Surprisingly good tech: The weBoost Drive Reach cell signal booster

A couple years ago, I started seeing ads for "cell phone booster" antennas for cars and trucks around the off-roading/4x4 world as a way to stay connected while out in the middle of nowhere, but I was deeply skeptical. How much better could your phone signal be after paying a few hundred bucks for a magic black box? Cell network poles are huge and often only found in cities so if you’re really out in the middle of nowhere, how can they possibly help?

Then an off-roader I follow on YouTube posted a cell signal booster testing video from his favorite mountain bike trails that have zero-to-one-bar of mobile phone coverage. I was immediately hooked because where I live in Oregon, pretty much every mountain bike trailhead I arrive at is at the limits of what an iPhone can connect to on the Verizon network (and Verizon has the most coverage of all in this state). This is a problem since mountain biking is fairly dangerous and if you did need to call for an ambulance, it would be nice if your phone could still connect from most trailheads.

After watching that video with its good results, I watched several more “real world” cell booster videos from RVers and off-roaders just to make sure the one video I liked wasn’t a secret paid post. Every reviewer seemed pleasantly surprised by the additional bandwidth and coverage. I looked around and decided to pull the trigger on the weBoost Drive Reach, which is their most powerful option for cars, and it cost me around $390 (currently $500 on amazon, cheaper on the weBoost website direct).

When it arrived, I put the small magnetic antenna at the rear end of the roof on my Lexus GX (per the instructions, it needs to be far away from your phone), and fished the wires inside to power it up and provide the small antenna near the dash to boost signals to nearby phones. If you can fish wires under carpets and door trim pieces you'll be fine, but if you want a super clean install with no exposed cables, hire a stereo shop pro to fully hide it.

After a couple weeks of testing, I was impressed. I live in a city that despite having 1-3 bars of mobile network availability, frequently requires buffering on services like Apple Music and Spotify. Music streaming works flawlessly in every major city I travel to, but I live at the edge of the rural/suburban boundary, and things don’t always work great. With the booster installed and operating, I was seeing a boost of 2 to 3 bars of coverage wherever I go, and music buffering has become a thing of the past.

My small weBoost antenna on the back of my SUV

An update from six months later

I originally wrote this and posted it on Twitter in the Summer of 2022. When Fall came around, I sold my Lexus GX (I kept my weBoost from it) and I bought a new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe plugin hybrid. The Jeep's roof is mostly fiberglass so I knew the small magnetic antenna wouldn't cut it, and I installed new bumpers front and rear with multiple mounting points for accessories. I decided to upgrade the antenna to the larger RV/Semi-truck unit that I bolted onto the rear of my spare tire carrier since it would fit better and also claims to extend the range. It was about $120 for the new antenna and I have it mounted on a spring to protect it if it ever contacts a low ceiling in a parking garage.

I've had this mounted for about a month and it is a bit more powerful than the last setup. I'm definitely getting about 3 bars more than usual in most places, and on one of my first test drives I went about 10 miles into the coastal mountains and had Spotify streaming music without buffering or silence the entire time in places there was normally no coverage at all.

These things are expensive at around $400-500, but it's a good way to have much better access to cell networks in case anything ever goes wrong, plus it makes your everyday use faster and smoother. I honestly thought these were mostly snake oil until I got to use one in two different vehicles, and I'm planning to run one on any car I own that carries my mountain bikes or goes on 4x4 trails just due to the added safety aspects.