Maximum Signal

December 17th, 2007

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Every couple of weeks I have to go with my wife to visit my in-laws. They live out in the middle of no where and have very limited service at their place. It’s so limited that I often have trouble getting on the internet there with my phones. Initially, I tried those antenna booster stickers but they didn’t seem to work (I’m just joking… I didn’t really try them). Here’s where Maximum Signal comes in; they market a powered antenna amplifier to help increase your phone’s reception.

I tested one of their CA-819/Shasta Direct Connect Mobile accessory kits. It comes with an antenna, amplifier, power cable with CLA connector, AC adapter for CLA (in case you want to use it inside) and power cable for connecting the kit directly to your car’s battery. A cable to connect the amp to your phone is an extra accessory that is not included. Different phones use different connectors. The antenna has some suction cups so you can stick it on a window. If you need more signal, there is also a magnetic mount antenna.

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If you’re going to use the amp in your car, I suggest you also get a speakerphone or headset. The amp connects to most phones via the RF connector. On many phones the RF connector is delicate so you probably don’t want to handle your phone too much when it’s connected. Mind you, not all phones have a connector. For example, you connect the antenna to the Nokia 6275i via an induction connector that connects via a piece of velcro.

I tested the amp with a Motorola v3i (with test mode enabled) and a Novatel U720 USB CDMA modem (I connected to it to read off the signal). I placed both on a table and read the signal off of them (more on that in a second). Next I moved the phones off the table and placed the antenna in the same spot that they were in.

There are a couple of problems with my tests. First off I didn’t try placing calls. Phone’s can boost their wattage if you’re in a call and go somewhere where there’s weak signal. Another problem is that you can choose to place an external antenna in the best area whereas if you don’t have one with you, the antenna is wherever your phone is. Anyways the test are still useful in that if your phone has no signal it won’t ring.

To be honest the test didn’t go as smoothly as I thought it would because both my v3i and u720 worked fine without the amp. The signal was quite weak but not so weak that they didn’t work just fine.

According to the Maximum Signal guys, the amp talks to the phone and only supplies the signal that’s needed. In practice this appears to be the case. When you first connect your phone to the amp, the signal doesn’t jump immediately. It increases slowly (I forgot to time this but it took around 10 to 20 seconds). What’s nice about this (according to the Maximum Signal guys) is that the amp plays nice with the network and doesn’t clobber it.

Before I continue let’s talk about signal strength. While every phone is different in general, the strongest signal you’ll get is around -50db. You get that when you’re standing very close to a tower. You won’t notice a big difference in sound quality between -50 and -100db. Phones start to get problems when a signal is weaker than -100 and you’ll probably lose signal around -105db. Different phones have different antennas and so each model of phone will get a different signal. In general newer phones tend to have more sensitive antennas (this is not always true).

Anyways without the amp, the v3i was getting around -101db. 101db is a pretty weak signal. However, it’s just high enough that I can receive and make calls just fine. With the amp, the signal improved to around 91db. A 10db improvement doesn’t sound like much but remember, 3db represents a doubling of signal strength so a 10db improvement is more than 3x the signal.

I noticed a similar result with the U720 (-100db without and -88db with). In both cases I was able to get full 1x speeds (there’s no EVDO where I was).

I think the Maximum Signal amp would be useful if you drive around a lot outside of the city where there’s little signal. It would also be a pretty good choice if you have a cottage and rely on a cellular modem for internet.


  • Improves signal


  • Difficult to hold the phone when it’s connected

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Written by Howard Chui 12.16.2007
This article may not be reproduced without the the author’s permission.

Entry Filed under: Phones

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