Cel-Fi Go Mobile Phone Signal Booster – Understanding How It Works

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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

Cel-Fi 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.

You can buy a Cel-Fi GO package for Optus, Vodafone or Telstra here.

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 “Cel-Fi GO Mobile Trucker 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, Optus and Vodafone to boost weak signals.

The units are legal and tethered to one service provider. So make sure you buy the Cel-Fi model suited to your carrier.

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’ll 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.

Cel-Fi 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 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 the two antennas aren’t properly isolated from each other, 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. We’ve since fitted a shorter antenna up high behind the cab. This gives us a much better signal. The downside is, it has a shorter range than the tall antenna.

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 cover installation in detail here. However I did discover how to check if your antennas are properly isolated from each other…. use the app!

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 connects to the Cel-Fi GO via Bluetooth.

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 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 a Cel-Fi GO package for Optus, Vodafone or Telstra here.

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24 thoughts on “Cel-Fi Go Mobile Phone Signal Booster – Understanding How It Works”

  1. Hi
    We have just put cel Fi go in our house we have all bars green and a boost of 8 sometimes 9 have got units a fair way apart.
    Also our phone set up is with Telstra but NGWL setup
    Is this all good
    Downlink power 8 Dbn
    Uplink power 2 dbn
    Iam still trying to understand it
    Before we had it our 3G signal we had one bar on our phone
    Are we doing this right and getting what we need out of cel fi
    40 k from Walgett NSW

    • Hi Sue,

      It’s a bit hard to comment without seeing the installation. The boost of 8-9 is good, exactly what you want. You said you had 1 bar on your phone before you installed the Cel-Fi. Has the signal strength on your phone improved? If so, then it sounds like the Cel-Fi is doing its job.

      Downlink power of 8 dBm means your download signal strength is being boosted by about 6 times, while uplink power of 2dBm means your upload signal strength is being boosted by about 1.5 times.

      Does this make sense?

      By the way, many moons ago I worked on a property out past Cumborah. Love the country out there, you’re in a great part of the world.

      Cheers, Andrew

  2. G’day Andrew. I can’t thank you enough for this article. I am on my second Cel Fi Go. The first one I could not get to work at all and the tech support people were absolutely no help. I got my money back and tried again just recently. I am now getting 5 bars on boost on 3G (we live in Central Vic) but I can seldom get any internet connection. Again, the bods I bought it from (different mob this time) are clueless. The external antenna is on the bullbar of my MQ Triton and the internal aerial is in the the little cubby in front of the gear selector. Any thoughts greatly appreciated. I cannot seem to find anyway who can advise me.

    • Hi Michael,

      No worries! From the setup you describe, it should work okay. Your best bet is to give Powertec Telecommunications (in QLD) a call or go to the Support page on their website. Powertec have the licence to sell the Cel-Fi GO in Australia, so they have years of experience with all different setups and installations.

      Give them a call and let me know if they get it sorted for you.

      Cheers, Andrew

      • Thanks Andrew

        I bought my first unit from Powertec and, although their tech support were responsive, they certainly weren’t very helpful or knowledgeable in my experience. They just blaming the tower, or the carrier or the phone manufacturer for using incompatible frequencies, megahertz, and a whole lot of other technical jargon. They never once suggested the installation or position of antennas may be to blame. This time around I purchased from a local telstra store in Central Vic and he encouraged me to only use the 3G setting rather than auto. I seem to get good phone reception but only intermittent internet access. Strange to have 4 bars of 3 G and no internet. Anyway, thanks to your article I will relocate antennas and try and work it out for myself. There is a distinct lack of knowledge amongst the people selling these things and professional installers appear to be few and far between. All the best.

        • Hi Michael,

          That’s surprising, I found Powertec to be really helpful.

          I assume you only have 3G where you are. If so, then the person in the local Telstra store was right about only using the 3G setting. But if you occasionally get patches of 4G, I would leave it in Auto. From my experience, the Cel-Fi GO defaults to the strongest signal when it’s in Auto. Normally the strongest signal is 3G. So the Cel-Fi GO will be picking up and boosting the 3G network anyway.

          The problem is most likely the 3G network in your area. Everything on the Internet is now set up for 4G or even 5G speeds. So it often won’t load at all on the 3G network any more. You’re still able to make phone calls on 3G, but the Internet will be incredibly slow… if it loads at all.

          The other thing is, the 3G network in your area is probably running at full capacity. 3G is old technology now, so Telstra aren’t increasing its capacity or doing any upgrades to the network. They’re concentrating more on 4G and 5G. So that will slow the Internet down even further.

          If you do get patches of 4G, then the Cel-Fi GO will boost the signal and you should be able to use the Internet on 4G.

          It really depends on what you want the Cel-Fi GO to do. If you’re using it to extend your phone coverage for calls on 3G, it should help you. But if you’re trying to use the 3G network for Internet, then it probably won’t help. And as I said before, I’m guessing the 3G network in your area is at or over full capacity. If that’s the case, then the problem is with the network not the Cel-Fi GO.

          I need to update the info about the Wave app (above) to show the latest Wave app features. Down the bottom of your screen, you should see 3 circles… Signal Quality, Signal Strength and Boost.

          Signal Quality tells you how good the quality of the incoming signal is (from the tower). I just checked 3G and 4G in Wollongong NSW (a large regional city). Even here in the middle of a city, it’s only 38% on 4G. 3G is 90%.

          Signal strength is good to know, but doesn’t tell you much.

          Boost is way more important than Signal Strength. Mine is showing 100% for both 3G and 4G. So the Cel-Fi GO is doing its job by boosting the incoming signal.

          If your Boost is close to 100% then the Cel-Fi GO is working properly and the antennas are isolated from each other.

          The other thing to look at is your external antenna. We originally fitted the Blackhawk Trucker Edge 107cm Antenna (6/8dBi gain). But because we couldn’t isolate the antennas, I had to get a shorter Blackhawk Trucker Mini Antenna (3/5dBi gain). The longer antenna (Trucker Edge 107cm) is way more powerful. So if you have the short antenna, it could be worthwhile replacing it with the longer one.

          I hope this helps. Let me know how you go with it. I’m more than happy to help.

          Cheers, Andrew

  3. Hi Andrew
    Really appreciate your detailed knowledge. I had a cel fi go installed by Michael’s Electrical in Toowoomba and all seems good.
    My question is can more than one device use the repeater at one time? If not I assume hotspot is the best option

    • Thanks Ronald! To answer your question… yes, multiple devices can use the Cel-Fi Go at one time. We often use more than one device.
      Cheers, Andrew

      • Thanks Andrew
        Only one device will connect via the Wave app at a time so I thought only that one was being boosted. How do I know other than looking at the Bluetooth connection that the phone or device is being boosted? Apology for the silly questions!

        • Hi Ronald,

          Yes it’s all a bit confusing!

          The Wave app is simply a tool for access to the Cel-Fi’s settings. It doesn’t affect whether or not a phone is connected. In other words, you don’t need the Wave app to use the booster. In fact, anyone can wander past your booster and they’ll get the benefit (assuming they’re using the same carrier).

          You’ll know when the device is being boosted by the signal bars (the ones which show how much reception you have). It might not change until you start using the device – see my earlier reply to Kevin H.

          And the only silly question is the one you don’t ask! 🙂

          Cheers, Andrew

    • Hi Kevin,

      We find our phones sometimes take a while to detect the boosted signal. I’m not sure why. When you start using the phone over the network, it should detect the boosted signal then.

      One other thing, are you definitely within range of the internal antenna?

      Cheers, Andrew

  4. Hi Andrew,

    Have just noticed on my wave app that boost has been replaced with Antenna Separation. Is this still the same as boost or is it something new

    Regards Bruce

    • Hi Bruce,

      Boost and separation are inter-related. However, Antenna Separation is a way of checking whether both antennas are sufficiently isolated from each other (which affects Boost).

      Use Antenna Separation when you’re setting up your antennas. Move them around until you get good separation.

      Cheers, Andrew

  5. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for that but my question is about the wave app which in the latest update has replaced the boost value with an antenna separation value so I am not sure how now to check boost or in their terms is it one and the same

    • Hi Bruce,

      Sorry, now I understand what you mean. Yes, if you get the antenna separation right with the Wave app, then the boost will work properly.

      Cheers, Andrew

  6. Hi Andrew,
    Great article, I was wondering if I install the cel-fi in my twin cab, would I get the boost signal in my caravan?
    I have a aluminium canopy on the back.

    • Hi Craig,

      Unlikely. The canopy will most likely block the signal. I know of someone who has a similar setup to yours. They have left the internal antenna loose and move it between the cab and their caravan as needed. Maybe you could look at doing something similar?

      Cheers, Andrew

  7. I have a Black Hawk trucker external antenna roof mounted. Can I use the small external magnetic antenna as the donor antenna to improve the range that I can use my phone from the car?

    • Hi Jeff,

      No, the magnetic external antenna only receives the mobile signal. It doesn’t transmit it. The small flat antenna transmits the signal to your phone. Hope this helps.

      Cheers, Andrew

  8. Hi Andrew,

    Great read thank-you. With my setup would I get coverage in the vehicle driving if I have both the celfi unit and internal antenna installed in our alloy canopy? Spot would be the face against the headboard. As it’s a lift off canopy I want the option to have it at camp with celfi ready for the family.

    • Hi Ryan,

      I doubt you’d get much of a signal boost when you’re in the cab. The internal antenna would have to transmit through the alloy then the rear steel wall of the cab. Another option would be to get 2 internal antennas, mount one in the cab and the other in the canopy, then connect the one you need.

      The other option would be to mount the Cel-Fi and internal antenna in the vehicle, then park it close to your campsite. That’s generally what we do.

      Hope this helps.

      Cheers, Andrew

  9. Hi Andrew,
    I have a celfi go on my houseboat – the separation is 100%, signal strength fluctuates but generally is at 80%, but signal quality is 17% max and whilst I have 4 bars on my wifi hotspot, no improvement on any internet downloads. Is this a bandwidth/carrier issue or should I redo my installation? My celfi go unit is about 4 meters away from the external antenna (antenna is fixed to a colourbond roof) under the colourbond roof and the internal antenna is on the ground floor at the front of the boat, probably 10 meters from external antenna in a direct line. The colourbond roof seems to be providing ok isolation, but I really want to improve the signal quality. any ideas?

    • Hi Caroline,

      It sounds like the internal and external antennas are interfering with each other. If I understand you correctly, the two antennas are well away from each other. Apart from the colourbond roof, is there any other steel structure between the two? And does the colourbond roof completely shield both antennas from each other?

      By accident, I discovered car windscreen reflective sunshields (like the one in the photo of our truck in this article) are great for isolating the two antennas. If you have one of these, try placing it between the two antennas and see if your signal quality improves.

      Also, check that nothing else is interfering with the external antenna’s incoming signal. If there’s another steel structure near it, this could be causing the issue.

      Hope this helps.

      Cheers, Andrew


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