You're driving down a remote dirt road and you need to make a call -- but your cell phone is in a dead zone and doesn't get a signal. Rather than just throwing up your hands in disgust and driving until you get reception, there are alterations you can make to your phone as well as products you can use to boost your wireless reception.
Preferred Roaming List Updates
PRL is the abbreviation for "Preferred Roaming List." This information tells your phone which cell phone towers connect to the network on which it runs, and the order in which to connect to towers in your area. Sprint sends out these updates automatically; you probably haven't realized your phone has been receiving them. Sprint also allows you to update your PRL manually using the buttons on your cell phone. Go to the main menu and select "Settings," followed by "Phone Info" and "Update PRL." It takes less than a minute for your phone to update automatically.
Verizon offers another way of updating your PRL. First, dial "*228" on your cell phone and press "send." Listen to the menu options and select Option 2. Selecting this will automatically update your phone to include your provider's current network. Wait until the automated voice tells you the updating process is complete before hanging up.
Signal Repeaters and Boosters
The periodical "PC World" divides these products into two categories: signal repeaters and femtocells. Signal repeaters -- also called boosters -- act by amplifying the signal sent by cell phone towers, strengthening your reception. Sold by third-party companies, some popular brand names include Wi-Ex's ZBoost and products by Wilson Electronics.
Femtocells -- which utilize newer technology than signal repeaters and boosters -- are typically attached to the wireless router in your home. They act as mini-cell phone towers, and can generate a five-bar cell phone signal to any phone within 2500 feet. They are sold by wireless providers, including Verizon's Network Extender, AT&T's 3G MicroCell and Sprint's Airave.
Re-evaluate Your Carrier
Some carriers are rolling out larger networks with more powerful signals. Both Verizon and Sprint offer 3G networks; Sprint also offers a 4G network. These networks can increase the size and strength of your signal, but they are only available on certain phones and in certain areas of the country. Visit your wireless provider's website to view a map of their coverage area and compare it to the coverage map from other networks.
There are other, less conventional ways of boosting your cell phone's signal. The website WiseBread.com offers several options for increasing reception, such as attaching a piece of insulated wire or a paper clip to the antenna of your phone. Paul Michael, the editor of WiseBread, says he's tried these techniques with moderate success. However, cell phone providers do not recommend these alterations, as they can damage your phone as well as nullify the terms of any warranty you may have purchased from your wireless carrier.
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