Review: Wilson 3W cellular amplifier, Yagi antenna

Wilson cellular amplifiers for 3G broadband and voice calls (August 7th, 2009)

Electronista Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Wilson Electronics

Price: ~$385 street price (as tested)

The Good

  • Quality construction
  • Excellent performance
  • Every unit tested at factory
  • Flexible mobile/stationary installation options
  • Calls can be made in "dead zones"
  • Maximum wireless broadband performance in fringe area

The Bad

  • None

company background

Many cellular subscribers that deal with poor signal quality, either at home or on the road, are forced to purchase an amplifier to help avoid dropped calls and lackluster data rates. The process of choosing the correct equipment can be more complicated than picking out a new DVD player. Although there are several companies producing cellular amplifiers and antennas, Wilson Electronics leads the pack.

Wilson Electronics may not be a household name, however the company has helped to drive innovations in wireless technology. Instead of copying competitors and draining its coffers to fund an aggressive marketing campaign, Wilson has quietly filled its ranks with scientists and engineers who continue to develop and improve the technology.

While many American technology companies design their products on US soil and outsource the production, Wilson has kept both its engineering and manufacturing operations in the same 50,000 square foot facility located in St. George, Utah. Every single amplifier that leaves St. George has been put through 40 different operation tests for performance and standards compliance, rather than checking a prototype or single device from a larger production run.



differences between cellular amplifiers

A hasty search for a cell signal amplifier brings up a myriad of products, but most of the devices lack complete descriptions of their design and capabilities. Many products only boost the downlink signal, which may result in five bars on the cellphone meter but without the expected performance of an amplifier. While incoming text messages, calls and data are amplified, attempts to respond to voice calls or verify packet data remain unchanged.

Another primary factor relates to the downlink receiver sensitivity. Higher sensitivity equates to effective communication of weak signals from the tower to the phone or broadband modem. As our tests will show, Wilson amplifiers have the ability to support clear voice calls and fast data speeds even in areas listed as "no service" by the carrier.



Wilson amps are designed to detect oscillation (feedback) and automatically attenuate output. While this is unlikely to affect performance, other amplifiers blasting the full 3W signal right next to a cell antenna cause problems for the carrier's equipment. Wilson's equipment monitors the distance from a cell tower to avoid conflicts with the FCC. Although federal intervention is rare, the regulator has a legal right to confiscate equipment that violates regulations.

in the field

Enough about Wilson's integrity and focus on superior design, what really matters is effectiveness in a genuine fringe area. The company provided its 3 watt 801201 amplifier, with 40 dB/ 45 dB of gain and dual-band support for 824-894MHz and 1850-1990MHz bands. The tests were designed for cellphone and wireless broadband performance.

Wilson offers a wide range of antenna options, with two groups depending on mobile or stationary applications. When using the amplifiers at home, the directional Yagi antenna might be the best bet. Directional antennas provide the most gain in a single direction, typically aimed directly at the cell tower.





The company provided its 301129 Yagi antenna, measuring just 14.4 inches in length and weighing less than 3 ounces due to an aluminum design. The antenna is listed with a 10 dBi gain and a frequency range of 800-900 MHz, although the company offers other antennas built for other segments of the wireless spectrum. Mounting the antenna on a pole is the best option, as a higher viewpoint typically receives a stronger signal.

The tests were performed at a rural location in Western Pennsylvania, home to a sparse population without a comprehensive network of cellular towers that would be necessitated by the hilly landscape for a strong signal. Several seasonal camps are located in the testing area, where text messages are rarely communicated and a wireless broadband connection can only be established by placing Verizon's UM175 card in a particular spot next to a window.





benchmarks

Without amplification, the wireless broadband card has trouble maintaining a connection. Web browsing is a headache, as half of the attempts to open a website stall for several minutes. Even though our Speedtest.net benchmarks showed what appeared to be a solid connection, albeit slow, the intermittent signal interrupts the connection for websites and instant messaging clients.

In the "sweet spot" without amplification, the UM175 card recognized a signal strength of -107dB which would typically be considered "no service." The modem was still able to reach a maximum download speed of 0.13Mb/s and a maximum upload speed of 0.11Mb/. Several tests averaged 0.11Mb/s downloading and 0.07Mb/s uploading. In actual browsing, the feeble connection caused problems trying to load pages.



After firing up the 801201 amplifier, the maximum speed jumped to an astonishing 1.58Mb/s downloading and .73Mb/s uploading. The performance was surprising considering Verizon advertises peak speeds of 1.50Mb/s downloading and 0.50Mb/s uploading. Even with several consecutive trials, the Wilson amplifier and Yagi antenna maintained download speeds averaging 1.41Mb/s and upload speeds of 0.66Mb/s.



Without the amplifier turned on, any cellphones located inside the same testing area were unable to dial a call. With the assistance of the amp, all calls connected as if the phone was located within eye sight of the cell tower. This benchmark is much less scientific than the broadband rates, however, as the calls likely would have gone through with half the amplification power. Nonetheless, both tests are a testament to Wilson's amplifier and antenna technology.

conclusion

Wilson provided a perfect package to boost signal strength in a building located away from Verizon's advertised service area. Although the amplifier carries a street price around $300, it can be easily disconnected from the in-home Yagi antenna and plugged into a 12V port in a car. Purchasing an additional magnetic antenna, designed for a vehicle, adds a negligible amount to the entire package. The provided amp was paired with a low-profile interior antenna that can be placed right next a broadband card or cellphone. The same antenna works inside a vehicle by attaching it behind a headrest via Velcro, or sliding it underneath the upholstery for permanent applications.

Inside a building, Wilson provides even more installation options. Dome antennas can be attached to fixed positions in the home, allowing residents to roam freely and take or make calls. Customers can choose from a variety of Yagi antennas depending on the local carriers, while a marine version is even available for boats. For users that are not located in "dead zones," money can be saved by purchasing a Wilson amplifier with lower wattage.

Considering the extremely poor signals in the test area, any amplifier was expected to bring the performance from terrible to usable. The Wilson 801201 amplifier, however, allowed every phone call to be completed without interruption and the wireless broadband card to reach peak speeds while far away from a tower and a half hour from the nearest paved road.

Wilson has dedicated itself to producing amplifiers with top-notch performance and a full range of flexible installation options. While urban and suburban consumers have shown a tendency to drop landlines for a single cellphone number, many rural customers are forced to pay for both services if they want to communicate at home and on the road. Some are even located outside the range of cheaper broadband services, reducing Internet options to dial-up or expensive alternatives.

Anyone that places a high priority on cellphone or wireless broadband connectivity should consider Wilson Electronics as the go-to source for reliable products that work as advertised and outperform the competition. All devices are backed by a money-back guarantee, while the customer service team has been praised for offering excellent guidance. The amplifiers aren't the cheapest on the market, but, after comparing features, they serve as a prime example of the adage "you get what you pay for."

by Justin King


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