Here in Alaska we've come to rely on weBoost cell signal boosters for convenience and safety in urban areas and along well-traveled highway corridors, but they really come into their own when RVing around Alaska. It's pretty easy to find yourself in truly rural areas where the cell signal is weak or nonexistent. If it's really nonexistent you're out of luck no matter what, but often it's just too weak to be usable, and that means we've got some room to improve it with a signal booster. Enter the weBoost.
OTR stands for Over The Road, as in long haul trucking, and the Drive Reach OTR for trucks – let's call it the OTR-T – is weBoost's most powerful vehicle booster, supporting voice, 2G, 3G, 4G HSPA+, 4G LTE and 5G E networks for all of the major carriers in the United States and Canada. The OTR-T has up to 50dB gain for incoming signal – the FCC max for mobile boosters – and over 29dBm in uplink power for transmission. Keep in mind that every 3dB increase doubles the power because decibels are on a logarithmic scale.
It's no exaggeration to say that weBoost has one of the best out of the box experiences of any consumer electronics product. They provide clear diagrams that show how all components fit together, with no surprises. As usual with cell boosters, before you get to the installation remember to register your device with the FCC. It's free and just takes a minute. Once you start installation, it's fairly straightforward: assemble the antenna mast, up to about 40 inches long if you use both sections and the spring base. Attach it to the mounting surface – tubular is easiest, e.g. roof rack, but the 3-way mount is pretty versatile. One thing to keep in mind is that the system relies on a metal roof to separate the inside and outside antennae for optimal functioning. We found on a Jeep Wrangler (fiberglass roof) versus a Jeep Grand Cherokee (metal) we seemed to get more consistent performance on the metal roof configuration, but that said it wasn't glaringly different, maybe because we have the metal roof basket on the Wrangler.
In any case, once you've decided on the mounting approach, mount the inside antenna, probably next to the driver or passenger seat. Finally mount the booster and connect the power and antenna cables. The power is a 12V cigarette lighter adapter which has a button for hard power off, in case your outlet is on even when the car is off. It also has a USB pass-through port for power so you can plug in your phone or anything else that gets USB power, a thoughtful design touch.
The gory details of testing are below. The simple way to test is when you're in a marginal signal area just power the OTR-T off, look at your cell signal, power the booster on and look again. We consistently watched the signal gain a bar and often two. The bottom line is that with the booster installed we could make more connections, and the connections we made had generally better voice quality and fewer dropped data packets. This means you will get usable signal in more places and better quality on the signal that you're using.
The gory details: cell phone signal is measured from -50dB (perfect signal) to -120dB (dead zone). After installing put your phone in field test mode to see your signal strength in dB, because the bars that supposedly show signal strength really don’t mean jack. On iOS 12 open phone app > dial pad > type in *3001#12345#* > hit send to open a hidden menu. Go to LTE > Serving Cell Meas > look at the rsrp0 number to see the strength of the closest cell tower in dB. On an iPhone this mode used to replace the useless bars with a useful numerical decibel reading where -50dB is a perfect signal and -120dB is a dead zone. However since iOS 11 you now get this funky menu setup that has a lot more information but is difficult to read, not least because the list of data that includes the critical rsrp0 number keeps automatically resorting every second or so. If you’re specifically interested in data up/download speeds get the Speedtest app by Ookla to test your speeds before and after boosting.
Signal strength generally depends on the location and power of the nearest cell tower, which you can find at least roughly with a number of apps and websites. Performance of the booster depends on signal strength: the higher the signal strength, the more you'll gain, it's just the nature of the thing, and weBoost recommends a base signal strength of -100dB to operate. We still saw small gains of 5 to 10dB, although somewhat inconsistently, at a base strength of -110 to -120dB. At around -90 to -100dB we saw consistent improvements of at least 15dB, and often up to 30dB. If you're looking to go from zero to hero in cell phone hair-pulling zones, weBoost is your answer.