Orange Signal Boost Pros
- Signal Boost will improve the signal for your phone in blackspot areas in your home or office and should reduce dropped calls.
- It is a free service to use.
- No additional hardware is required to use Signal Boost.
Orange Signal Boost Cons
- Signal Boost only works with a limited number of phones. See the Orange website for further details.
- Due to the fact that Signal Boost works in conjunction with your broadband, it uses bandwidth so bear this in mind if you have a broadband plan at home that only allows a set amount of data transfer per month.
- Switching between connections works seamlessly.
O2 offer a mobile phone signal booster called BoostBox which is similar in nature to the Vodafone Signal Sure. However, with the BoostBox it seems to be geared towards business users and as such there have been reports that domestic users have had difficulty in obtaining a BoostBox. Given that a reliable signal should be a given right of a customer paying for a phone contract it seems to be a disappointing stance from O2. Hopefully, the BoostBox becomes available on general sale at some point soon.
How does it work?
BoostBox is a piece of hardware similar to the Vodafone Sure Signal which connects to your broadband router in order to use your broadband connection to improve the signal quality and reliability of the 3G signal to your phone. In terms of coverage you should expect the increased signal coverage from the BoostBox to be the equivalent to the coverage you would get from your WiFi router.
How much does the O2 BoostBox cost?
As the BoostBox is currently a business only service it is necessary to speak to an O2 account manager who will advise on costs.
O2 BoostBox Pros
- Phone coverage blackspots in the house or office should be eradicated by using the BoostBox.
O2 BoostBox Pros
- It is only available to business users.
- It is additional hardware at additional cost and it is dependent on having an existing WiFi service.
Three Home Signal
The final mobile phone coverage booster in our review is from Three and it is called Home Signal. Three have quietly launched the product in early 2012 and generally it is not currently advertised on their website as it is used primarily as a retentions tool should a customer attempt to quit their Three phone contract due to poor reception. The general consensus seems to be that that the product works well and improves phone reception in the house considerably.
How does Home Signal work?
It is a femtocell product very much like the Vodafone SureSignal box and works through the connection to a broadband router which runs on a broadband line that needs to be at least 1Mb in speed. A Three 3G phone needs to be used to use the service and up to four additional phones can use it to receive calls, texts and use data. The range for the Home Signal box is approximately 15 metres and it will use approximately 37MB of your home broadband data for an hour long call.
How much does the Three Home Signal cost?
Consumers have reported that on some occasions they have been able to receive the Home Signal box free of charge if they are able to convince Three of the difficulties they have been having with call reception. It should be noted however, that Three customers on pay monthly mobile phone contracts seem to get precedence over customers on SIM only contracts.
Three Home Signal Pros
- The Home Signal box will help to eradicate any coverage blackspots within your home.
- Up to four devices can be used with Home Signal.
- It can sometimes be obtained direct from Three free of charge if they determine that your case is strong enough.
Three Home Signal Cons
- It uses some of your home broadband data allowance so bear this in mind if your home broadband tariff has strict data transfer limits.
- You need a home broadband connection to use Home Signal.