The only cell phone tower near my farm is slowly getting masked by trees as the forest next door grows up, and the cell phone reception in my house is dreadful.
I just bought a Verizon Network Extender and couldn’t be happier. This is a device that looks like a wireless access point but acts like a miniature cell phone tower, using your DSL or cable modem to reach the cellular network. Our phones went from zero bars to four! Woo-hoo!
This is a zero-config device: I plugged it in and it self-configured within about 20 minutes. I didn’t have to set a single parameter.
And it not only covers the whole house, but extends quite a way beyond it, even to the mailbox on the other side of the road. Generally speaking, reception in the house is worse than anywhere else, so it completely covers the problem area.
The retail price of this technological wonder (called a “femtocell” in the biz) is a wince-inducing $250, but I found a “$50 off All Accessories” coupon online, and, much to my surprise, found a $50 rebate form inside the box that’s good through most of January, so it really cost me only $150. There is no monthly fee.
It doesn’t handle 3G traffic (though your 3G devices will fall back to the “1X” standard, which it does handle, though slowly). and I don’t know if non-Verizon subscribers can roam through it or not. But sure solved my problem!
There are similar devices out there that work with other carriers, plus a wide variety of cellular signal boosters that use an outdoor antenna to talk to the cell phone tower, and an amplifier and an indoor antenna to talk to your cell phones. The main difference is that boosters don’t work in areas where you have no signal at all, while network extenders that use your cable or DSL links do.
These devices will probably turn out to be a must-have for rural residents everywhere.
[Update, March 24, 2010: After more than two months of use, I’m still very pleased. The higher signal quality means that our cell phone batteries last for many days rather than just one, and I no longer have to hunt around the house and farm for Karen if I need to talk to her: I can always reach her by phone. That wasn’t true before. The only downside is that the extender adds a noticeable time lag when both ends of the conversation are going through it! This only happens when both parties are on the farm, of course.]