The days in which a phone conversation required us to be tethered to a wall are now, thankfully, long gone. Many households, including mine, no longer have a home phone line installed – we simply use our smartphones wherever we go. If you live in an area with a strong signal, such a setup not only works well, it’ll save you money. But not everyone is so fortunate.

When I moved to my current home in Canada, in the suburbs of Waterloo, I found that the first mobile network I tried, Bell, had patchy coverage at home. Sometimes it was fine, other times, it simply disappeared. I switched networks to Rogers and found it to be better but still not perfect.

Of course, multiplay network providers may well try to resolve patchy antenna coverage with Internet-powered solutions, often requiring a service fee or an adaptor (which is rarely given away for free). An alternative approach is to use a signal booster, such as the weBoost EQO, which the company sent over to me to try out.

This device, priced at a hefty $349.99 (US), promises to boost an existing, weak mobile/cell phone signal up to 32 times, with a range up to 1,500 square feet. Of course, you’ll need some signal for it to work – if your home is in a completely cold spot with regard to mobile service, it’s not the solution for you.

eqo comprises two devices. A booster accesses the voice and data signal from your nearest cell tower, amplifies the detected signal and sends it to a second device, an antenna. The antenna receives the signal and broadcasts it to devices around the home. The solution supports most US/Canadian mainstream carriers and mobile devices that can receive a 3G/4G LTE cell phone signal.

What’s in the Box?

The weBoost EQO arrives in a deep red, branded box that protects the equipment inside. Open up and you’ll find the  EQO Booster, EQO Antenna, Power Supply and a 25 foot coaxial cable. An installation guide and user manual is also included, in booklet form.

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The booster and amplifier themselves are large and clad in a piano-black plastic that is obviously intended to provide a touch of class in the home. However, you’ll know that this material picks up fingerprints and dust very quickly – given the size of the two devices, I think white would have been a better choice too. Hopefully, careful positioning will allow you to tuck the devices away out of sight, as they’re not particularly pretty. Both are free-standing, with a neat, fold-out stand allowing the antenna to be upright or you can wall-mount it, should you wish.

Installation

The sharp-eyed among you may have noticed that there’s only a single power adaptor for two devices. That means that they need to be tethered using the 25 foot coaxial cable, which isn’t ideal. You’ll first need to spend five minutes or so walking around your home to find the location with the strongest cell phone signal. Signal strength works in decibels (-dBm) with higher negative numbers denoting a weaker signal – the closer the number is to zero, the better signal your phone is receiving. A reading of -60 dBm is a stronger signal than -75 dBm.

Testing signal strength on an Android device is reasonably easy – you can monitor it directly through your Settings menu. On iOS devices, life is a little more complicated, requiring you to dial *3001#12345#*, spin around three times and invoke a little voodoo before a decibel reading is shown (weBoost provides full instructions over on their website).

I found that my strongest signal available was a (pretty dismal) -104 dBm in the attic home office. Lowest was -135 dBm down in the depths of the basement. With that job done, I then positioned the booster (both devices are clearly labelled on the side, so you shouldn’t mix them up) and placed the antenna towards the center of the house. You’ll need to ensure the antenna and booster are separated by at least six feet. A generous amount of cable allows you to find a central position for the antenna, but for a more graceful installation, you’ll most likely wish to hide a longer coaxial cable under a carpet or behind walls – especially if you wish the antenna to be positioned on an alternative floor.

Plug the booster in and a front status light glows red and green while the device initialises. After ten seconds or so, the LED switches to solid green, denoting good operation, red if the booster is too close to the antenna and orange if the booster is too close to an external signal.

Overall, installation is quick and easy – the wiring is problematic, but you can be up and running in ten minutes at most.

Performance

So, to the acid test. With the weBoost EQO powered on and showing a green status light, I rested the signal strength around the home. The results were underwhelming. Standing next to the antenna, I managed to improve performance by 5 dbM (from -113 to -107 dBm and that result extended through to performance in the basement, which went from -135 to -130 dBm. 32x stronger? I think not.

For some, that may be the difference between no connection and a usable connection, but that’s going to depend on your particular location. Personally, I’d be hugely disappointed if I spent $350 on a device that delivered very little benefit. That said, if you’re experiencing a weak mobile signal, EQO comes with a 30-day money back guarantee, so you could try your luck and return the device if you experience similar results.

Summary

While the promise of a 32x stronger mobile phone signal is attractive, the weBoost EQO is bulky and simply didn’t deliver a meaningful benefit in my test. Installation is quick and easy but the need to run a coaxial wire between the antenna and booster will require some cable management.

However, a hefty $349.99 price tag means that expectations are high – sadly, the weBoost EQO didn’t deliver. Your mileage may vary, but proceed with caution.