Signal booster seems to do nothing

  • 5 December 2018
  • 21 replies

I ordered a signal booster from T-Mobile due to poor signal in my Manhattan apartment. They sent a unit and I had no trouble setting it up. Everything seemed to be working fine, but there was no improvement on my devices. Still 1 bar, which drops out when walking around the apartment. Tech support did some superficial flow chart troubleshooting and quickly opted to send out a new unit it exchange for the current unit. The new unit arrived, same result. Everything seems to be functioning properly except there is no signal improvement. It's as if my devices don't see the coverage unit to connect to it. I called tech support back, the did the same superficial flow chart troubleshooting and again, offered to replace the unit. They assured me they will test the unit before shipping it, just as they did the second time. Since I don't seem to be getting anywhere with the Kolkata call center, I thought I would ask if anyone in the US would have some first hand experience why this is happening. I have no reason to expect that the third unit they send will have any result other than the previous two.

Both the window units were able to achieve 2 bars of signal and the LTE light was on. The coverage unit has an 8 on the coverage range. My phone maintains 1 bar. Both boosters were properly registered with the correct location of use.


Best answer by tmo_chris 8 December 2018, 00:55

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Userlevel 4

This is sort of a vague area with T-Mobile and its coverage devices because I have an LTE cellspot version 2 that runs off of my ISP router modem setup. I have perfect signal coming off of the cellspot but my phone decides to link up with the nearest tower even though that tower is much weaker in signal than the cellspot.

there has been well over a month plus of troubleshooting tickets and no one has an answer. The theory is there may be some sort of prioritization of tower over coverage device however to the normal user whichever device has the better signal is the one the phone should use.

I would think this would translate into the LTE cellspot booster device as well but without knowing using third-party apps one would not know if they are connected to the cellspot or to the nearest tower or even perhaps being connected to another customers coverage device within the same coverage area.

I was able to use apps like Network signal info and similar apps to discover that I was connected to my cellspot briefly but I had to be within 10 feet of it otherwise the much weaker tower would take over. Oddly enough signal strength does not always equate to speed or stability.

In short I never found an answer as to why a coverage device within a few feet would be overruled by some other signal be a tower or someone else's coverage device

This is the most useful information I’ve seen on this. I’ll look for an app that could help me see what my devices are doing.

Sent from my iPhone

Userlevel 4

Hey there. I am sorry that your coverage devices have not improved the coverage in your home. I do not believe it to be an issue with the units themselves. Are you able to get the same 2 bars of signal on your phone in that window with the units unplugged?

It depends where I stand but usually it’s one bar but you can’t carryon a call with it.

Sent from my iPhone

Userlevel 4

Okay, so it actually sounds like the 2 bars the window unit shows is actually a very weak 2 bars and the coverage unit puts off 1 bar which is the same as what you get at the window.

What kind of phone are you using and do you have high-speed WiFi in your home?

I'm using an iphone x and an ipad. I have high speed wifi, but when it went out recently for more than a day, I was dead in the water. I had to leave to get a cell signal I could use and it really disrupted my work. Also, the wifi performs poorly in my apartment which is a prewar brick building, so that's not a useful solution short of saturating the apartment with satellites. My primary computer is connected via ethernet to overcome this as long as the internet is up. (my internet is provided by my university free of charge so I'm at their mercy when it goes down and their response time to it)

I feel that snn555 may have been on to something about prioritization. I observed no difference in signal strength on my phone when the booster was running. Could it be that carrier settings prevent the device from opting for the booster over the tower? Would there be a way to force it, such as network selection? I 'd note that I didn't see anything in that which would suggest one is the booster vs. the tower.

Here's something to demonstrate my pain. Running a bandwidth check I get -

At my desk - one bar shows 0.88 Mbps down and 0.08 up at my desk, ping 25ms, jitter 12ms

By the window where the booster window unit was - 2.15 Mbps down / 2.01 Mbps up, ping 39ms, jitter 16ms.

In the kitchen - the test errors out despite the "one bar w/LTE"

BUT, if I walk outside and maybe about 150' to the corner, I can get 4 bars. More importantly, I can make a phone call standing outside and it will hold unless I go inside.

So then let me ask this question:  Is the signal booster by design only going to extend the signal it receives at the window further into the apartment via the coverage unit? OR is the signal booster going to amplify the signal to and from the tower beyond what a normal cell phone or tablet could do on its own?

Userlevel 4

There is a possible workaround option though it did not work well for me. on my Android I can select the Network signal I get like LTE 2G 3-g. The good thing is is that the regular 4gHSPA+ is less congested but the speed is very slow.

I haven't work with iOS and several months so I'm not sure if there is a way for you to select anything other than LTE only or LTE mixed however in this case you need to find a way to avoid LTE all together that way you get a stronger yet slower signal.

Userlevel 4

So the signal booster is only going to take the signal it gets from the window and emit that signal around an area that you placed the coverage unit, it is not going to amplify the signal at all. I think the issue here is not with the coverage devices but with the coverage itself. In your scenario, the coverage is simply not strong enough in the area that you are placing the window unit and while the coverage unit may be able to get that window coverage to the further reaches of your home, it is still not enough for a good quality phone call.

I know that you already explained your WiFi situation and how it struggles with the composition of your home and it is going to have the same effect on the signal booster coverage. As much as it pains me to say it, maybe our service is not going to work for you in your home especially if you are unable to take advantage of WiFi calling or our signal booster.

Yeah, that sounds about right. Ugh. I know this is a common problem in NYC and my case is exacerbated by being on the ground floor behind more building material than those above. I wonder if there's a process to request a rooftop "window unit" to grab a better signal and disburse it into the building below. Probably ambitious given the institutional lethargy and indifference of my university landlord. An alternative is to pay for commercial internet and use a mesh device to help cover the apartment. I hate to pay for spectrum when I get 100mbs up and down for free, but then...  the old adage remains true - you get what you pay for.

Another question about the booster... I understand it's not an amplifier of the signal received, but would my device show the same number of bars it is receiving from the tower, or would it show potentially a higher number of bars because it's receiving a signal from the coverage unit?

Many thanks for the feedback on all this.

Userlevel 4

If you receive two bars at the window without the booster and you receive one bar further inside the unit then with the booster if it sees two bars at the window you would get two bars inside the unit. In other words you only see the number of bars that are at the window further inside the unit. It only boosts the signal further it does not amplify the signal.

If it doesn't amplify the signal, it shouldn't be called a booster. 😉  Boost means to raise, increase.

Without the booster, my phone gets 3 bars at home. With the booster, (window unit reads 2 bars) my phone gets 5 bars.

It seems that expat is in one of those signal eating dead zones...

That's interesting. This is what I thought it should do, but having never used one before, I'm at a disadvantage to know what to expect.

Although tmo_chris is correct in stating the THEORETICAL basis of how the signal booster is supposed to work, I found that in practice this varies.

Note: I live in a rural area, so the LTE service is very sporadic. The service in my home was poor, so T-Mobile sent me the signal booster (BTW: thank you, T-Mobile 😉).

Here is how I got my signal booster to perform as designed:

1. I scanned my home by placing my phone at each corner of the house, and at each window for three minutes without touching it.

2. I noted how many bars of LTE service I got at each spot in my home, and I ran an INTERNET SPEED TEST (this is critical - in a browser just search google for "internet speed test" and then hit 'Run Speed Test').

[NOTE: At some spots in my home my phone indicated full bars of LTE service, but the internet speed test returned with speeds as slow as 0.02 MBPS 😠 .]

3. I found a sweet spot 3-feet away from a window where I had full bars, and got download speeds of ~20-30 MBPS. This is where I mounted the WINDOW UNIT (this is why its important to scan your home if service is hit & miss).

4. I placed the COVERAGE UNIT as far away as I possibly could. The highest number the coverage unit read was 4, and all lights were green.

5. After a month I realized that there was ZERO improvement to my voice, and data service.

This afternoon before I called customer service to read them the Riot Act I experimented with moving the COVERAGE UNIT around.

6. I placed the COVERAGE UNIT up high, then walked around my place for a couple of minutes noting any change in coverage.

7. Two rooms away from the WINDOW UNIT, the COVERAGE UNIT is reading 1, but my service is amazing. Full LTE bars in every room, and download speeds are very fast.

Problem solved!

Image result for dora the grown up we did it gif

When the coverage unit is placed as far away as possible like the instructions say all the lights go green, but the signal is not boosted.

The Coverage Unit is currently at a distance bordering 'too close' to the Window Unit, but now it works as intended.

This is what worked for me; your mileage may vary. Hopefully this helps someone get their unit working, and spares a poor T-Mobile Tech from getting berated on the phone.

NOTE: I made it a point to mount the Coverage Unit as high up as I can with nothing obstructing it. You may think its an eyesore, though I advise against trying to hide it in the den behind your bedazzled Confederate flag. You'll just have to play with it and see if Ole' Dixie oppresses your signal.

Userlevel 4

As a true Southerner I appreciate your nod to the flag however I fail to see exactly how that fits into this story in any shape form or fashion.

It was an odd thing to bring up, especially when I'm in New York. I wonder if a German flag might amplify the signal, seeing as how T-Mobile is a German company. In any case, I abandoned the effort already and returned the devices. I'm not going to live in this flat much longer.

Userlevel 4

Folks, it's a little known fact but flags of any kind only hinder wireless signal. Its the special way the fabric is weaved into all flags, its basically a faraday blanket. What you needs to do is grab some tin foil and make a snake out of it and attach it to the coverage unit.

In all seriousness though, I am very sorry our coverage would not work for you in your home @expat74​ 😥 How soon before you move? I promise our coverage is actually really good in most of NY. Are you planning on canceling your service all together or are you gonna be moving real soon?

A signal booster can be a great thing but like any technology, it needs to be used correctly and under the right circumstances. For example, a signal booster can't create a signal so if you are in an area with no signal, the booster doesn't do anything. Just think of multiplying something by zero. 2000 x 0= 0. So a 2000X booster won't boost a nonexistent signal. If you have a signal, you need to situate the booster so it works at maximum effectiveness. This blog has some good tips. Keep in mind there are other things besides boosters but every situation and solution depends on your situation.

I have the same issue. I've had 2 signal booster and it didn't really help unless I'm 10 feet from the booster. My phone continually tries to get signal from the tower instead of the booster. It's really annoying since i have to resend almost 75% of my texts.