Friday, November 30, 2012

What's the Difference Between a Cellular Amplifier/Repeater and a Microcell/Network Extender?

left: Cellphone-Mate SOHO amplifier kit; right: Verizon Network Extender

If you're searching for options to improve weak signal for your cell phones or 3G or 4G modems, you'll quickly discover that there are two types of options available: Microcells or "Network Extenders" offered by your service provider and cellular amplifiers made by companies like Wilson Electronics and Cellphone-Mate. If you're like most people, at this point in your research you start wondering what the heck the difference is between the two!

It's important to understand that Microcells/Network Extenders are NOT the same as cellular amplifiers — they work completely differently and each is appropriate for different types of situations. Microcells and Network Extenders are sold by cellular providers, and they solve the problem of weak cellular signal by using your home internet connection instead — they don't actually improve the actual cellular signal, it simply allows your cell phones to route their traffic over your internet connection.  Cellular amplifiers, on the other hand, actually draw in signal from the cell tower(s) and boost it, resulting in improved performance on your cellular devices. Below are more details on the advantages and disadvantages to each option:


  • Easy to install (no need to run cables or mount antennas outside)
  • Fairly inexpensive
  • Uses your home cable or DSL internet — if you don't have high-speed cable or DSL, you can immediately disregard a Microcell or Network Extender as a potential option!
  • Must be purchased directly from your provider (and not all providers offer one)
  • Only helps with phones from that provider (e.g. if you have an AT&T Microcell for your AT&T iPhones and a friend comes over with a Verizon phone, his Verizon signal is not going to be affected by your Microcell)
  • Your phones must be within 40' of the unit to benefit from it, and this cannot be extended (if you want to cover more area, you have to purchase additional units from your provider)

  • Boosts the cellular signal itself — has nothing to do with your home internet connection
  • Lots of options for virtually every situation (mobile, small building, large building, etc). Need to boost the signal throughout a large home or office? No problem! Want something you can take with you from your vehicle to your office? There are options for that, too! And everything in between!
  • Options available that can help with multiple networks instead of just one, so you can boost signal to AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc all with one setup
  • Effectiveness is limited by the signal situation at the location — there must be some signal nearby for the amplifier to boost; amplifiers cannot "create" cellular signal where there is none
  • Some installation is typically required, often including mounting an antenna outside and running cables inside
  • Most amplifiers are more expensive than Microcells/Network Extenders
The very first step we recommend taking when you're looking for a solution for a weak signal issue is to think about what exactly you are hoping to accomplish. Are you hoping to improve the signal just for one phone, or do you have a bunch of devices that need help (and if so, are they all from the same provider?)? What type of signal(s) do you need help with (e.g. Verizon 3G signal, Sprint voice signal, AT&T 4G signal, whatever)? Are you looking for something just for one location, or for taking with you in your RV/car/truck/etc? How large of an area are you hoping to provide boosted signal to?

With that information, you can then begin to narrow down your options. 3Gstore will be happy to help you determine what will work best for you — once you've thought about what you're hoping to accomplish, contact us and we'll guide you to the right solution!