Do you live or work in an area with mediocre signal coverage for your mobile phone carrier? I know how frustrating it can be to have a weak signal, receive a call and have it drop right in the middle of an important conversation. Been there, done that… That’s why I continue to look for inexpensive ways to boost my AT&T signal. My latest potential solution is the Cell Ranger PORT from Mogo Wireless, Inc.
The Cell Ranger is available in a USB version and a 12V version for your vehicle. This product claims to boost your cellular signal by 2-3 bars, increase call clarity and increase 3G download speeds up to 200%. Wow, those are pretty bold claims… By the way, the Cell Ranger works with every cellular carrier except Sprint/Nextell. The packaging says that it is made to boost 800Mhz and 1900Mhz. AT&T is 850Mhz, so I’m a little confused, but let’s give it a try…
The USB version is called the PORT and is shown above. The 12V version called the STIX looks the same except that it has a 12V connector instead of a USB connector. Both versions have a 4.75 inch antenna with a magnetic base and 15ft of cable. The connector end has a small Green LED that lights up when it is connected to a live USB port (or power port in your car).
Setting up the Cell Ranger should be easy, but it all depends on where you need your cellular signal boosted. For example, the place where my AT&T signal is the weakest, is in my basement office. The instructions tell you to place the antenna in a location where the signal is stronger and make sure that you use all 15 feet of the cable. It’s also supposed to work better if the antenna is separated from the Cell Ranger connector by a wall or obstacle so that the line of sight is blocked.
Testing in a basement office with a weak signal
In my office, I placed the antenna on the basement windowsill and plugged the other end into a powered USB hub in my iMac about 10 ft away. I then went into the Field Test mode on my 2G iPhone (dial *3001#12345#*) and kept an eye on the upper Left corner of the iPhone’s display.
In the image above, you see a reading of -93. That’s a pretty crummy signal. The less negative the value is, the stronger the signal. So for example, -95 is a weak signal and -70 is a stronger signal. As you can see, my signal is not very good at all. For a couple hours I conducted several tests where I compared the field test meter with the Cell Ranger connected and then disconnected. For all the test, I had the iPhone within 1 to 6 feet of the Cell Ranger connector. The results weren’t good, but were pretty consistent. Here are two average readings:
-91 without Cell Ranger, -99 with Cell Ranger
-93 without Cell Ranger, -93 with Cell Ranger
I thought that the bad performance must have something to do with the fact that I wasn’t blocking the line of sight as suggested. So I scrounged around in one of my gadget drawers and found an AC adapter with a USB socket. I unplugged the Cell Ranger from my iMac, plugged it into the AC adapter and then plugged the AC adapter into a wall socket on the back wall of my office. I then ran the antenna cable out the door and placed the antenna on one of the steps leading upstairs. Unfortunately, the readings weren’t any different with this setup. They continued to stay around -91 to -95 with or without the Cell Ranger plugged in. Not impressive so far…
Before I gave up on this product, I decided to try two more tests in a totally different location – the office and lab building where I work during the day.
Testing in a office building with good signal
The first test was at my cube. I have a good signal here and normally do not have any problems with dropped calls. I placed the magnetic antenna base on a file cabinet around the corner from my cube and then plugged the Cell Ranger USB connector into my Dell laptop.
Here are the iPhone field test readings that I recorded in approximately 30 minutes time:
-85, -83, -93, -87 without Cell Ranger, -77, -85, -77 with Cell Ranger
-77 nice! Finally a higher reading. Which probably leads you to realize an important fact… you have to have a good signal before you can make it better. But let’s try one more test.
Testing in a lab building
For this test, I’m also going to test it with a Verizon phone along with my iPhone. My friend who works in the lab building is always complaining about dropped calls, so we’ll see if the Cell Ranger helps him. I won’t be able to see field test strength numbers for the Verizon phone, but we’ll see if we can tell a difference by making and receiving calls.
We setup the Cell Ranger in a similar fashion as before (with line of sight blocked) and came up with these field strength numbers on my iPhone:
No Service without Cell Ranger, 107 with Cell Ranger
Yikes, AT&T Black hole land there… Bill’s Verizon phone gained a bar when we plugged in the Cell Ranger, but after we unplugged it, it still have the same number of bars. So go figure…
You may have heard the old saying: “You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.” That’s pretty much my thoughts on the Cell Ranger PORT. If you aren’t already within 15 feet of a good cellular signal, this product is not going to help you much, if at all. From my limited testing, the only time my signal improved while using this product, was when I was already in an area with a good signal to begin with. For that fact, I don’t find it to be all that convenient or useful.