Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

How to get better mobile reception at home

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Screenshot of Three's InTouch appThere are probably thousands of people in Britain whose mobile phones struggle to work in their homes – if at all. Mobile phone signals tend to be weaker indoors and if you’re already a long way from a mast then you may have no signal whatsoever in your own home. It’s a particular problem for rural areas but can happen anywhere.

If this affects you then you may be relieved to know that there are solutions – but these vary depending on which network you use, and some cost money.

Femtocells

A femtocell is a small low-power mobile phone base station that you can install in your own home. These tend to only have a short range – around 15 metres, which should be enough to cover your home. They plug into your home broadband connection, and route your calls and text messages via your ISP. Each handset needs to be registered with the base station and usually there’s a limit of four or five handsets. They will also all have to be on that particular network, so it’s only really worth it if everyone in the house uses the same network.

Vodafone’s femtocell is called Sure Signal and is available for a one-off payment of £100. Three offers Home Signal – I wasn’t able to see a price so I’m not sure if it’s still available. EE, incorporating T-Mobile UK and Orange customers, offers Signal Box but it doesn’t appear to be available to any new customers at the moment.

Smartphone apps

The other method is through a smartphone app. If you have no signal, but are connected to a wifi connection, then your calls and texts can be routed through wifi to an app on your phone. The advantage of this is that the apps are free and work anywhere with wifi – handy if your own home has good signal but a relative’s doesn’t.

Three offers Three InTouch, which I’ve pictured in the screenshot as I’m a Three customer. O2 offers O2 TU Go, which is also available on tablets and designed so that you can make calls on other devices as well, but using your regular phone number. Some ex-Orange customers on EE have access to Signal Boost but, again, it’s not available to new customers. Therefore if you’re planning to sign up to EE then I would definitely recommend that you check what their coverage is like in your area first.

The disadvantage of the apps is that calls will not show up in your call logs, and text messages will only show in the app and not in your handset’s default text messaging app. But, better than not being able to receive text messages at all, I suppose.

So, in summary, Three gives you the most options, Vodafone makes you pay and EE doesn’t care.

This article on the Which? blog was a big help in writing this piece.

One Comment

  1. I think there might be a subtle difference between the Three app and others, such as Orange. Orange Signal Boost uses the wifi to support the connection as long as it’s available, but uses whichever route is most convenient at the time.

    Years ago there was a system called UMA that relayed calls & text over IP networks (i.e. wifi) – I remember seeing one on a fancy Nokia in the office a decade ago. Maybe this is what Signal Boost does as well. Calls and texts should appear in the usual way, i.e. it’s the phone at the network level doing the routing – the user-facing apps couldn’t care less which way the communication happens.

    Three, on the other hand, looks like it’s a standalone VOIP tool of some kind?

    BTW Vodafone will give you a Sure Signal for free if you kick up enough of a fuss about their signal – for business customers, at least ;-)

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