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Your own personal cell phone antenna
December 31, 2008 3:03 PM   Subscribe

31% of households get most or all of their calls on their cell phones. Unfortunately coverage remains problem, particularly indoors. Some rather interesting folk remedies have been suggested, but the preferred solution appears to be your own personal cellular antenna. Trials have been going on for a while now. And with a crystal clear 3G signal in your house, you may just want to skip setting up your own wireless network entirely.
posted by tkolar (24 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Insert bitching about Canadian telcos.
posted by mek at 3:11 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, skip setting up your own wireless network entirely, if you don't mind slow speeds, ridiculously limited per-month bandwidth caps, paying for time used like it's 1980s CompuServe, and you only have one computer. No thanks, I think I'll stick with my cable modem and wireless router.

The personal cell antenna thing is neat nonetheless, though. I only have a cell phone, and coverage is usually pretty OK indoors, but sometimes it sucks. If it were cheap ($60 or less), I might go for it.
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:20 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


The 3G as wifi thing would be great except that, as DecemberBoy points out, it's much more expensive and somewhat less functional.
posted by selfnoise at 3:23 PM on December 31, 2008


Are you kidding me? I bought a personal cell repeater femtocell doohickey. Sited the antenna up on the roof, installed the little repeater. Now I get great cell phone reception.. as long as I'm within five feet of the retransmitter. You know, roughly cord distance.
posted by Nelson at 3:33 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


To be absolutely concrete about it: Your WiFi setup with DSL or Cable Modem will see network latency to public Web sites of one to two tenths of a second. Your 3G setup will see 3/4 to 1-1/2 seconds of latency. This is a huge difference in your experience of performance.

Taking Web browsing as an example, a page that loads in half a second on WiFi could take four seconds on 3G. This will annoy you greatly. And no matter how much 3G download speeds improve, latency is not likely to get better over the next few years.
posted by sdodd at 3:35 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I was a boy, you dialed a phone by sticking your fingertip into a hole drilled into a piece of plastic and twirling.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:42 PM on December 31, 2008 [14 favorites]


Repeaters are one thing, but the idea of actually having a cell in each home involves a non-obvious technical issues when it comes to any cell standard that uses CDMA. Basically, every cell, no matter how large or small, has to have a unique short code offset, and there are only a limited number of them. If any two cells in the system have the same short code offset, all kinds of weird and wonderful things can happen.

So if there are a scad of cells in a small area (i.e. one per house) then it means the "system" has to be small, and it would take a large number of "systems" to cover a city.

So what's wrong with that? It isn't possible to do a soft handoff between "systems". If you're driving with your cell phone, and cross a "system" boundary, your call drops. That's not much of an issue when "systems" are hundreds of miles across, but when they're 1 mile across it would be unpleasant.

Repeaters don't have that problem. They're also a lot cheaper.
posted by Class Goat at 3:45 PM on December 31, 2008


31%? Really?

In Kamchatka?
In Uttar Pradesh?
In Evanston?

I know western european 12 year olds were text messaging about a decade and a half ago, Japanese kids were at it even before that, and the US has sort of caught up in the last 7 or so years, but 31% of what actually?
posted by Nick Verstayne at 3:55 PM on December 31, 2008


In a lot of areas of poor nations, cell phones are the only phones they can get. That's because when the phone companies try to run landlines, the wire gets stolen.
posted by Class Goat at 4:12 PM on December 31, 2008


31% of what actually?

You really need to ask?
posted by Wolof at 4:30 PM on December 31, 2008


yeah, landlines are dying but the range of those wifi routers and cell phones is a real problem. I just gave my mom one for xmas and it can barely make it through two walls in her solid-built thick-walled german house. belkins work fine when your walls are two inches of plywood but they don't like massive concrete-stone-steel-whatever-else-may-be-in-there much.
posted by krautland at 4:34 PM on December 31, 2008


To be absolutely concrete about it: Your WiFi setup with DSL or Cable Modem will see network latency to public Web sites of one to two tenths of a second. Your 3G setup will see 3/4 to 1-1/2 seconds of latency.

NAK.

If your cell phone antenna is in your house -- and most likely is part of the DSL modem that your phone company gives you -- then you can terminate the 3G right there and run straight IP up and down to the internet. The bottleneck is likely to be the 3G from the antenna to your phone, but then again the DSL is a pretty bad bottleneck to begin with.

The local termination of 3G also gets rid of bandwidth caps and theoretically per byte costs as well, although I suspect in the latter case the phone companies will be loathe to give up the profits.

but 31% of what actually?

Could have sworn that 31% number was a link to an article. Oh wait, it is.

In any case, as someone else has already pointed out the poorer the nation the more likely they are to use cell phones heavily.
posted by tkolar at 4:42 PM on December 31, 2008


Joe Beese: "When I was a boy, you dialed a phone by sticking your fingertip into a hole drilled into a piece of plastic and twirling."

Hah! In my day, the dial was made of steel and painted black. You kids and your plastic dials.
posted by octothorpe at 5:22 PM on December 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sorry to have nitpicked your article tkolar - I did read the linked article. It was datelined Washington. It also said the following:

•By race, 22 percent of Hispanic adults, 19 percent of blacks and 15 percent of whites live in cell-only homes.
•The South and Midwest have more cell-only households than those in the Northeast or West.
The data are compiled by the National Health Interview Survey, conducted by the CDC.

I'm pretty sure that was US Centric, and my comment was germaine to that opinion. For the avoidance of doubt, I'm US based, and I thought that the figure of 31% was likely to be a US-centric figure, I called the article out on that - you know, having read it and all. Sorry you took it personally.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 5:23 PM on December 31, 2008


tkolar, calling it an "antenna" is confusing. A repeater will suffer from the performance problems I described; a femtocell will not. (Presumably.)

It hasn't been mentioned on MeFi yet, but the OpenBTS project successfully provided test cell phone coverage at Burning Man 2008 running on a laptop using open source Asterisk and GNU Radio software. (Sorry for the Google Cache page -- it appears as though the OpenBTS project website has been sued out of existence.)
posted by sdodd at 5:46 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I was a boy, you dialed a phone by sticking your fingertip into a hole drilled into a piece of plastic and twirling.

You know how to dial, don't you? You put your finger in the hole and move it in little circles.

When it came time to consider a new phone, I realized that no matter how much I'd like it to be different, I doubt where I live will have any sort of data coverage any time soon. We get zero bars of plain-jane signal here, with random drop-outs.

Whereas our DSL, and up the road a bit, our cable internet is pretty good. There might be a few people out here who are cell-only, but it's more like 3% and probably not growing.
posted by maxwelton at 6:12 PM on December 31, 2008


"When I was a boy, you dialed a phone by sticking your fingertip into a hole drilled into a piece of plastic and twirling."

Hah! In my day, the dial was made of steel and painted black. You kids and your plastic dials.


When I were a nipper, one picked up the earpiece in one's left hand, then exclaimed into the microphone bowl in one's right "Get me Whitechapel two two four" (or whatever the number was), "and make it snappy, young fibbertigibbet, by jingo!"

The "by jingo" could cut three-quarters of a second from the connection time for some reason. It was a hack.
posted by Grangousier at 6:25 PM on December 31, 2008 [4 favorites]


The South and Midwest have more cell-only households than those in the Northeast or West.

ah yes, those pesky mountain things. We were the only cell only house I knew in NorCal. People used to come from miles around to make cell phone calls in our magic kitchen.

I, personally, have had good luck with the repeaters and the boosters, the car ones in particular are very impressive for the money. We also had great luck with a repeater antennae on our roof, despite the nearest cell tower being over 30miles away (obviously no mountains involved in that case). It was a pretty big commercial style antennae and a small house, I don't remember the range but certainly more than 5 feet.
posted by fshgrl at 6:38 PM on December 31, 2008


WHEN ME BOY, JUST BANGED ROCKS LOUD, OTHER PERSON HEAR YOUR BANGS AND BANG ON ROCKS TOO, YOU HEAR IT, YOU KNOW TIGER NOT EAT THEM.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:45 PM on December 31, 2008 [10 favorites]


Even if were possible to install your own pico or femto cell in your house, connected to the internet etc., I'd imagine the next problem would be locating a source for personalized low production runs of personalized GSM SIM cards for your new personal network.
posted by acro at 7:57 PM on December 31, 2008


The local termination of 3G also gets rid of bandwidth caps

Well, 3G bandwidth caps. Not necessarily DSL bandwidth and/or usage caps, which seem to be coming back into fashion (certainly for cable, where Comcast has stepped up enforcement of arbitrary, post-contract usage caps).

Even if it was equal, there are far more devices that support wifi than 3G, and many of the 3G devices support WiFi (iPhone, G1, etc), so it seems way more valuable to me to have a WiFi network than 3G.

According to a quick search, I see 3G capping out around 14.4Mbits down, which is quite a bit slower than 802.11g (and of course wayyy slower than 802.11n, although AFAIK thats not widely available).

Of course, I only use WiFi when necessary, as it still can't compare to a good wired connection in terms of reliability, so the thought of using 3G instead is really out of the question.
posted by wildcrdj at 8:35 PM on December 31, 2008


I would gladly dump our landline, if only our cell reception was even remotely reliable. As it is, the only way to get a stable connection is to go out into the backyard. Not cool, Verizon.

Then, even if one does get a reliable cell connection, there's still the sound quality problem. Beyond the usual tinny, "speaking from afar" sound, my main beef is the utter lack of duplexing. Whenever I speak with anyone else cell-to-cell, it's not a conversation. It's "you speak while I wait, then I speak while you wait" If conversation overlaps, they cancel each other. Pretty pathetic considering I have a...what?...century-old bit of tech on my wall that delivers perfectly clear voice transmission that allows a nice, natural conversation, even when speaking to someone on a cell.

And, no, I do not want a Verizon box in my home. Seriously, this seems like a technological step backwards.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:51 AM on January 1, 2009


I had good success using a Wilson Cellular Trucker antenna plugged in to the external antenna port on my el cheapo Verizon phone. It's an antenna targeted toward mounting on big rigs but it did a fine job getting me service in the middle of the Everglades. I guess it's slightly restrictive, what with the wire tethering you to a 2-ft-long antenna, but I'm willing to bet it's a tad cheaper than your own personal Femtocell.
posted by heydanno at 12:40 PM on January 1, 2009


which is quite a bit slower than 802.11g (and of course wayyy slower than 802.11n, although AFAIK thats not widely available).

Pretty much every wireless AP/router made in the last year and a half or so (which means every device you'll see on the shelves at electronics stores) supports 802.11n, and most laptops and WiFi equipped desktops made in the same timeframe can connect to them at 802.11n speeds (Apple has had Airport Extreme for considerably longer). 802.11g is still more common for now, but probably not for long.

However, even 802.11b (11Mbps) is still a bigger pipe than most residential cable connections (usually around 6-7Mbps down), and 802.11g (54Mbps) is far more bandwidth than any non-carrier-class connection. You'll only use the full bandwidth of WiFi (or Ethernet for that matter) for LAN connections. Where 802.11n (130/270 Mbps, depending on whether or not you use wide channels, "300 Mbps" is marketing hype, even though Windows will report 300 Mbps when you're connected at 270) becomes useful is stuff like streaming HD video over your LAN, copying files between machines, stuff like that.
posted by DecemberBoy at 2:19 PM on January 2, 2009


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