How to Get Cell Phone Reception in a Dead Zone (Without Roaming)

March 8th, 2012, byTamika Thompson

Photo by gillyberlin | Wikimedia Commons.

If you live in a dreaded mobile dead zone like I do, then you’ve probably given up hope of getting decent cell phone reception at home. I gave up, too. Then, I discovered the secret to getting four bars without roaming – the femtocell.

Femtocells are small devices that look like routers and tap into your existing high-speed Internet connection to bring outdoor cell phone service indoors where it might not otherwise reach.

The result? A strong, consistent signal that covers about 5,000 square feet, improves call quality, yields faster data speed for Web browsing and picture messages and delivers the capacity for three to six callers to use the femtocell at the same time, depending on the carrier.

Better still, the femtocell won’t slow down your Internet connection. You can take a call and surf the Web on your computer at the same time; and you can designate certain cell phones for femto-use, so your neighbors won’t be able to hitch a ride on your device unless you want them to.

My particular femtocell is called the Verizon Wireless Network Extender. AT&T offers the 3G MicroCell. Sprint has the Airave. And T-Mobile’s Cel-Fi Signal Booster is a self-contained device that doesn’t need an existing Internet connection.

So, you may ask, how can you jump on the femto-bandwagon?

If you’re a Verizon, AT&T or Sprint subscriber, first make sure that you have a high-speed Internet connection. If you’re using dial-up (bless your soul), the femtocell is not for you. Most DSL or broadband connections with speeds around 1.5 Megabits per second or higher will do the trick.

Next, be sure that you’re using a 3G or 4G cell phone.

Check the cost of the device and service. Verizon’s Network Extender, for instance, is a one-shot deal. You buy the femtocell for $250, set it up and you’re done. Sprint’s Airave is slightly cheaper, at $200, but there is a $5 monthly service charge or $10 per month if you want unlimited calling.

Purchase your mobile carrier’s femtocell. Once you have the device in your hands, connect it to your broadband modem following the instructions in the box and place it near a window so that the device’s GPS antenna can transmit a signal.

Finally, plug your femtocell into the power outlet and wait for the magic lights to let you know you’re femto-ing. Voilá! You have yourself a mini cell phone tower!

If you’re a T-Mobile subscriber, the process is even simpler. Buy the Cel-Fi, mount it according to the instructions in the box, plug in the power cord and start dialing with your 3G or 4G phone.

Now, you might be saying, “It seems awfully unfair to ask customers to shell out more money so that a service that they’re already paying for will actually work.” And that’s a fair assessment. Some dead zone customers have successfully gotten around paying for the device or service by pointing out that very fact to their mobile carriers.

Hint. Hint.

  • Lewis

    In an area without cell service can a smart phone/cell phone get service if place next to a portable GPS antenna? The GPS I,m using is Garmin and is normally used in my car? I was told by a satellite dish installer that he had done this but I have not been able to achive this. He told me he got full signal where before he had no service.

  • Aaron

    I have a cricket phone, and I am unable to get a signal anywhere near my house. Will A) I be able to get a different company’s femtocell to work with my phone, and B) will it even work if I have no nearby signal?

Last modified: March 10, 2012 at 11:17 pm