Review: Wilson Electronics 841262 Cell Phone Repeater
Fred Harding of Capitol Sales reviews Wilson Electronics' 841262 DB Pro Cell Phone Repeater System, putting it to the test in his home and at a local performing arts center.
Editor’s Note: Fred Harding works for Capitol Sales, a reseller of Wilson Electronics products. His review, nevertheless, provides a useful analysis for CE pros.
I live on the West Coast of Wisconsin. It’s an area that is full of hills, coulees, cut passes and the like. It has terrible cell phone reception, to the point where my wife and I changed carriers when we moved here three years ago.
Wilson Electronics has been making products in Utah for many years. Wilson offers cell phone repeating systems for a portion of those years. I jumped at the opportunity to test the 841262 DB Pro Kit.
Cell Phone Repeating Systems 101
Cell phone repeating systems consist of an external antenna, cabling, an amplifier, more cabling and a rebroadcasting antenna that lives inside the building. The 841262 also includes a bracket for the external antenna.
As with any RF type of signal, rules apply. Putting the receiving antenna up high on the outside of the structure improves your chances of receiving a signal. Omni directional antennas are easier to install, but directional, Yagi-style antennas will potentially do a better job when focused properly. Signal strength attenuates over cable distance. If no signal is present, you won’t get anything after the repeater.
Feedback is bad, so the amplifiers Wilson offers include circuitry designed to prevent the outside antenna from receiving the rebroadcasted signal from inside the structure, which is called oscillation. Different types of building materials can shield or block some or all of a signal. If the signal is blocked by building materials (a tin roof, for example), placing the receiving antenna outside the structure will assist signal strength. I was not able to have too many phones on the circuit at one time, but I tested in a town with a population of 68.
Putting Wilson to the Test
The 841262 kit is designed to work in structures up to 5,000 square feet. Wilson is happy to assist in helping define what sort of system a structure might require if you are dealing with a larger scale application.
The first test I tried was at my house. It was not a rousing success, only because I have good enough signal strength in every room in my house. I was able to notice an improvement in the number of bars, but since I started with good strength throughout the house, I really didn’t notice a difference. Clearly, checking signal strength before starting is a good first step.
The second test was a great success. I went to the local performing arts center and was able to just barely get one bar of signal outside the building. Inside, the phone showed nothing. I temporarily clamped the omni antenna onto a railing on the second floor and ran RG-6 coax into the building, first into the amp, and then on to the rebroadcasting antenna.
After all connections were made, but before powering up, I again checked for signal and got the same dismal results. I plugged in the power supply, and adjusted the gain pots (one for the 800 MHz band and one for the 1900 MHz band) until they turned red. I backed off from there, and when the lights consistently only blinked green, I stopped twiddling. Based on the amp, it looks like I added between 55 and 60 dB worth of gain.
Taking my trusty test phone out, I found that I had between four and five bars worth of signal throughout the auditorium. Going downstairs to the first floor, I got a bar or two less; others indicated similar results with different phones and different carriers. When I unplugged the amp, the signal strength went back into the dismal range it normally lived in.
What I learned, essentially, was that without any signal present, you won’t get anything. With decent signal present, you won’t know if it works better, because you have decent signal to begin with. The system works on the bands that are used in the United States, so if you have AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, or some other carrier, you will be supported.
I also learned that placement of the receiving antenna is moderately critical with the omni antenna, and clearly more critical with the Yagi-style of directional antenna. Knowing which way to point an antenna clearly will make a difference. I’m a huge fan of surge protection, and would recommend deploying Wilson’s product on any external antenna installation.
I learned that for smaller structures, standard RG-6 or RG-6 Quad shield will work well. For longer runs, more robustly shielded 50 ohm cable is essential; following recommendations on the Wilson site on termination for those types of fittings is prudent.
Once you install one of these systems and actually improve performance at a residence, chances are very good that you will have the opportunity to install one in a neighboring home or business. It’s remarkably easy to qualify whether someone needs the product or not, and with cell phone use continuing to grow at a prodigious clip, demand is not likely to diminish for improving signal strength.
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Fred Harding is in sales and technical support at Capitol Sales, a full service distributor of electronic installation hardware. He is a frequent contributor to CE Pro, writing hands-on product reviews and technical tips. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Fred at email@example.com
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