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Consumer Cellular Repeaters

Turning to more mundane matters, ever wonder why you can get a good cell signal deep inside shopping malls, parking lots and other places where there is plenty of steel and concrete between you and the nearest cell tower? The answer is two words - cellular repeaters.

These devices typically consist of a "donor" antenna, which ususally mounts outside and an indoor unit that contains the repeater electronics and panel antenna. The two are connected by a cable and powered by a wall-wart power supply and - unlike their WLAN cousins - require no configuration as part of the setup. The repeaters simply receive a weak cell signal, regenerate and rebroadcast it so that it's clean and strong. They also automatically adjust their amplification so that they don't provide too much of a good thing.

I saw a few of these devices at last year's CTIA, but this year they seemed to be more abundant. And the big change were pitches that contained the magic word SOHO in them, even though the prices still have a way to go before they can really earn that name.

Spotwave was spotlighting the new packaging of its SpotCell Home (shown below) and Enterprise "indoor coverage solutions". A key part of Spotwave's pitch is that its products are carrier-approved. Booth reps also said that cell providers are actually some of Spotwave's largest customers and use the products for signal enhancement in cellular retail stores.

Spotwave's SpotCell Home

Spotwave's SpotCell Home

The Home product is already available through some carriers, including Cingular Wireless, which also resells the Enterprise model to corporate customers. You'll have to want one really badly, though, since pricing is a hefty $895.

Shyam Telecom was showing its line of repeaters that included its SOHO / Home Booster. They have two models to cover different cell standards and said retail pricing will be around $800 when they hit retail shelves later this year.

Other repeater vendors I saw included Wilson Electronics (popular with the long-haul trucker set) and Advanced RF Technologies. The latter told me they have been trying to get their SOHO product carried by a US electronics retailer, but so far, no sale.

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