Using T-Mobile and stuck with one bar at home? A signal booster can help

After a long dry spell, T-Mobile USA (opens in new tab) is once again providing signal boosters to customers who meet criteria for the devices. A signal booster can amplify a weak cell signal to make it easier to use your cell phone in your home. What's more, the signal booster is offered to qualifying customers for free.

T-Mobile's made great strides over the past year to build out their wireless network. There are still some weak spots, however. Until T-Mobile gets its towers operating at 700 MHz (expected later this year) — and until customers upgrade to phones that support LTE Band 12 — building penetration is going to be limited, as well. So if phone service is weak in your house, what should you do?

Up until 2013, T-Mobile offered certain postpaid customers the ability to acquire a signal booster manufactured by Nextivity called Cel-Fi. The device comprises two pieces: a window unit that sends and receives the cell signal and a coverage unit, placed elsewhere in the home. The Cel-Fi takes an existing 3G or 4G cell signal and amplifies it, enabling you to make and receive phone calls within a coverage area of about 13,000 square feet.

T-Mobile stopped offering signal boosters as the company revamped and built out its network. Additionally, the Cel-Fi device maker, Nextivity, worked on a new version that supports additional radio frequencies T-Mobile now depends on. Now that device is shipping, according to information posted on the Cel-Fi web site, with availability beginning at the end of May, 2014.

This works different than the AT&T 3G MicroCell, a "mini cellular tower" AT&T offers to some customers with weak signal strength in their home. The MicroCell connects to your broadband Internet service; the Cel-Fi operates using existing cell service. As a result, you do need at least one bar of 3G or 4G service from T-Mobile somewhere in your home to connect.

If you're a T-Mobile "postpaid" customer, and if you have only one bar of 3G or 4G service in your home, you may want to give T-Mobile customer service a call to inquire about obtaining a signal booster. T-Mobile makes them available to customers who meet specific qualifications (what those qualifications are is a bit of a mystery; they don't list them on their web site).

If, for whatever reason, you're not able to get one from T-Mobile, you can consider buying one from Nextivity yourself, but be prepared to pony up $575 for the privilege.

Peter Cohen
  • T-Mobile called me 2 days ago about sending me one out of the blue since signal in my apartment isn't the greatest (-120 to -100 dBM or 1-2 bars). Hopefully this means better speeds! I wonder if these signal boosters are tied to your phone, like the AT&T MicroCells were (max 5 per signal booster if I remember correctly).
  • No. They're not registered to your phone. (If they work the same as the previous generation.)
  • I just requested for one. Thanks for the heads up Peter. The previous version would not work with an iPhone. But the tech rep said this 1 does work with current iPhones. Everything was free, shipping the device is free; there is no lease but when returning the device. I was informed there is a $20 cover charge to receive the boxes to ship back to T-Mobile.
  • Allegedly, you have to make a complaint or grievance at their Customer Care number, but when I called and got two on two different accounts, the rep on the phone told me that there is an escalation form that can be done at the store, possibly as a customer retention mechanism.
  • Top quality boosters free to qualified T-Mobile customers. This new booster works with the new refarmed 1900 frequency and the older 1700. These also increase data speeds. You must keep your phone on HSPA+ and you will be all set. Thank You T-Mobile.
  • To meet the criteria you need to be in an area where there is low coverage. Have a bill of $60 or more and have At least one bar of 4g somewhere in your house. I just acquired one two weeks ago. Sent from the iMore App
  • i had this model on trial from Orange UK a number of years ago, i couldnt get it to work, so it went back.
  • It's so worth noting that although there is no charge for the booster, if/when you leave tmobile and do not return the booster to tmobile, you will be charged $500.00 for it. So it's "free" while you use it and only if you return it in working condition. Sent from the iMore App
  • Peter Cohen, do you know whether this is available for those who have Tmobile service through Walmart Family Mobile?
  • I need a signal booster. When we got or lg g3 they worked ok now it goes between full signal but no g at all and cant do anything. Then next thing you know i have 2 g 1 or 2 bars. Then it will go to 3 g or 4g never more than 2 bars. This is at my house and when we got our phones they were supposed to work great