Monday, August 25, 2008

Extending a Cell Signal With zBoost

Although I'm curious about the AIRAVE, I'm not on Sprint and not convinced it's worth switching just for the AIRAVE capability.

But I do have a signal problem at my house, and I'm currently testing out the zBoost Wi-Ex signal booster to see how much of a dent it can make.

Unlike AIRAVE, which creates a local CDMA network and bridges it to another backhaul, the Wi-Ex is an RF repeater/amplifier. So you need to feed it a signal -- from somewhere nearby that has a signal -- and it extends the signal via a new base station and antenna.

So far I'm inconclusive on the quantitative results. Certainly, in my house, the coverage area it creates is closer to 600 square feet than the 2500 square feet advertised. But as with any RF setup, there are so many variables that this doesn't prove a heck of a lot.

I can report positive results on a qualitative measure.

Normally, the signal is so weak inside my house that, without this unit, I can receive a call signal (e.g., ring or text message) but as soon as I press "talk" it drops. 100% of the time. Also, my Blackjack had never successfully retrieved a web page from inside the house. With the zBoost unit, there is  qualitative difference: The data connection can retrieve web pages -- sometimes slower, sometimes faster, but pretty much successfully. And if I receive a call, I can answer without the call dropping instantly. Again, depending on various things the call quality may be better or worse -- but there is always a call there, struggling to get through. Which despite being reminiscent of 1995 is a major improvement.

What I'm wondering is ... if, as zBoost claims, the device is FCC legit and is designed not to create trouble for the existing cell network, why don't the cell carriers themselves sell this device? It seems like it could help them extend their reach geographically and satisfy a few more customers.

And before you suggest that they don't offer it because doing so would be tantamount to admitting their existing network footprint isn't solid, note that both T-Mobile and Sprint are already selling personal femtocells and rumors are that AT&T isn't far behind. And anyway, spotty coverage inside buildings has never been any kind of secret.

No comments: