Simple Accessories to Improve Signal Booster Performance
- 26 Sep, 2022
The Best Signal Booster Accessories
All ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) approved cell phone signal boosters are sold in kits with everything that's needed for most situations. To help improve performance, customise installation, and protect your unit, a variety of cellular amplification accessories are available.
It can be difficult choosing the best accessories for your unique installation since many accessories look similar but work differently. To help you choose the best accessories for your booster, let's thoroughly discuss each accessory category:
Maximize Signal Output with Quality Coaxial Cables
A booster's coaxial cables are like the veins of the system - they carry the signal from the outside antennas to the inside antennas. The quality and length of the cables can impact signal strength and coverage.
In most cases, the cables included with the signal booster are enough, but if you want a higher-grade cable to get the most out of your system, or just need additional cable for your unique floor plan, it's important to understand coaxial cables and the options available.
Coaxial Cable Signal Loss
One thing to understand about cellular signal is that the farther it travels the weaker it becomes. This is why cell service is weak in areas located many kilometers away from cell towers. The same concept applies when signal travels through coaxial cables. When cell signal enters the cable, it slowly degrades as it moves down the cable, and depending on the type of cable, signal loss can be minor or substantial. This is where cable quality and length come into play.
Coaxial Cable Quality
To get superior results, use high-quality, low-loss cable. These cables are built to better insulate the signal, ensuring a stronger signal reaches the amplifier and indoor antennas.
With that in mind, you're probably thinking that you need the cable with the lowest possible loss. While ideal, it may not be the best idea in every situation. Coaxial cables with lower loss tend to be thicker, less flexible (making them difficult to install), and more expansive.
If you have good outside signal, you don't necessarily need the highest-grade cable, unless your installation calls for long cable runs, or you simply want to squeeze every drop of boosted signal out of your unit. On the other hand, if you have weak outside signal, investing in the highest quality cable you can afford will help get the most coverage out of a booster. Even though the antenna is receiving a weak signal, with lower loss cable, the amplifier will receive a stronger signal and provide better results.
Coaxial Cable Length
The second part of the equation is cable length. While high-grade cable has lower loss than low-grade cable, it still degrades the farther it travels. For example, if you need 15 meters of cable to connect your outside antenna to your amplifier, use exactly that amount or something very close to it. If you opt for a longer cable, depending on your outside signal strength, coverage can either be reduced or non-existent because of the long run. To retain as much signal and avoid unnecessary signal loss, use the shortest length of cable possible.
Types of Coaxial Cable for Signal Booster Installations
The following cables are commonly used in signal booster installations, but can also be used with TVs, WiFi equipment, and other radio frequency (RF) applications.
Ultra-low loss cable commonly used with pro-grade boosters.
Bolton400 is a 50 Ohm ultra-low loss cable designed for large installations, which is why they are commonly paired with commercial cell phone boosters. The signal loss is around 2.5dB per 10 meter, making it a great option for long and short cable runs. It's available in a variety of lengths - from 1 meter to a 500 meter spool.
Bolton 400 plenum cable has similar specs to the Bolton400, but it's plenum rated. It's designed for plenum area installations, which requires a special cable to minimise the spread of fire, smoke, and toxicity. Plenum cables are made of high-rated fire-retardant material. When burned, they can self-extinguish and release less smoke and toxic fumes. Plenum cable is available in large spools.
Protect Your Investment with a Lightning Surge Protector and Surge Protector Plug
Similar to how cell phone cases and screen protectors are designed to protect your Apple or Android device, some signal booster accessories are designed to protect and ensure the longevity of your signal booster system. Not only that, but they also help protect people, property, and electrical equipment. Enter Lightning Surge Protectors and Surge Protector Plugs.
What is a Lightning Surge Protector?
In short, a lightning surge protector, also known as a surge arrester or surge suppressor, is a small device designed to protect your cell phone repeater and any connected components from surges caused by nearby lightning strikes and static charge build-up.
What is a Surge Protector Plug?
What are Surges?
Surges, or transients, are brief voltage spikes that can reach tens of thousands of volts. They can cause fires and destroy, damage, or degrade electronic equipment. While there are different ways for surges to originate, signal amplifiers are vulnerable to lightning and static related surges.
This is where a lighting surge protector comes in handy. They will help displace the excess energy and safely ground it to protect your investment in the event an outdoor antenna is affected by indirect lighting or static build-up.
Why are Lightning Surge Protectors Important Accessories?
Most signal booster kits include outdoor antennas, which are typically installed in high exposed areas, such as the roof of a house or commercial building. The inside of the antenna and supporting brackets consist of metal components - who are great conductors of electricity. While metal alone won't attract lightning, it can collect electrical static, and as it builds, it can create a path for direct and indirect lightning strikes to follow. Even without lightning, with enough static, the energy will eventually discharge.
If your outdoor antenna falls victim to a voltage surge, without a surge arrester, the overvoltage will flow through the coaxial cables, signal repeater, indoor antennas, and possibly even your building's electrical system till the energy is grounded or dies out. How can it affect your electrical system, you ask? For a signal booster to work, it needs power. So, by plugging in the amp's power supply into a wall outlet, the surge has a direct path from the outdoor antenna to your building's electrical system and everything connected to it (e.g., appliances, game consoles, broadband modems, WiFi routers, TVs, etc.).
Damage to your booster system, building, and electrical equipment will depend on how powerful the voltage spike was. In some cases, the equipment may undergo irreparable damage, while in others, equipment performance will degrade. Even worse, an electrical overload can cause a fire or shock occupants within the vicinity.
With a coaxial surge protector installed, the energy will flow through the antenna and cable till it reaches the surge arrester. The surge protector will help displace the excess energy and ground it while allowing normal levels of energy to flow through the amplifier for uninterrupted service. In doing so, your investment, electrical system, electronic equipment, building, and occupants, are protected.
As you can see, they are extremely important for commercial and home signal boosters. Thus, if your signal booster kit doesn't include a lightning surge protector, we HIGHLY recommend one.
Protects 50 Ohm systems from lighting surges.
50 Ohm Lighting Surge Protectors utilize N-Female connectors. They're commonly used with pro-grade systems or when using Wilson400 or LMR-400 like cable.
Do I Need a Lightning Surge Protector?
Before buying a surge protector, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is your building located in an area with frequent lightning storms?
- Do you want to protect your amplifier and other components from nearby lighting strikes or static build-up?
If the answer is yes to any of these, strongly consider a lightning surge arrester.
Do Surge Protectors Work Against Direct Lightning Strikes?
Surge protectors will not protect against direct lightning strikes. Lightning bolts carry billions of joules, which can cause a lot of damage. If your home or office is struck by lightning, the energy will discharge madly through anything it finds till it hits the ground. A small lightning surge protector is not equipped to keep your signal booster and other equipment safe from that much energy. To protect your building from direct lightning strikes, it's recommended to install a lightning rod.
Do I Need a Surge Protector for a Vehicle Booster?
No. Lightning surge protectors are not available for vehicle signal boosters. The chances of a vehicle suffering from lightning surges are very slim.
Installing a Lightning Surge Protector
To ensure your investment is fully protected, lightning surge protectors must be properly installed. This includes grounding the arrester, otherwise, it won't work.
A proper installation is quite simple and can be done in a few steps. If you're not confident about installing a surge protector, you can always call an electrician to do it for you.
What to Do After Lightning Strikes?
Signal booster surge protectors use gas discharge tubes to detect spikes in voltage - almost like a fuse. When triggered, the surge protector grounds the excess energy.
Gas discharge tubes don't last forever. They can withstand multiple small surges and few large surges. After dissipating multiple surges, effectiveness decreases. Not to mention, if struck by a powerful surge, regardless of how new or old the gas discharge tube is, it can blow out - leaving the signal booster and your electrical system unprotected. Whatever the case may be, the inexpensive gas discharge tube will need to be replaced. To do so, simply unscrew the slotted knob, remove the used cartridge, insert the new one, and screw the slotted knob back in.
Customize Your System with Barrel Connectors, Crimp Connectors, & Adapters
Coaxial connectors, crimps, and adapters are probably the most common amplifier accessories since they're used to join cables with other signal booster components. With these accessories, you're able to better customise your system.
Do I Need a Barrel Connector, Crimp, or Adapter?
The majority of coaxial cables are terminated; they help maintain the cable's shielding and allow you to easily connect it to a lightning surge protector, an amplifier, an antenna, etc. However, sometimes your cable's termination isn't compatible with another cable or accessory, and other times you may need to terminate the cable yourself. Determining which accessory is best for your system will depend on your cable or coaxial terminations.
If your installation requires you to connect multiple cables with the same terminations, you'll need a barrel connector. Both ends of the barrel connector are the same, allowing you to easily connect two cables with the same termination. They are available in F-Female, N-Male, and N-Female variants.
Easily connect cables with the same terminations.
On the other hand, what if you need to connect your cable to a cable or accessory with a different termination? In that case, you'd use an adapter rather than a barrel connector. Deciding which one is best can be confusing since they look very similar. Unlike barrel connectors, adapters have different connectors on each end, allowing you to convert your cable or accessory to a different termination for an easy installation. There are a wide variety of adapters available, so to ensure you choose the right one, make sure to verify the two terminations you're trying to connect.
Crimp connectors are very different from barrel connectors and adapters. They are ideal when you need to adjust your cable's length or if you purchased a long cable without connectors. When using a crimp connector, you have the opportunity to customize your cable length and one or both ends of the cable to make installation easier. There are a variety of different crimp connectors, make sure to choose the ones designed for your specific cable type.
Allow for custom termination when customizing cable lengths.
Crimp connectors are most commonly used in professional installations. Special tools are needed to cut the cable and properly attach the connector, such as a stripper tool, crimper tool, etc.
Difference Between Connectors and Adapters
The difference between connectors and adapters is how they're used. An adapter is used to connect two types of coaxial terminations that are completely different from each other. For example, if you need to connect an SMA-Female termination to an N-Female termination, without an SMA-Male to N-Male adapter, it can't be done. A connector, on the other hand, is used to terminate a cable (crimp connector) or connect two similar cable terminations (barrel connector). For example, if you're trying to connect two cables with N-Female terminations, you wouldn't be able to without an N-Male to N-Male connector unless you customize the second cables termination with a crimp connector, which isn't practical for everybody.
Difference Between Barrel Connectors and Crimp Connectors
Crimp connectors are used to custom terminate the ends of coaxial cables to achieve exact cable length. Barrel connectors, on the other hand, are used to connect two terminations that are exactly the same, making the connections incompatible with each other. As mentioned, crimp connectors are mainly used in professional installations, while barrel connectors can easily be integrated into any signal booster installation without needing extra tools.
Easily Install Multiple Indoor Antennas with Splitters
In some cases, one indoor antenna simply doesn't do the trick. Large homes, thick walls, multiple floors, and other building materials hinder a signal boosters coverage area, resulting in poor cell reception in areas where it's needed. Using multiple indoor antennas can help overcome such challenges, allowing for better in-building cell coverage, in which case, a splitter is needed. Before purchasing a splitter and additional antennas, it's important to know how they work and when it's best to use them.
How Do Splitters Work?
As you probably already know, most signal boosters only have one indoor antenna port, preventing you from using multiple indoor antennas. A splitter connects to one input (your signal amplifier) and allows you to evenly split the boosted signal between 2 to 4 outputs (indoor antennas).
Splitting the signal introduces a small amount of signal loss per port. The amount of signal loss will vary across splitter type and manufacture. Our two-way splitters have a -3 dB loss per port, three-way splitters have a -4.8 dB loss per port, and four-way splitters have a -6 dB loss per port. As mentioned earlier, while these numbers may not seem significant, since dB is measured on a logarithmic scale, every -3 dB of signal loss is equivalent to cutting down half of the boosted signal strength.
To ensure each antenna is receiving equal amounts of signal and covering the same amount of area, each antenna cable run should be about the same length. Signal loses strength the longer it travels, so the antennas utilizing longer cables will broadcast weaker signals and cover less ground. If unequal cable runs are essential, a tap may be a better option.
Things to Be Aware of When Considering a Splitter
Because splitters introduce some loss, there are a few things to be aware of:
- You should not consider a splitter if your amplifier has less than +65 dB of gain.
- While splitting the signal allows for better coverage throughout a building, it reduces each antenna's coverage area. For example, if your repeater can cover 1000m² with a single antenna, you'll find that a four-way split will result in each antenna covering about 200m² after experiencing some signal loss.
- Those in areas with decent outside signal have enough incoming signal to feed the splitter without affecting coverage and signal strength too much. However, using a splitter in weak signal areas isn't generally recommended. Doing so will decrease signal strength and coverage area substantially, resulting in unsatisfactory coverage at each antenna.
When Should I Buy a Splitter?
Split the boosted signal between 2 or 4 indoor antennas.
You should buy a splitter if your home's unique layout prevents one antenna from providing the coverage you need, your building has multiple floors, or you have many individually walled rooms you need to cover that require similar cable runs.
HOWEVER, before buying a splitter, you should determine if you have decent outside signal. To do so, you can look at the bars on your phone or measure your signal strength in dBm (most reliable signal measuring method). Decent signal is usually 3+ bars or -95 dBm or better. If you do have decent signal, and your amplifier features +65 dB of gain or higher, a splitter is a good option. If you have weak outside signal, and you're receiving phenomenal coverage with one antenna, a splitter can be considered.
Which Splitter Should I Get?
To determine which splitter to get, you first have to figure out how many antennas you need. If you need help, please call us at 011 749 3085.
Once that's sorted, you should get a splitter that features that exact number of ports. The more ports on the splitter, the more loss each split will undergo. Finally, consider the cable you're running. If your booster system uses 50 Ohm cable, get a 50 Ohm splitter. If the booster uses 75 Ohm cable, get a 75 Ohm splitter.
Easily Install Multiple Indoor Antennas Requiring Unequal Cable Runs with Taps/Couples
Depending on your home or business' size and layout, it may not be feasible for all indoor antennas to utilize similar cable lengths, resulting in unequal coverage areas with a splitter. In this case, a tap, also known as a coupler, may be a better option.
What are Taps and How are They Different from Splitters?
Like splitters, taps are designed for multiple indoor antenna runs. However, rather than splitting the signal equally amongst all antennas, they split it unevenly, allowing the system to push a stronger signal through one output. This is especially helpful during long cable runs since signal loses strength the longer it travels. Thus, sending a stronger signal through one port allows equal signal output from each antenna along the run.
How do Taps Work?
Just by looking at a tap, you may be thinking that it only allows for two antenna runs with different signal loss at each port, which is understandable seeing as they look very similar to splitters. However, the way they're designed allows you to use multiple taps to connect more than two antennas.
The incoming boosted signal is received through the input port from the main line (the coaxial cable connected directly to the amplifier) and split between the tap and passthru ports. The tap port is used to drop antennas along a run, while the passthru port allows you to continue the main line. The main line can be used to run a long cable to either drop a second antenna without undergoing significant signal loss or attach another tap to add more antennas without sacrificing too much signal.
Because taps unevenly split the boosted signal, they are mostly for setups that have one inside antenna relatively close to the amplifier with the others being far away (requiring a long cable). The closest antenna will naturally receive a stronger signal because it utilizes a shorter cable. To ensure a strong signal reaches the other antennas, a small sacrifice has to be made, thus the tap port features a higher signal loss than the passthrough.
Split amplified signal with minimal loss during long cable runs.
Which Tap Should I Get?
Since taps come in different signal loss ratios, it can be difficult to determine which one is best for you.
Generally speaking, if you want to intergrade multiple taps, your goal is to maximize the amount of signal traveling through the main line first. In other words, you may want to use a tap with more loss at the beginning of the cable run to ensure the second tap or antenna receives a strong signal. With any additional tap, you'll want to prioritize the signal the antennas receive over the signal transmitted through the main line. Thus, for your second or third tap, you may want to use a tap with less loss to ensure a strong signal reaches the dropped antennas for a good coverage area.
The best tap(s) for your needs will be based on your existing outside signal and how many you want to install. If you're having trouble choosing a tap, feel free to call us at 011 749 3085.
Why Should I Get a Tap Over a Splitter?
There are two major reasons to buy a tap over a splitter.
First, the goal of any signal booster accessory is to best preserve your boosted signal and distribute it in the most effective way possible. Taps are an effective tool for this because they can outperform a splitter by keeping the antennas at roughly the same strength, even if they require long cable runs. With a splitter, the antennas using a shorter cable will receive a stronger signal while those farther away receive a weaker signal.
Second, with a tap, you're looking to run a single length of cable over a long space. A splitter will require two or more cable runs, each of which gives a certain amount of loss depending on how far the runs are. This not only increases the total amount of cable to run, but it costs more. A tap can perform with just a single line of cable.
Easily Install Multiple Outdoor Antennas with Splitters
If you're looking to maximize the amount of signal your system gives you, you're most likely using a Yagi antenna to snag the strongest signal possible. Unfortunately, a single Yagi antenna can only point in one direction - ideally towards your closest cell tower. Because of their directionality, more often than not, they'll pick up certain frequencies from one carrier. If you want total carrier coverage or to further improve your carrier's in-building signal, you may need multiple Yagi antennas pointing at different cell towers since they broadcast different cellular frequencies. To connect multiple directional antennas to a single amplifier, you can use a splitter.
Attenuate Signal to Eliminating Signal Overload & Improve Performance with Attenuators and Filters
Signal boosters amplify cellular signals operating under five different frequency bands. In situations where the system is receiving too much signal (sounds weird, but entirely possible) from one or multiple cell towers, the booster can overload. Per ICASA regulations, this leads the system to reduce the amplification power of the overloaded bands or shut off the overloaded bands to prevent harmful interference with nearby cell towers, which affects calls and data.
Depending on the booster you have, the light patterns or LCD screen will tell you if your booster is experiencing signal overload. Make sure to check your manual for this information as it can differ across manufacturers.
Overload can be easily fixed by moving the antenna to a spot with weaker signal or turning it away from a signal that's too strong. If this doesn't work or isn't feasible and your booster indicates one or multiple bands have reduced gain due to overload, one or more bands have shut off due to overload, or you simply aren't receiving the desired amplification due to overload challenges, you may need an attenuator.
What are Coaxial Attenuators?
Attenuation is the loss of signal strength. So, a coaxial attenuator, also known as an RF attenuator, is a device designed to reduce the strength of incoming cell signal.
How do RF Attenuators Work?
The job of an attenuator is quite simple. They are installed between your outdoor antenna and the amplifier. The attenuator prevents a certain amount of signal from reaching the amplifier, thus eliminating overload challenges. They can reduce signal strength by 10 or 20 dBs across all frequencies.
For obvious reasons, attenuators are not recommended for homes and offices located in weak signal areas. Those who would benefit are homes, offices, and commercial buildings located in the city or suburban areas where cell signal tends to be stronger due to a higher density of cell towers.
Feed Power to Your Amplifier with the Correct Signal Booster Power Supply
A power supply is required to operate any Wilson amplifier - they provide the external power needed to power a signal booster system.
There are different types of power supplies available, and each amplifier may have a specific power requirement and jack compatibility. When shopping for a spare or replacement, ensure that you get the correct one for your amplifier unit. If you're unsure of which power supply to get, take a look at your amplifier's manual or call us at 011 749 3085.
Home and commercial units use standard wall outlet power supplies. Here are a couple of our top wall power cords:
Convert your cable, accessory, or device to a variety of other terminations
Wide variety for any need
Attenuation less than 0.1 dB
Convert your cable, accessory, or device to a variety of other terminations
Wide variety for any need
Attenuation less than 0.1 dB
Simplify Your Antenna Installation with an Antenna Mount
Mounts don't need much of an explanation. They're used to easily mount your indoor or outdoor antennas to capture or broadcast cell signals. They're a necessary buy if you plan on installing your indoor antenna on a wall, or your outdoor antenna on a roof or window and don't have a chimney or other pole in just the right place to capture the strongest signal.
With so many mount options, it can be tricky to figure out which antenna mount is right for you. Fortunately, we're here to help you find the perfect mount for your situation if your booster kit doesn't include one, or the perfect replacement.
Outdoor Antenna Mounts for Commercial & Residential Buildings
A 25cm Pole Mount is the Goldilocks (just right) option for most homes and commercial signal boosters since it can be installed anywhere for optimal results. It's primarily used to set up omni-directional and Yagi antennas. If you have any concerns about placing your antenna in the best possible location, this mount is for you.
If you already have an existing pole on the perfect spot, or you want to mount the antenna on the eaves of your house, an Omni Antenna L-Bracket Mount or Pole Mount Bracket for directional antennas may be a better option.
Mounting Brackets for Outdoor Directional Antennas
For free-standing installations, meaning the antenna doesn't need to be installed on your roof, consider an Telescoping Antenna Pole. This mount is perfect for caravans, motorhomes, and anybody who can't or doesn't want to install an antenna on the roof. Plus, in some cases, this mount may be higher than your home, so if your antenna can't detect a usable signal on the roof, it may just need to be installed higher to surpass any obstacles blocking the signal.
Outdoor Antenna Mounts for Vehicles
While many vehicle boosters utilise a 2-in-1 magnet mount antenna, they aren't the best mounting solution for every application.
For trucks and bakkies, the devil is in the details when it comes to choosing an antenna mount. It should be simple to install, secure, and versatile to ensure it can be placed in the best possible spot. Due to a bakkies height and over the road conditions, using a simple magnet mount could result in damage to the antenna. Thus, the best mounts to use with trucker antennas are the 3-Way Antenna Mount for mirror installation. The latter can also be used for roof edge installations.
For mirror installations
For roof edge and mirror installations
If you have or want a signal booster for your boat, a Marine Antenna Mount is for you. It's designed to be placed near the cabin of your sailboat or yacht.
Best for marine antenna installations.
There are a few other mounts available, mostly dealing with indoor antennas, but they are pretty self-explanatory and always kitted with the appropriate antenna.
Why Do I Need to Purchase Signal Booster Accessories? Shouldn't All the Necessary Equipment be Included?
Purchasing a signal booster kit is almost like purchasing a new phone. The packaging includes the phone, a guide, headphones, and sometimes a charger - the essentials. Cases, screen protectors, fast chargers, speakers, wireless headphones, and the like, even though sold separately, are needed to protect your phone and improve your experience.
The same concept applies to amplifiers. While the kits include all essential equipment to get you started, additional equipment is sometimes needed to customize and fine-tune the system for a better experience. Plus, since the ICASA regulates and approves signal booster kits, not every accessory can be included.
About Bolton Technical
Bolton Technical, sole agent for Wilson Electronics brands of weBoost and WilsonPro in the African Region, have been integrating and supplying cell phone signal booster solutions since 2017, bridging the gap in the ever-increasing demand for improved cellular coverage in buildings and vehicles.
Bolton Technical is a giant in the field of cellular components, a leading supplier of RF accessories, antennas, and cables.
Bolton Technical’s footprint is extensive, with world class distribution hubs in USA and South Africa. Bolton Technical operates in 12 other African countries. In addition to the African continent, they also export to Canada and Australia.
For an expert consultation contact their Johannesburg-based customer support team on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 011 749 3085.