Cellular xG/LTE Signal Booster

Connectivity has been a recent hot topic aboard Independence as both of us have started picking up some online work and our goal of becoming "digital nomads". This is the fourth post in a series we will do about our preparations to stay connected for work.

The Ideal Office? Big Gaulding Cay, Berry Islands, FL 
As stated in the first post, BTC and Verizon provide excellent coverage and fast data. In order for it to work as well as possible (to get true LTE speeds), you need to be very close to the tower (within 5 miles). A booster allows us to get fast speeds at a great distance from the cell tower and therefore gives us more anchorage choices.

Of course, you could buy a purpose-built solution for boats. There are quite a few wifi boosters and a couple that add in xG/LTE data coverage as well. They are expensive. They also require their own SIM card (a separate line on your phone bill) and I don’t know of any that will work on Verizon. And while all of these devices will connect you, I'm not sure how much they actually "boost" the signal of cellular transmissions. Enter the car cellular booster:

Cell Phone Booster
We purchased a weBoost Drive Sleek LTE booster from Amazon.

weBoost Drive Sleek 470135 Cell Phone Signal Booster, Cell Signal Booster for Car & Truck, Boosts 4G LTE Cell Signals – Enhance Your Cell Phone Signal up to 32x

I did quite a bit of research and it seemed that this device met all of our needs. While there are fancier devices available, this device uses your existing phone and SIM card, and it will work with either GSM or CDMA devices (AT&T, BTC, T-Mobile and Verizon/Sprint). Additionally, I like that it is designed for a car, uses next to no power and is 12-volt. All good things for us! From the website, it appears you can upgrade your antenna to larger, more capable ones as well.

I didn’t completely understand how all of the parts of this thing went together until we had used it a few days. It has an external antenna, which is small and magnetic for mounting to the roof of your car. The antenna plug goes into an inline amplifier. The amp runs off of a 12-volt outlet and it feeds an inside antenna that is a phone cradle.  Everything uses SMB connectors (that’s important for later). While weBoost sells upgraded antennas, they don’t have any that have SMB connectors…so that’s not as easy as it should be. But it’s okay because we can solve that easily with some adapters off of Amazon.
SMB antenna adapters on Amazon

We used the device for a few days, sitting the antenna on the hard top and playing with positioning. By entering field test mode on my iPhone 6 on Verizon, I was able to increase the signal by 10 dB. We purchased a slightly bigger antenna and were able to increase the signal by 15 dB. These are initial tests since in our current location we already have a decent signal, but it looks pretty good so far!

Our hope is that with this booster in place we will be able to maintain good cellular strength and speeds farther from towers, giving us a few more options on the chart where we can anchor. The booster makes the signal more reliable and consistent as the boat swings. Since cellular is our primary method of connecting online for web conferences, we think the booster was a good purchase even though it was the most expensive part of our setup. Next we'll look at making all the pieces we’ve talked about connect together into one network.

<-- Page 3: Wifi Booster | Page 5: Summary, Putting it all together --> 

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