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Using T-Mobile and stuck with one bar at home? A signal booster can help

Using T-Mobile and stuck with one bar at home? A signal booster can help

After a long dry spell, T-Mobile USA is once again providing signal boosters to customers who meet criteria for the devices. A signal booster can amplify a weak cell signal to make it easier to use your cell phone in your home. What's more, the signal booster is offered to qualifying customers for free.

T-Mobile's made great strides over the past year to build out their wireless network. There are still some weak spots, however. Until T-Mobile gets its [towers operating at 700 MHz (expected later this year) — and until customers upgrade to phones that support LTE Band 12 — building penetration is going to be limited, as well. So if phone service is weak in your house, what should you do?

Up until 2013, T-Mobile offered certain postpaid customers the ability to acquire a signal booster manufactured by Nextivity called Cel-Fi. The device comprises two pieces: a window unit that sends and receives the cell signal and a coverage unit, placed elsewhere in the home. The Cel-Fi takes an existing 3G or 4G cell signal and amplifies it, enabling you to make and receive phone calls within a coverage area of about 13,000 square feet.

T-Mobile stopped offering signal boosters as the company revamped and built out its network. Additionally, the Cel-Fi device maker, Nextivity, worked on a new version that supports additional radio frequencies T-Mobile now depends on. Now that device is shipping, according to information posted on the Cel-Fi web site, with availability beginning at the end of May, 2014.

This works different than the AT&T 3G MicroCell, a "mini cellular tower" AT&T offers to some customers with weak signal strength in their home. The MicroCell connects to your broadband Internet service; the Cel-Fi operates using existing cell service. As a result, you do need at least one bar of 3G or 4G service from T-Mobile somewhere in your home to connect.

If you're a T-Mobile "postpaid" customer, and if you have only one bar of 3G or 4G service in your home, you may want to give T-Mobile customer service a call to inquire about obtaining a signal booster. T-Mobile makes them available to customers who meet specific qualifications (what those qualifications are is a bit of a mystery; they don't list them on their web site).

If, for whatever reason, you're not able to get one from T-Mobile, you can consider buying one from Nextivity yourself, but be prepared to pony up $575 for the privilege.

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Reader comments

Using T-Mobile and stuck with one bar at home? A signal booster can help

96 Comments

Yeah last time I called for one of these, I was denied. It was right after they were discontinued. I was stuck with 1 bar in a major metro area until we moved. That was painful, especially with how messages are handled with WiFi calling.

Nope, I am on ATTs network now with a Lumia 1020 and paying less than T-Mobile. Enjoying the coverage, too

WOW, I tried att a while back. In my area its service wasn't half as good as T-Mobile. What I paid for 1 line on ATT was over half what I pay for 5 on T-Mobile too.

T-Mobile wasn't always bad in my area, but for the last few years it has been declining rapidly. It is downright awful for most of the state now. My expectations got so low with T-Mobile, in fact, that I am downright amazed at the coverage available on ATT in comparison.

We all already know your sob story with T-Mobile. Knock it off and stop pimping aka spamming ATT. You've already been warned about that as it is.

Damn Girl, you got issues. 

I am sorry your blind loyalties to T-Mobile cause a need in you to silence any criticism or dissenting voices.  It is sad that your prejudice prevents you from acknowledging any of T-Mobile's faults and further encourages you to censure the valid points of others.

For some reason I always have 3G and I used to have LTE and now for the split second I get LTE, internet doesn't work and I have Verizon. Also my phone has random lag spikes, it could be an 8.1 glitch.

Tmob sucks in my whole town, not just my home. Give us a booster big enough for my town! (oh wait that's called a cell tower, LOL!)

"Post paid" means you're not a prepaid customer, i.e., you're paying a bill with them that's due after the service is rendered. (If you're on one of their Simple Choice plans you're all set.)

Nobody cares what you think is attractive. I'm stating the facts. T-Mobile isn't as great as they've been made out to be lately. 

Lol.... Pinch a nerve there?? Dont get your panties all bunched up!!... If you don't like Tmobile go someplace else...simple as that...and if u don't have tmobile great for you... But the love fest with tmo will continue...get on board...or jump off... In front of a train preferably..

I'm not saying you should switch. If you're happy with them, by all means stay. It's just that in this current time T-Mobile is being made out to be a Knight in Shining Armor fighting off big bad dragons. When in fact T-Mobile is a dragon too. They're just wearing a Knights mask. They're fooling people. Everything they're doing right now is to make themselves look good for a sale- a company sell that is, and it's working cuz Sprint has his eyes on her. 

 

By by the way the jump in front of a train thing. Not nice!

If I can keep it powered, will this work in my car on road trips? :P Can barely get any single in-between cities...

While the freebie would be awesome, instead of jumping through hoops to get one, you can just snag one of the zBoost ZB545's from Amazon for $200. You get great coverage over 2500 sq feet that works with both AT&T and T-Mobile and can be mounted in either a window (indoors) or outdoors in a semi-permanent. You do have to have a signal to amplify, but if you do it will boost the wall penetration in a big way. Great product!

One hour or less of my time to jump through hoops to get it free vs paying $200 to Amazon? I don't know about you, but $200 is worth an hour to me. While it is not addressed in the article, it seema to me that since it is boosting frequencies which are also used by AT&T this device might also boost an AT&T signal. It's not like the AT&T device which actually connects back to AT&T. This device just amplifies the existing signal.

When you have a home that's larger than 13,000 sq. ft, you've moved around enough such that signal strength shouldn't be the same.

That's assuming you weren't being sarcastic in your comment.

They sent us one of these a few months ago after being on a waiting list for almost a year. Has made a HUGE difference! T-Mobile may not have great coverage but they are super loyal to those who are loyal to them. And $110/month for 5 lines all with 1GB of LTE data? Cannot beat that anywhere.

Unless someone is streaming music or video over cellular regularly, 1GB is way more than enough for most people.  I'm a fairly heavy smartphone user and I rarely go over 300MB.  

WiFi does a great job at home or at work.

Even if someone does go over 1GB on T-Mobile, you don't get charged for it... they just slow you down.

We have 4 lines on T-mobile and it's about $125 a month. At about $12.50 for each additional line (with taxes), 5 lines would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $138-$140 with taxes/fees/etc. Only 500mb each though.

I have one of these and it works like a champ in my home.  I have 2-3 bars upstairs in the front of my home but downstairs and towards the rear (up or down) signal drops and often I'd lose signal. They sent me one of these setups and now I have a pretty solid connection everywhere (in my home).

It's a booster, so if you don't get a signal somewhere in your home it will not work. Unfortunately its not a magic mobile cell tower.

I did speed tests on T-Mobile recently comparing HSPA+ to LTE... HSPA+ was running about 15-16 Mbps, LTE was 27 Mbps.

I can't think of many things people would need to do on a phone that require more than 16 Mbps.

I wish T-mobile would improve my town or at least the area with houses.  Get 5-15 LTE on average and 1-8 on HSPA+.  It's fine but when it gets congested it really sucks and both the LTE and HSPA+ get congested here. 

I'd gladly pay for the extra bar at att. Never again I'd have to struggle to get reception in basements. Besides that, tmo doesn't support top of the line WP.

AT&T, AIO (Cricket) for those that don't want the AT&T bill.. it's all the same network.

Hell of a lot better coverage, though.

Are there any disadvantages to going with another carrier that uses at&Ts network such as aio? I guess except for not getting first dibs on new WP devices...

AIO/cricket works with ATT phones, even the locked ones, so the choice isn't an issue. But with BYOD the lack of financing may be an issue for some. Other disadvantages include: A soft cap of 8mbps for high speed data over LTE, no carrier billing for the app store, and no visual voicemail. The lower bill is worth it to me, it may not be for others.

What about partner towers when roaming? Are you confined to using only AT&T towers when on AIO? Also, customer support has been reported to be not as good. You also won't have a physical store to visit for questions/problems.

I don't know aboutt he partner towers.  The only point I can make to that is that even if you are confined to ATT's network the coverage has been better without roaming that T-Mobile's was with.  But I haven't been outside of an ATT area with all my traveling (or have and didn't know it if roaming is allowed).

 

ATT did buy Cricket and is merging them with AIO.  Every physical Cricket store is a store you can visit with problems/questions.

I'm confused. I called and the CS said I'm qualified if I'm a post paid customer. But because I paid for all my phone upfront, I'm a prepaid customer. I'm getting a bill monthly for my previous months use. Sucks.

I bought our T-Mobile phones upfront and they just sent me one free; I installed it today. It gives me four bars inside the house where we used to have one. Maybe because I complained three or four times in the last six months about the poor reception even though we're less than a mile from the nearest tower.

You probably didn't ask the right question. Ask for eligibility details for signal booster. If you get a bill, you are a postpaid customer.

Was on ATT, switched to TMo for the lower rates and got really bad signal. Switched back to ATT and got better signal. Even tried a signal booster in my home, no improvement; still had to go outside for any kind of signal. But of course, your results may vary...signal is very market dependent...

TMO called me a few months ago and said I qualified for one. They sent it out, but I still lose signal in my apartment.  Sometimes, sitting right beside the window unit. I only get 4G on my phone when I'm sitting exactly in the middle of the two devices, and the web speeds are atrocious.  But at least I can get group text now. I have wifi for data... Plus, it was free.

I have the Verizon one. Wasn't free though, cost me $100.  Works great.  I especially like the way it eliminates all the griping from my spouse.  Totally worth the money.

Last time you had to be a Class A or B Customer (Paid on time and paid over a certain amount each month) on a Post-Paid Family account and live in a house not an apartment.

The detached single family residence requirement has been lifted. Apartments qualify now. Credit classes include others, as well, but are more indicative of overall credit history than just payment history and monthly recurring charges.

Sprint has something like that as well. Poor coverage in Seattle, but it pretty much cut off our wi-fi connections. Think it's called and Airrave or something. 

We use a few of these dotted around dead spots in our company and they have stopped our users complaining. Only issue is the price tag if your a home customer. As a business it was an ideal investment. EE UK (tmobile/orange)

That would literally serve no purpose. You are practically outside in your car, if you can't get signal the "signal booster" won't help it's more of a repeater than a booster. 

You can find people on every carrier world wide that either say its the best thing on earth or the worst. Its a total crapshoot. IPhones, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Symbian, Android, its all over the damn grid with quality reception and data.

    I live in a little town in Louisiana called Walker. From my house I can see a AT&T tower, a T-Mobile tower and a Verizon Tower, all less than a quarter mile from my house. I must have died and gone to cell phone heaven.

I got sent a text (sms) based survey from T Mobile about 3 months ago. Filled it honestly ie that i liked my phone and the bill was good, but reception sucked.

Got a call from T Mobile the next day apologizing and offering me one of these for free, and it has made a world of difference.

So if you get a customer satisfaction survey on your phone, answer it, and give a low score for coverage :-)