Cel-Fi Go Mobile Phone Signal Booster

 Understanding How It Works

For many, a mobile phone signal booster is essential. Once you’re away from capital cities, mobile reception in Australia is often patchy or non-existent. How can you minimise this and what are your options?

Cel-Fi GO repeater. Signal booster.
Cel-Fi Go repeater installed in our truck. Ignore the messy cables, I still had to do some tidying up!

A Cel-Fi GO For Every Occasion

Powertec Telecommunications offer a range of Cel-Fi Go repeaters. The GO range covers three broad market segments:

  • Fixed building installations for both indoor and outdoor areas. A workshop on a farm with cattle yards behind is an example.
  • Portable repeaters in a crush-proof case for industrial and mining applications. An example might be where a company has a fleet of vehicles which occasionally go to places with poor mobile reception. The case can be easily swapped between vehicles.
  • Vehicle repeaters for boosting signals in caravans, emergency vehicles or for vehicles on the move, like interstate trucks for example.

It’s the vehicle repeaters we’re interested in.

A quick look at vehicle repeaters on Powertec’s website reveals a range of options. We chose the “Trucker/4WD Edge Pack”. Why this one?

Well, we go to many remote places and this pack has the most powerful external antenna. We’re running an outback travel website, www.topwiretraveller.com and an online copywriting business, www.topwirecopy.com while on the road full time. So we need the best signal possible… which means we need the best signal booster available on the market.

Now what exactly is a Cel-Fi GO repeater? Let’s look at what it can and can’t do.



The (Not So Obvious) Benefit Of Boosting A Weak Signal

Firstly, and most importantly the Cel-Fi GO units are approved by Telstra to boost weak signals.

The units are legal and tethered to one service provider. Unlike most other illegal signal boosters, the Cel-Fi does not interfere with the network or degrade the signal for other users.

Be aware, the Cel-Fi can’t perform miracles. If there’s no signal at all, then a Cel-Fi can’t magically create a signal.

However, if you’re in an area with poor reception the Cel-Fi GO will boost the signal. So you’ll be able to send and receive phone calls, texts and go online.

And if you have a boosted signal, your data usage will likely be less. The reason is, you get charged for blocks of data. If your signal keeps dropping out, you’ll be charged for one block of data, regardless of whether it downloaded to your device or not. So you will be paying for data that you haven’t actually downloaded.

With a signal booster however, dropouts will be reduced therefore your usage charges will be lower.

Now, what do you get in a Cel-Fi GO package and what does each part do?

A Neat Package

There’s not much to them… on the surface at least! You’ll get an external antenna, an internal antenna, a Cel-Fi GO repeater unit and 12V power cord. And that’s it.

The external antenna mounts on the outside of your vehicle while the internal antenna mounts inside the cab. The Cel-Fi Go repeater sits somewhere between the two, inside the cab and close to a 12V outlet.

Powertec Telecommunications recommend you use an authorised installer and with good reason. You see, the internal and external antennas really don’t like each other much at all. They have to be isolated from each other… a bit like fighting siblings. And the external antenna needs to be mounted in a location with minimal interference.

However, I chose to install the Cel-Fi GO package myself.

I’m technically minded and really wanted to understand how the system works, by trial and error. With just a basic understanding of digital mobile signals, I jumped in feet first… and wow, what a learning curve!

So away I went. Tom the virtual assistant on the Cel-Fi Go Support page, help via email from the good people at Powertec Telecommunications and lots of online research, all combined to teach me the ins and outs of installing a functional Cel-Fi GO package.

What did I learn along the way… what did I learn that you really should know about?

Cel-Fi GO internal antenna. Signal booster.
Internal antenna temporarily installed behind the driver’s seat.

Isolation And Clear Space

First up, I learnt that Cel-Fi antennas are loners. They love isolation. The more isolation the better. What exactly am I talking about here?

I’m not suggesting you should take your external antenna out to a humpy in the bush and leave it there, off the grid and happily living the hippy lifestyle. No, the external and internal antennas need to be isolated from each other. The best way to achieve this is to have a metal roof or metal firewall between the two.

The more metal the better. Forget plastic dashboards or seat backs or windscreens. They simply won’t cut it.

If they’re not properly isolated, then the Cel-Fi GO won’t boost your signal as much as it should.

Secondly, the external antenna needs clear space around it. Some great mounting locations are:

  • On a bullbar if your vehicle has a bonnet,
  • On the roof,
  • On top of a ute canopy,
  • On the top bracket of a truck’s door mirror.

Some poor mounting locations are:

  • On the bullbar of a cabover engine (flat nose) truck. The metal face of the truck will interfere with the incoming signal.
  • Down low, say between the cab and tray on a ute. Again, the metal will interfere with the incoming signal.
Cel-Fi Go external antenna. Signal booster.
A less than ideal mounting position for the external antenna on our truck. It really should have clear space around it. In hindsight, I would probably get a better signal using a shorter antenna mounted on top of the mirror bracket.

And here’s one criticism of the external antenna. The cable is relatively short (4 metres), so you need to really think about where you’re going to mount both the antenna and the Cel-Fi GO repeater unit. This is probably not an issue for a car or 4WD, but it is with a truck.

Again, the  Cel-Fi Go Support page has some good information on how to achieve maximum isolation between the external and internal antennas.

I’ll cover installation in another article. However I did discover how to check if your antennas are properly isolated from each other.



Get The App…

You can set up the Cel-Fi GO using a few simple buttons on the repeater unit. However it’s much easier to use Cel-Fi’s free phone app, called Cel-Fi Wave. It uses Bluetooth to connect.

When you open the app, it will search for and connect with your Cel-Fi device. Once this is done, you’ll see a Dashboard. This is a quick look at what your Cel-Fi GO is doing.

Cel-Fi GO Wave app dashboard. Signal booster.
The Cel-Fi GO Wave app dashboard.

Network Strength is the strength of the signal being received at the external antenna.

Boost is the level of signal boost being provided by the Cel-Fi GO.

Operator is your service provider (Telstra, Optus or Vodafone).

Coverage is whether you’re receiving a 3G or 4G signal.

One tip: When you first use the Wave app, keep in mind what you’re looking at. Just remember, the Network Strength is the strength of the signal being received at the external antenna, not at your phone. The Boost and location of your phone relative to the internal antenna will determine signal strength at your phone.

If the Network Strength is weak, you should be seeing Boost of 7 – 9. If not, your antennas aren’t sufficiently isolated from each other.

Now to be honest, Boost did my head in for quite a while. At first, it seems obvious. However, many factors affect Boost. Just when I thought I finally understood it, something else would happen to confuse me.

So let’s get our heads around Boost…

Understanding Boost

I’ll repeat my definition:

Boost is the level of signal boost being provided by the Cel-Fi GO.

Now, if you have poor Network Strength (say 3 bars or less) then Boost should be 7 – 9. If it’s not, the external and internal antennas are interfering with each other. Yep, I’m talking about isolation again…

If you have full Network Strength (4 or 5 bars), Boost will be 0. The Cel-Fi compensates and reduces output to zero as the Network Strength increases.

Sometimes you’ll see Boost wavering between 0 and 7 as the Network Strength changes. This is normal.

If you only take one thing from this article, it’s this:

If Network Strength is 3 bars or less, then Boost should be 7 – 9. If not, then your antennas are interfering with each other and need to be better isolated.

Why do I keep repeating this?

Well, let’s go back to square one. Why do you want a signal booster? To boost a crappy mobile signal. So what’s the point in getting a Cel-Fi GO if you don’t install it properly?

Once you have antenna isolation sorted, everything falls into place.

Remember this… and save yourself lots of headaches.



Switching Coverage

Here’s a quick story to give you an idea on how useful the Cel-Fi GO can be as a signal booster.

Due to a minor family crisis (think 20 year old son + party with mates + mucking around with mates at said party + alcohol = broken bone in hand), we had to return home to Wollongong NSW for 10 days. So we camped at Bulli Caravan Park.

Now we’re only about 70km from Sydney CBD and we’re smack bang in the middle of a region with a few hundred thousand residents. So you might think our mobile signal would be pretty good. Wrong.

Our mobile mobile signal was atrocious, pretty well unusable. Web pages were taking up to 10 minutes to load. Then I had the bright idea to use the Cel-Fi as a signal booster… and this is when I discovered a simple trick.

The Cel-Fi GO was showing a full signal and was picking up the 3G network. Therefore Boost was zero. Using the Wave app, I looked at Booster Settings (Settings>Booster Settings). The Cel-Fi GO was set on Auto and picking up the 3G network in this mode, presumably because it had higher Network Strength.

Cel-Fi Go not boosting 3G network. Signal booster.
The Cel-Fi GO defaulted to the 3G network, presumably because Network Strength was higher than 4G.
Cel-Fi GO Wave app, Auto mode. Signal booster.
The Cel-Fi GO was in Auto Mode.

By selecting 4G, the Network Signal was 3 bars… but the Boost shot to 9 and stayed there!

Therefore, my phone was now showing 5 bars instead of 2. So I simply set up my phone as a hotspot and connected the computer via Bluetooth. Download speed on my computer went from around 100kB to between 1 and 2 MB and stayed there.

Cel-Fi GO Wave app, 4G mode. Signal booster.
Forcing the Cel-Fi GO into 4G Mode.
Cel-Fi Go boosting 4G network. Signal booster.
That’s more like it!

Without the Cel-Fi GO as a signal booster, my computer was pretty well unusable. And this is in the middle of a large regional city!

Summing Up

Make sure your external and internal antennas are properly isolated from each other. With this sorted, you’re well on your way to achieving fantastic signal boosting from your Cel-Fi GO.

And if you’re having trouble connecting online, see if 4G is available and use this instead… even when you’re in a city.

Next time we’ll look at installing a Cel-Fi GO repeater, how to check whether your external antenna is performing to its maximum potential and ways to ensure good isolation between the external and internal antennas.

 

You can buy Cel-Fi Go products here.

 

Questions or comments? Ask away in the Comments section below.

Any errors or omissions are mine alone.

 

Note: This article contains an affiliate link to Amazon Australia.


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