Cell Signal Booster: weBoost Drive Reach Substantially Improves Uplink Performance Over WeBoost Drive 4G-X
Over the past two years, I used the WeBoost Drive 4G-X heavily for about 9 months in remote areas, using it far more heavily than most people are ever likely to use such a device. It was my internet connection and was crucial to my work. See my review of the WeBoost Drive 4G-X.
In May of 2020, I upgraded to the WeBoost Drive Reach, a model claiming up to 75% faster speed. I am pleased to report that for upload speed, the WeBoost Reach is up to 3X as fast.
The older Drive 4G-X model is no wimp: I gave it to a friend, who for the first time ever was able to make cell phone calls out of the Onion Valley parking lot at 8800' (a gorgeous 5500 scenic road from Independence, CA). He was thrilled, because one of his key activities is shuttling hikers to and from the Pacific Crest Trail trailheads where cell phone reception has long been an issue.
weBoost Drive Reach (470154)
The weBoost Drive Reach is a solid upgrade over the weBoost Drive 4G-X, worth every penny to me:
- The 'Reach' is better built, with push-on cables and a USB charging port.
- The Reach main unit is high grade metal with deep heat fins for the main unit. The Reach consumes considerably more power (8 watts at idle) and those heat fins get quite warm. When running on battery power, this power usage is a significant downside vs the far more power efficient Drive 4G-X. But this is the only downside I found.
- Uplink speed in remote areas shows up to 3X the speed of the 'Drive 4G-X' (computer to the internet). This is more important to my use than download speed, since I regularly push several hundred megabytes to my server.
- Download speed of the Reach looks slightly better, but due to highly variable cell network behavior, I was unable to put a number to it without huge bandwidth utilization, which I could not afford to do as it would have quickly decimated my cell phone monthly data allotment of 30GB per device.
Note that download speed improvements are relatively minor in this practical sense: 5 MB/sec is scarcely different from 10MB/sec or 20MB/sec in any real-world scenario, since a 6GB download at 5MB/sec still takes only 2 minutes—it just doesn’t matter much.
Field observations, weak signal
There is a huge variability in the cell network for download performance, which made it impossible to get reliable numbers on download performance. Furthermore, the cell network is clearly implementing a burst algorithm: peak speed for a short while then dropping in half or worse, then highly variable—some kind of bandwidth management.
Reliably better in every way:
- Multiplying by a true zero (no signal at all) does nothing of course, but more than once a “No Signal” status on the phone disappeared as soon as I turned on the booster.
- In several locations with a very poor signal, the weBoost Drive Reach turned a “No Signal” or 1-bar signal into as much as 27MB/sec download and 1MB/sec upload. WOW!
- There is a low-signal range for which the boost is huge.: with a very weak signal, I regularly see a 20X to 30X speed improvement vs the cell phone alone—30K/sec can go to 1MB/sec.
- Phone calls that would drop within a minute outside the van could go on without incident for an hour in the van near the booster.
- With any 2-bar signal or better, speed is superior to what many home internet users ever see; it is simply not a concern.
Poor cell signal in your home or office? Check out weBoost Home Booster.
Background — travel requirements
I travel for photography in my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van. Invariably this means remote areas where cell phone coverage ranges from excellent to barely there to not at all. My #1 issue when traveling is the availability of a good cell signal.
I frequently upload up to 500MB at a time to my server for my photography publications and photo blog and cycling blog, with many high-res images. But it’s not just about lots of data—even email can take half an hour with a weak cell signal without a booster because it is very “chatty” back and forth— high latency so that even a single 64K email could take 30 seconds when the signal is barely there.
I recall roasting in the hot sun for up to two hours waiting for an upload to finish. That is, before I had the weBoost; I could not change location lest I lose the signal. Those days are long gone thank to the weBoost.
I greatly prefer locations where I have peace and solitude free of the noises and campfire smoke and idling engines of other people (I never stay in campgrounds for that reason). But I also need a cell signal regularly. Without the weBoost, I can be forced to make as much as an hour round-trip to check on business. So it’s a Big Deal if I can get a usable signal versus not. There are still areas where this is truly no signal and the weBoost can do nothing, but those locations are no far fewer thanks to the weBoost.