Cell Phone Signal Boosters: Voice, 2G, 3G, and 4G – What You Need to Know

For more than a decade, since the widespread use of the mobile phone, North American cell phone carriers used one, or both of the Cellular 850 MHz and PCS 1900 MHz frequency bands to carry their voice and data. Purchasing a cell phone signal booster for your home was fairly simple 10 years ago as AT&T and Verizon pretty much used 850 MHz for everything in most states and PCS carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile used 1900 MHz. If you wanted to cover all carriers and data technologies, you simply purchased a dual band (850/1900 MHz) booster and all was well. While that is still somewhat the case, with the emergence of 3G, 4G, AWS, WiMax, LTE, etc. there is simply not enough space in the 850 and 1900 MHz spectrums to handle all of today’s cell phone technologies. Today, just about all carriers have branched out from the traditional dual band ranges to operate at least some of their technologies in other spectrums.

The purpose of this article is to give you a basic overview of some of the major carriers, which frequencies they use, and which technologies those frequencies are used for. Hopefully this will aid in your comprehension of cell phone signal boosters and which one may be right for your application. Please note that this article is from July 2013 and the information below may no longer be completely accurate at the time of reading.

AT&T

AT&T’s voice ( 2G), 3G and HSPA+ (4G) networks operate on 850 or 1900 MHz across the United States. So if you are just looking to boost these technologies, a traditional dual band cell phone signal booster will suffice. It is important to note that HSPA+ or High Speed Packet Access Plus is AT&T’s 3G network with enhanced backhaul that has been marketed as 4G. It is not 4G LTE, which has been a source of confusion for many of our customers. If your phone, tablet, MiFi, etc. shows “4G” next to the signal bars, then you are on the HSPA+ network. If your phone, tablet, MiFi, etc. shows “LTE” next to the signal bars then you are on the LTE network. AT&T 4G LTE runs on the 700 MHz band on bands 4 and 17. It is important to note that AT&T 4G LTE is for data only. Phone calls and text messages are still transmitted on the 850 or 1900 MHz band. So, if you’re looking to boost AT&T 4G LTE data only, look for a booster labeled specifically for AT&T 4G LTE. If you need to boost voice, 2G, 3G, 4G and AT&T 4G LTE data then you will need to look for an AT&T Tri-Band booster which supports 850 MHz, 1900 MHz, and 700 MHz bands 4 and 17 (AT&T 4G LTE).

Verizon

Verizon’s voice (2G) and 3G (EVDO) networks operate on 850 or 1900 MHz across the United States. In most states, 850 MHz is used for voice and 1900 MHz is used for data. If you are just looking to boost voice calls, text messages and 3G data, look no further than a traditional dual band cell phone signal booster. Verizon 4G LTE, like AT&T 4G LTE, operates in 700 MHz spectrum, but on band 13. Just as with AT&T, if you’re looking to boost Verizon 4G LTE data only, look for a booster made specifically for Verizon 4G LTE. If you need to boost, voice, 3G, and 4G LTE data you will need to look for a Verizon Tri-Band booster which supports 850 MHz, 1900 MHz, and 700 MHz band 13 (Verizon 4G LTE).

Sprint

Sprint’s 2G and 3G networks on the traditional dual band frequencies nationwide, although mostly 1900 MHz. It is increasingly difficult to find a PCS only residential booster, so your best bet is a traditional dual band booster. Sprint’s first generation of 4G ran in the Wimax band (2.5 GHz) and is still widely deployed. Recently, Sprint has launched its 4G LTE network which runs on a mix of Wimax and 1900 MHz, and soon, a part of the 800 band, which was previously dedicated for Nextel/iDEN. Your best bet for Sprint 4G data at this time is to call customer service and ask which frequencies they are using in your area for the technology you are interested in boosting. If Wimax is used in your area, a Sprint 4G Wimax booster is what you need. There are currently no boosters on the market for Sprint 4G LTE which will initially be deployed on the G block of the 1900 MHz Spectrum.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile runs on 1900 MHz for voice, 2G, and text messaging. Again, with it being hard to find a quality residential PCS only cell phone signal booster, a dual band booster is the way to go. T-Mobile’s 3G and 4G HSPA+ networks run on the AWS or Advanced Wireless Services band (1700MHz / 2100 MHz) but are in the process of being transitioned to the 1900 MHz band to make way for their LTE network, which will operate on the AWS band. At the time of this writing, choose a dual band booster for voice and 2G data. If you’re looking to boost 3 or 4G data, it is best to call customer service to see which spectrum is being used for 3 or 4G data in your area before purchasing a booster. Like with the other major carriers, boosting 3 or 4G AWS data will require a booster specifically labeled for AWS. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where T-Mobile has already transitioned their 3 and 4G networks to 1900 MHz, a traditional dual band booster will now work for not only voice and 2G data, but 3 and 4G data as well. If you’re looking for a booster which will cover everything T-Mobile has to offer (including 4G LTE), no matter where you live or what frequencies are in use, you will want to look at a T-Mobile Tri-Band booster.

MetroPCS

MetroPCS uses 1900 MHz for voice calls. Some of their 3G service is offered on 1900 MHz while in some areas it runs on the AWS band (1700/2100 MHz). The AWS band is also used for their 4G LTE network. If looking to boost Metro PCS voice only, a traditional dual band booster will work. If looking to boost 3G data, it is best to call customer service first to find out what frequency they are using for your area. If looking to boost MetroPCS 4G LTE, you will need an AWS booster. If you’re looking for a booster which will cover everything MetroPCS has to offer (including 4G LTE), no matter where you live or what frequencies are in use, you will want to look at a Tri-Band booster which includes 850/1900 and AWS frequencies.

Cricket Wireless

Cricket uses 1900 MHz for voice calls. Cricket’s 3G data service utilizes the Sprint 3G CDMA network. So, if looking to boost voice and 3G data for Cricket, a traditional dual band booster is all that is needed. Cricket also owns some AWS spectrum on which they offer their 4G LTE service. If looking to boost Cricket 4G LTE you will need an AWS booster

So now that you are armed with the major carrier frequency and technology information, your decision on which cell phone signal booster you need to purchase should be easier.

By Ryan C. Jackson

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