Mobile signal boosters: What’s legal?

Mobile signal boosters: What's legal?

Mobile signal boosters: Vodafone Sure Signal

That’s the legal situation clarified, but how do these devices actually perform? I’ve been testing the latest Sure Signal femtocell from Vodafone and the Cel-Fi RS2 smart repeater from Nextivity, both of which are updates to devices I reported on a few years ago.

The Sure Signal is actually the third version of this device, but Vodafone doesn’t use version numbers in its sales literature so each iteration is simply marketed as Sure Signal.

The design of the latest Sure Signal is substantially different from previous models, which came as standalone boxes and looked like broadband routers with external power bricks. This model is far more compact – a plug that inserts into a 13-amp mains socket, with a passthrough so you can still use the socket. The size of the device, similar to some powerline network adapters or plug-in air fresheners, is very convenient. It’s narrow enough to not block the adjacent plug when inserted into a standard double socket.

It’s a pity the Sure Signal doesn’t include a built-in HomePlug chip or a Wi-Fi transmitter, which would’ve made it a really elegant solution. Instead, you need to run an Ethernet cable from the device to your broadband router, making it slightly ugly. This also means you probably won’t be able to put it in the centre of your house or office, because broadband kits tend to be located near an external wall, where the cable enters.

Before you can use the Sure Signal, you’ll need to pre-register the numbers of up to 32 phones using it. Obviously, these have to be Vodafone phones. If you have a large enough broadband pipe, the device will handle eight simultaneous connections.

As with the smart repeater below, Sure Signal only works over 3G so, if you have an ancient GSM-only phone or one that only uses 3G for data, you’re out of luck. However, phones bought in the past few years should be fine.

Speaking of data, although this femtocell provides for mobile data connections, voice and SMS, you’d be mad to use this data facility unless you really have to. That’s because it comes out of your mobile allowance. Anywhere you’ve installed a Sure Signal will almost certainly have Wi-Fi too, which is bound to be cheaper and faster. If you insist on using Sure Signal for data, it will support up to 7.2Mbits/sec downloads and 1.4Mbits/sec uploads.

If you’re experiencing problems with the Sure Signal, as others have expressed with previous models, it’s generally down to security measures on Vodafone’s network. Thankfully, Vodafone staff are able to whitelist devices and IP addresses to allow more reliable connections. It’s definitely worth persevering with Sure Signal, since it will work well once you get it up and running.

Officially, the device costs £100 direct from Vodafone’s website, but you may be able to get a better price, or even a free one, if you live in such a poor signal area that you’d otherwise change to a competitor. Vodafone’s retentions department will often send you one as a sweetener, if you’re on the verge of leaving.

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