No, Mobile Phone Antenna Booster Stickers Don't Work

from the no,-really dept

You know those random technology claims that you know don’t work, yet never seem to go away? Sometimes it’s nice to see someone take on some of those claims and show why they don’t work. Andy Kaiser channels his inner-Mythbusters and writes “Over time as a technology columnist, I’ve been exposed to various scams and impossible claims for technology. One existing scam I’ve not seen tacked in any serious way is cellphone antenna booster stickers. These things are sprinkled everywhere. And since many companies still sell them, I’m assuming many people are buying.

But not having any existing tests to work with, I had a hard time with finding any analysis. So I did my own. In writing this, I wanted to do two things: One, it’s a proper test of an electronic gadget, showing that gadget as a scam. Two, it’s a way of showing proper testing methods and critical thinking, which benefits those unfamiliar with these techniques.” Of course, just like on Mythbusters, I’m sure someone will take issue with the methodology…

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Comments on “No, Mobile Phone Antenna Booster Stickers Don't Work”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Is this important?

The basic concept is a faraday cage that only filters noise, not the signal, which is of course magic, but actually did work with the old Motorola ‘brick’ phone which had an antenna traced along the edge of the internal board that was an exact multiple of the wavelength used. The problem was that while this tested well, it doesn’t work in practical use because phone designs and shapes and sizes are too different and change too rapidly. It’s just snake oil nowadays.

Rob L says:

Re: is this important?

I doubt that the signal-boosting-stickets work as good as they say, yet when I hold an FM radio, or place it near certain metal structures, the signal gets stronger.

Maybe the Mythbusters will look into this one!

~Rob L from Canada

PS – How about those stickers that light up when your cell rings? Are they really using EM waves as power?

Anonymous Coward says:

I picked up 3 for $1

Whiile making an online purchase for cellphone goodies like cses and such about 1 yr ago I did see these, because I could pick up 3 for $1 (on sale ya know) my wife and I were like Sure, what the hell…

We had been using our cellphones for quite some time so we knew our dead areas… and it came down to this for us…

in area’s where we had no signal, sry these things could never create a signal… but otherwise on two of the phones with internal antenna did have on AVG a 1 bar increase (for 33c investement it worked for us)

I figured they worked on the same tech that the store inventory control devices work, as you walk past the pannels at the door the pannels send signals to which tags on the product can detect a certain freqency and echo (or send back a different) signal that the pedistals could recognise… I figured these antenna bosters were the same but only had to mirror the signal and amp it…

*shrugs* I wouldn’t invest my house in em tho…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I picked up 3 for $1

Those inventory control devices don’t really work like that at all.

When they are in “alarm state” they are demagnetized and the frequency that is sent between the two pedestals hits the metal and it offers a resistance that the system detects. When they disarm them, they get mildly magnetized and the signal passes easily through the metal. A patent search on these devices will explain it much less simply.

The boosters are simply HOPING they can reflect or channel the signal much like a fresnel lens. Thing is, that’s a very iffy thing.

John says:

Cell phone

I bought one for .99 and it didn’t work for me. I had a Blackberry 7100t and the reception was very poor on it. I work in an area where I always get 1 bar. Then 1/2 the time i would be on lower case gprs and then roam into gmrs. It would even switch between Cingular and T-Mobile depending whos signal was stronger. Well the thing didn’t work for me… Same thing. It didn’t work for my wifes phone either. I will never buy crud like that again.

JBB says:

They DO work....kinda.

Those stickers DO work, but only in one case out of some astronomical number. There’re plenty of ways to bounce and re-focus signals onto antennae, but it’s only to be expected that the signal processing engineers have already made that little internal antenna about as good as it’s going to get.

There’re lots of ways that metal doesn’t have to be electrically attached to affect signals. Use your cell phone in a metal box if you don’t believe me. But they *can* be used to improve signals too — do a search for ‘corner reflector’ antennas. Now go sit inside HALF a metal box — c’mon, folks, we’ve all heard of ‘wave guide’ antenna enhancers.

Still, the dumb little stickers are for big suckers. 🙂

JerseyRich says:

I used to be a Nextel Authorized Representative from 2001 through 2004.

In my travels I acquired many used (and new) cell phones from all makers and services. I used to do a brisk business on eBay selling these, along with many accessories. I used to buy the antenna boosters for may 10 cents each wholesale, sometimes cheaper.

They never sold on their own, but I used to offer them as part of a package of accessories to go along with the phone. This small extra (who effectiveness was dubious) helped the phone sell faster and for more money.

Mr. No NO says:

Cell Phone Booster. . .

Actually if you dip your phone in a bucket of water before you use it you get better reception. The reason this works is because Cell phones are esentially boxes with different electronic pieces chained together. One end of the chain has to go through the complete other chain to do it’s job. By dipping your cell phone in water (and water being an electrical conductor), you by pass the “chain” and all the electronic pieces can talk together without going through other pieces. This speeds up the ability of the phone to process signals and gives you better reception.

This is a great thing to do to toasters too if they don’t toast your bread well. Be sure to leave it plugged in and use a larger body of water (like a bathtub) than you would a cell phone. You may need to stand in the water for it to work properly…

Ron (profile) says:

Cell Phone Boster

Ya know, some idiot is going to look at the logic of bypassing the chain of components and actually try it (I’m still constantly amazed that car companies, or anyone making a commercial with someone doing something stupid at high speed, needs to add that disclaimer about professional drivers on closed courses). Anyway, thinking they got it wrong when the phone does not work as expected, they’re gonna try it with the toaster ’cause it’s a simpler piece of equipment. The reason it doesn’t work well is because water is not a great electrical conductor (well, it’s much better than air, but …). To make it work correctly you need to add something to the water. I suggest 1-2 tablesppons of kosher salt per quart of water. Stir until disolved. And, the toaster will likely work better if you hold the water faucet handle, or any convenient exposed pipe, as you lower the toaster into the water.

WirelessGuy says:

As an RF Engineer I am finding this very silly

Ok people, just by putting one passive antenna device (active would require power), there will be no affect to the primary antenna performance. This would be like stating you could improve your gas mileage on your car with a pill…

The two antennas are too close together to allow any reflective wave to become anything BUT a problem. The only way to get any kind of gain is if they are two devices on the same receive branch seperated by at least 10 wavelenghts (5 feet at 1900 Mhz, 10 feet at 900 Mhz)

Since they are just sitting there, these things do nothing. They can however void your warranty.

I do like Ron’s better, however be careful for the red stickers in your batter compartment that will tell us that your phone has been exposed to water.

If you want better reception, get with your local zoning board and help us get towers into your cities. People fear them for stupid reasons, like health issues, property values, bird migration and my all time favorite fear of their dairy cattle not producing any milk. Then you will get better reception. Help us to help you.

Thank you, your friendly neighborhood RF Guy

Wind says:

what really works

If your really wanting to boost your signal… look for a little plug spot behind the face plate or a rubber plug no one tells you about.. its an external antenna that you could use but no one tells you about. becides paper clips, metal films, internet lube, and racing stripes are for those mentally intoxicating things like making you believe your economy car could race in the indie just cause you have a bumper sticker saying so. HA!

WirelessGuy says:

Re: what really works

Please don’t tell people to stick things on the test port. There is a microswitch in there that if people mess with, then they won’t be using their phones internal antenna. There is a reason we don’t tell people about it, it isn’t designed for large scale use, only once during production and then if there is a problem. It isn’t robust enough for daily use.

Here is your official release then….

Yes there is a TEST PORT on phones that MANUFACTURERS use to TEST phones performance. Unless you have the proper connector, which you can buy easily at many CB Shacks (truck stops) and an antenna, you could improve your performance by about 3-4 dB. If you mess with this, break your phone, don’t come crying to us. Call Wind and he will replace your phone.

Anonymous of Course says:

Re: Re: what really works

Then every parasitic array, like the yagi antenna,

does not work? Try reading antenna design by


The first time I saw a cellphone booster sticker

it was sold as a passive repeater.

Passive repeaters do work. Take one antenna with

view of the transmitter linked to another antenna

with a view of the receiver. Give them both decent

gain and not too much line loss in the connection

between them.

That said I don’t see how the sticker design would

accomplish this function.

You can’t blame the average Joe, without a major

in electromagnetics, if he falls for this crap. People

trust vendors to not sell them totally useless crap

and lie about it.

Copper bracelets, fuel line magnets, cell phone

booster stickers… I hate seeing people being

taken advantage of but it twas ever thus.

WirelessGuy says:

Re: Re: Re: what really works

Yes passive repeaters work IF the donor signal coming in is at a high enough level to be re-radiated BUT the losses must be lower than the actual GAIN of both antennas.

These would have to be pointed directly in both devices Main Beam and outside the first fresnel region, which is inversely proportional to its length.

These are not passive repeaters they do not have enough gain. Most cellular antennas, especially internal ones actually have about 4 dB of loss.

I can put you in our antenna chamber in our handset lab if you want further field studies to prove this if you like.

Topher3105 (profile) says:

How about this claim?

I saw a few years ago stickers you can put on your cell phone battery that would someone both decrease the charge time, and also increase the standby/talk time of any phone. It would somehow align the electrons properly to improve the batteries ability to take and give out a charge.

The bottom line is, there are lots of stupid people out there, and when you make a claim that is subject to subjective results (i.e. I think I get 1 bar better reception since I put on this sticker, or get a few minutes extra talk time, or it seems to charge faster with the sticker), then you have a market to make money.

Its like snake oil or herbal medicine, I mean, sell something in a bottle and claim it will improve your life, your always going to get the placebo effect in many people claiming improvements since using it, but medically speaking, the stuff does nothing. All you need is one stupid person claiming the stuff works, and you have a market because stupidity is contagious. How about that medal bracelet that is supposed to cure everything from arthritis to bad posture and improves your golf game to boot?

The Internet compounds the problem because there is no way to tell the difference between a legitimate vouch by a customer/scientist that something works, and the clever marketing guru flooding the net with positive “reviews and commentary” along with “Scientific facts”. Even this comment board is filled with claims that these thing work, and the geekier idiots here are actually trying to offer scientific facts that suggest it should be able to work or won’t work, which further exacerbates the problem by offering both proof and doubt.

Lets put it this way, do you honestly think some $5 (or whatever the price) retail strip of metal will make your $200 cell phone get better reception? And why wouldn’t the cellphone companies improve their product to get better reception by adding a few cents worth of metal to the phone, or at least sell you a $20 strip of metal that is an “authorized accessory”.

Stupid is as what you buy, and people make money knowing this. I actually respect someone that sells stuff that is unfounded and useless but still gets rich from it. There is nothing illegal about this, its not even fraud. How can you claim its fraud when you get even a few people claiming it works for them?

Now if you will excuse me, I have to tend to my pet rock collection and my sea monkeys which I am SURE will hatch today. At least rubbing my Chia pet is brining me luck, the $400 in lottery tickets I bought with numbers picked from fortune cookie numbers won me $20 last week.

me says:

the real deal

Go to a place like Criterion Cellular and buy a true-blue cell phone antenna. I get about a 20 dB improvement on my Nokia with my antenna hooked up (I turned on my “test mode” screens so I could see the actual dB reading). The author should have mentioned real external cell phone antennas in his write-up and testing. He also should have measured improvements with dB’s and not “bars”.

cheesypoofs says:

not true!

I actually have witnessed this stupid sticker working! First hand! I moved into a loft. 6 stories up. Initially I was having issues with calls. I would be on a call when suddenly my voice would stop transmitting. I could still hear my callers but they could not hear me. This led to frustration and a new phone on the same carrier. THE PROBLEM PERSISTED. I had all my callers trained to wait as I walked around and got near windows to finally aquire my voices outgoing signal then I remember I had 1 of the stupid stickers laying around that came with a pack I had bought off ebay. I figured it couldnt hurt. LOW AND BEHOLD no more issues with my reception. When I had asked why my loft exhibited this, I was told that the building was a hospital and was built in such a way that signals have a hard time within the cofines of the walls.

WirelessGuy says:

Re: not true!

You could have actually done the opposite, as the higher you go sometimes the more interference you receive as you are at the centerline of many sites across town. By putting an attenuator in the path, you might have decreased the outside noise, and only the closest cell was then talking to you making the C/I ratio of the call improved by decreasing the the I a lot, while the C only went down a little.

The reason we don’t use dB for signal strength is that these are Digital carriers, not analog. The Bars, the signal strenth is not as important as the quality of the digital signal, C/I for GSM or Ec/Io (Eb/No duing a call). You are also power controlled in all systems so you will be using the least amount of power, and receive the equivilant that we can in order to maximize the network capacity.

If you got 20 dB improvement with an external antenna then most likely your phone was broken in the antenna matrix of the board. Even the best antennas on a Base Station which are about 6 feet long only provide up to 18 dBi of gain at PCS and 15 dBi of gain at 800 Mhz.

me says:

hey WirelessGuy

My wife gets a similar improvement when her phone is plugged in, in the same area. And I’ve had 2 phones of the same model (first one died under warranty), with the same results. The area I’m talking about usually has a -105dB reading (and zero bars), and with the external antenna in place it will jump to -85 to -90 (and full or nearly full bars). Next to a tower I won’t go below -50 with the internal antenna, but have gotten as low as -29 once or twice.

Doesn’t matter if you are transmitting a digital packet or an analog wafeform – the radio circuitry is identical! dB is valid either way. The bars on a phone are just estimating the internal dB measurement, so let’s get rid of the bars and just show the dB. The power steps of the phone’s transmitter has nothing to do with the signal quality. Yes, as the dB goes higher the allowed power will also increase to compensate, but that only works to a point. Eventually you get to the point of diminishing returns and no matter how much extra power you apply you are just going to send and receive bad data. The absolute signal quality does not change whether you are trasmitting using 1/10th of a watt or 1000 watts. dB is the only measure of signal quality, for digital or analog.

WirelessGuy says:

Don't apply here

I would never want to hire any wireless engineer who doesn’t understand the simple principle of digital quality.

All signals that come in are combined in the receiver. You could have 1 or 1,000. They will get combined and averaged across the sampling mechanism of the front end. So if you have one signal at -70 dBm, and then another at -70 dBm, the combination would be -67 dBm if they are the same frequency. So then you would have to look at the digital quality of the signal, or its good energy over its bad energy. Since they are equal in strength on the same freq, there will be interference and the digital quality will be low. This is why frequency planning is so critical in GSM technologies.

For CDMA, this isn’t that important until you fill the rake receiver, known as pilot polution.

So it isn’t the bars that you see, it is the quality of the one bar that matters.

20 dB would be an improvement of 100 times the power. You just can’t get that from a piece of tin foil masked on to a sticker. Sorry, if it was true we would sell the phones with these things. And since I am the guy who would make that call, I really don’t see that happening.

Pete says:

The “Scientific Test” is flawed because the author completely ignored the installation instructions. He was supposed to put the signal booster inside the phone behind the battery. Instead he used the following procedure: “2) Hold pouch ‘A’ directly over the phone’s antenna.”

Of course the signal booster doesn’t work if you don’t put it into the phone!

AMoore says:

Double Blind, Placebo Controlled?

The reason for double blind studies is to avoid influencing the subject or process. Placebo controls seek to account for the subjects beliefs. Go ahead, use your psychic powers and manipulate the reception. As to the phone being aware of whether or not it has the fake booster or not… smart phones aren’t really smart.

AMoore says:

Double Blind, Placebo Controlled?

The reason for double blind studies is to avoid influencing the subject or process. Placebo controls seek to account for the subjects beliefs. Go ahead, use your psychic powers and manipulate the reception. As to the phone being aware of whether or not it has the fake booster or not… smart phones aren’t really smart.

Slabbo says:

Yes, all these comments have a place here.

Yes, a “passive repeater” does work in reality, but not in cell phone systems, since completely different RF principles are invlolved. It’s like comapring cordless phones to GPS.

To understand this, you first need to know your phone’s output is determined by the phone. It’s output power is determined by the level recieved by the base station. That is regardless of any sticker. Claims of increased battery life are obviously based on this “principle”.

A passive radiating device such as this is a compete joke to anyone knowledgeable about RF engineering. To think this will do anything for your reception is bogus.

“Double blind”??? Hello – you need to support the reasons for a scientific experiment before you actually perform them. A sticker doesn’t actually do this.

Robert says:

i bought two

i bought two as they were pretty cheap and saw then when buying a case and holder. i thought they would touch something metal inside the phone and provide the enhancement like the window antennas on cars. when i got them tho i could tell after reading the instructions that it was probably pretty bogus. of course it being made in china didn’t help either. my point – i bought them thinking one thing and found another when i received so folks are probably buying them because they’re thinking the same thing or w/e… our world is sad b/c there are so many people more concerned about ripping ppl off than trying to make our world a better place. i’m glad there will be a final judgment for all of humanity to right so many wrongs…

Stevo says:

It wasn't supposed to work???

In my office, the signal level is so low that 99% of the time I can’t even connect to Cingular. My signal strength shows 0 bars and my wireless device just displays “Searching” for signal. My battery life is shortened considerably if I leave my phone turned on in the office…I guess due to increased power in an attempt to acquire a tower (?)

Against my better judgment I installed one of these devices, hmmm…now 99% of the time my phone displays that it is on Cingular’s network however it still displays a signal strength of 0 bars.

I don’t think WirelesGuy’s theory about attenuating the noise level applies in this case because my office is inside of a hardened, windowless facility that effectively eliminates all RF signals (which includes background noise)… so I’m now at a loss as to how this is possible. I guess it’s possible that Cingular improved their network at the exact moment I installed the device, but my luck never runs that good, lol.

I guess the test will be to see if my battery life improves now that I am “connected” to Cingular. Time will tell & I’ll post my findings after a couple of weeks of testing.

Rob says:

Antenna Booster

An electician in my factory was selling these ‘things” for $2 a pop. I’m a natural skeptic by nature, but I knew the guy & his reputation with electronics and I said 2 bucks- big deal I’ll try it. I then used my cellphone to call my wife – well, the interesting thing here is that our conversation was much less problematic than usual. (Factory environment = “Can you hear me now?”) I’m not saying that this patch is a miracle worker, but for $2 it didn’t set me back and so far so good. But I’m not ready to fully endorse it this soon…

Michael Bob says:

Antenna booster

I have wondered that question to myself ever since I have seen all those commercials recently ran on television making claims such as “adding a four foot antenna to your phone” and getting signal inside tunnels and indoor areas. This page was created to show all of my fact findings on the antenna booster and its functionality with cellular phones. Hopefully, these tests can help you decipher if the antenna booster actually helps increase cell phone reception and signal strength. I have conducted many objective tests on my own with the antenna booster, as well as have other people in other geographic areas do the same. People are always looking for ways to increase their cell phone’s signal strength, so volunteers were easy to find. This is due to the inconsideration of cellular providers that start building out and advertising their service before they are properly ramped up to handle their users with good cell phone reception. They are to blame, and we the consumer are stuck with finding alternate ways of improving and increasing the signal that should have been present at the time we signed our 1 year contracts!

I used several phones for my tests including the Nokia 8200, 6100, 8800 and the Nokia 3300 series phones. I have also had other volunteer testers using phones from Samsung, Ericsson, Motorola, Qualcomm and Audiovox to just name a few. Testers used phones working with both TDMA and CDMA digital technology, as well as the older Analog phones with providers such as Verizon and AT&T. The new popular GSM 900 phones (SIM Card technology) and PCS phones were also included in the tests.

Geographic areas covered by testers include: various states in the US from the East Coast, West Coast and the Midwestern states. I have also communicated with users from Greece, Germany, Mexico and Australia.

Preparation: I purchased the antenna booster from a few retailers at local stores and online on the Internet. I found that all of the antenna boosters were identical, with the minor exception of a few which the device was the same, but with a little variation in the retail packaging. We (testers) also made logs of signal strength with various phones without the antenna booster installed over a period of time and until a pattern of consistency was found. This is how we established the basis of our correlation and comparison tests.

TEST I – Antenna Booster in low signal indoor areas:

CONTROL ENVIRONMENT – Various indoor concrete buildings with no windows within 35 feet of the cellular phone unit. Criteria for these experimental locations include low or null signal without the antenna booster installed. Tests conducted for indoor functionality of the antenna booster spanned over a period of time of no less than a couple of months. The rationale for the time frame is because cellular sites of various service providers may be overloaded at different times of the day and different days of the week. The few months time frame also rules out the possibility of a cell site being down or under maintenance.

RESULTS – To our surprise, we found that the antenna booster helped most of the phones gain roughly one bar of signal strength. In certain cases where the concrete area was underground, the antenna did not noticeably increase the cellular phone’s signal. In metropolitan areas such as Downtown Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, the antenna booster not only increased the signal strength, but actually helped older analog phones reduce static to the point where the testers say they can carry on a conversation without having to repeat themselves to the other party. They reported that this was not possible before the antenna booster was installed. Consistency is the key factor in TEST I. There were times when certain cell sites were down, and lack of signal affected everyone with the same cellular carrier, regardless if they had the antenna booster installed or not.

CONCLUSION – The manufacturers of the antenna booster claim that their product will help increase cell phone signal in tunnels and indoor areas. We find that to be true, although saying that “it is like adding a four foot antenna” may be a stretch. We also found that analog cellular phones also had a significant reduction in static (static and cross-talk is not a factor for digital wireless phones). To that, we can also validate their claim.

TEST II – Antenna Booster – graphical representation of test results:

TEST EQUIPMENT – For this, we consulted an Electrical Engineer from the University of Illinois. He basically tested the antenna for frequency strength and interference. He tested various cellular phones before and after the installation of the antenna booster. The test results were then averaged out over a period of time. Those results were then merged and averaged out between cellular phone models and different cellular providers. This would give a more general and unbiased conclusion on the effectiveness of the antenna booster.


antenna booster

The results were then put into graphical representation for interpretation. The chart has been simplified and the jargon is put in layman’s terms. But as you can see in the above graph, as the signal coverage of the provider grew weaker, the antenna booster helped sustain higher signal strength better as the load increased. The vertical field of the graph represents approximately the lower two (2) bars of signal strength on a cell phone. Our TEST I results seem to be pretty consistent with TEST II, as we have said that the antenna booster booster increased roughly one (1) bar of signal strength, although not in absolutely all areas.


The ultimate question remains: Does the Antenna Booster actually work? Our conclusion from various testimonials and test results would say yes. But the exaggerated claims made by the manufacturers must be taken with a grain of salt. It did almost everything it said it would, just not to the degree that one would have expected if you were to go on their advertising alone.

After speaking with the Electrical Engineer, we figured that this device in concept would work, so we were not too surprised that we found positive results. By channeling stray waves to the cell phone’s own antenna would actually help increase signal.

Is it worth buying and using? Let’s just put it this way. After we have installed the Antenna Booster in our cell phones, we will not take it off anymore. We figure it is worth the money, particularly if you are in a low signal area a lot of the time and that little extra mile will make the difference between a bearable conversation and a completely dropped call.

Kansas City 1 Channel News and ABC WTVC News in Tennessee have both written articles that had similar findings to our own test cases.

However, there are some retailers out there trying to sell knock-offs of these products. I have personally seen them, and they either look different or use a different material when producing the Antenna. I personally stick by a motto when it comes to buying any product: “You get what you pay for and if it is suspiciously cheap in price, you’ll probably get what you pay for.”

** There are so many imitation Antenna Boosters out there. I have seen some that are actually selling for under $5.00! To my surprise, many top listing websites are offering extremely low prices for these Antenna Boosters that are the imitations. I have bought those before and they do not work at all. Because it can be hard to tell which ones are real over the Internet, it is a good idea to go with the trusted and tested sites I have compiled below. So make sure if you decide to purchase Antenna Booster, don’t get the fake ones. **

Kaz Vorpal (profile) says:

Flawed Motive...

It seems unlikely to me that the antennae work…although the commenter claiming that it can’t work because it’s not attached is absolutely wrong…but the above test is biased from the outset.

A real skeptic doesn’t set out to prove something wrong. He sets out to find out WHETHER it’s true or not.

The goal of the test should simply have been to test it, as accurately as possible. The goal having been to disprove the test, the outcome cannot be trusted, even if the methodology appears correct.

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