The legal ways to boost your mobile phone reception

The legal ways to boost your mobile phone reception

The way UMA works is brilliantly simple: if you have a suitable phone and it has a Wi-Fi connection (via any provider, not just EE broadband), your calls will be routed over the wireless network instead. The phone normally gives priority to UMA traffic, so dialled calls will go out over your broadband connection, although you’re able to change the preferred network if needed. If you’re an EE customer who lives or works where there’s weak mobile reception, UMA is a great option, and it’s free apart from the cost of the call, which goes onto your mobile bill as normal.

Another option currently being trialled in the UK by T-Mobile – which hasn’t launched yet – employs a device called Cel-Fi from Nextivity. I shouldn’t really compare this to those illegal mobile phone repeaters, but in simplistic terms that’s what it does: a unit installed in your loft (or wherever you get maximum signal) locks onto the signal from a particular network and transmits it wirelessly to a unit in your main living/working space.

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Your phone instantly sees a five-bar connection, and since the kit is supplied by – and locked down by – the mobile network, it’s legal to use in the UK.

It employs a very short-range transceiver operating in the normal mobile frequency band, so your phone instantly sees a five-bar connection, and since the kit is supplied by – and locked down by – the mobile network, it’s legal to use in the UK.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, there’s a device known as a “femtocell” available from Vodafone. This used to be called the Vodafone Access Gateway, but has recently been re-branded with the more market-friendly name of Sure Signal.

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At its heart it employs UMA technology, but unlike Orange’s system it doesn’t require a special handset or Wi-Fi. Plug the unit into your network – probably your broadband for home and SME users – and it presents itself as a miniature 3G mast that will work only with pre-registered phones (controlled via a web interface), so your neighbours can’t make calls over your connection. You can sit in the deepest basement in the middle of nowhere and Sure Signal will give you a solid 3G connection you can use for both voice calls and data. Although it’s probably prohibited by all kinds of laws and Ts&Cs, I reckon it may also work if you took it abroad with you.

There you have it, three very different options from three of the major UK networks, each with its own strengths: with UMA there’s nothing else to buy or install, it just works; the Nextivity repeater is like a souped-up version of those illegal gadgets you find on eBay, only better designed and legal to use in the UK; and finally, Vodafone’s Sure Signal box can be used with any (Vodafone) 3G phone – even in places where there’s no mobile signal at all. The main benefit with all three is that you don’t need to change your mobile number, which is really important in a business environment.

I’m going to give them all a thorough workout and report back in a few months’ time. In the meantime, if any of you are using UMA, femtocells or legal repeaters, please let me know how you’re getting on, and of any tips or tricks I can pass on to readers of this column. And if you currently use an illegal repeater or booster, keep an eye out for men in uniform…

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