One of the greatest joys of van life is the ability to go as far off the beaten track as you like in pursuit of natural wonders and tranquil views. Unfortunately, off the beaten path vistas, overlooks, and campsites often have lousy cell reception.
For those of us who work remotely while traveling in our van or RV, that can be a significant stumbling block. In the worst cases, it can even prevent you from visiting some truly stunning places.
A cell phone signal booster offers a way to keep your adventures wild and free without losing connection to the modern world.
Today we’re exploring the pros and cons of different cell signal boosters to help you find the best cell phone signal booster for van life.
- #1 weBoost Drive Reach: Overall Best Cell Phone Signal Booster for Van Life
- #2 weBoost Drive Reach RV: Best Cell Phone Signal Booster for Large Van Campers and RVs
- #3 SureCall Fusion2Go Max: Best Cell Phone Signal Booster for Small Vans and Car Campers
- #4 weBoost Drive Sleek: Best Single User Cell Phone Signal Booster for Van Life
- #5 AnyCall Vehicle Cell Phone Signal Booster: Best Value Cell Phone Signal Booster for Van Life
Read on to find out what features make for a great cell signal booster and to see our top five picks for the best cell phone signal boosters for van life and RVs.
1. weBoost Drive Reach: Overall Best Cell Phone Signal Booster for Van Life – Link
weBoost has a well-deserved reputation in the RV space as a maker of the very cell signal boosters available. The weBoost Drive Reach line is the culmination of decades of experience and without a doubt one of the best and longest-range vehicle cell phone signal boosters on the market today.
An upgraded version of the wildly popular weBoost Drive X, the Drive Reach takes everything that was beloved about the Drive X series of boosters and amplifies it to the next level. The Drive Reach offers the same 50 dB signal gain as the Drive X but significantly improves overall stability, range, and performance on the ground.
The Reach does this through a more powerful amplifier and upgraded external and internal antennas. The external antenna switched from the 4.2-inch monopole on the Drive X to a denser and longer-ranged 3.4-inch shark fin style.
It offers substantially more powerful uplink and downlink power when paired with Reach’s beefier amplifier. In our testing, the Drive Reach had two to five times the uplink power and nearly twice the downlink power of the older Drive X.
We know that’s a lot of techno-talk, but suffice it to say that the Drive Reach can effectively connect to cell towers located significantly farther away than the Drive X can.
The downlink power boost likewise means that you’ll have better signal strength from your phone to the booster, even at a longer distance from the interior antenna.
The Reach also shines in terms of installation and upkeep. Its magnetic antenna can easily be mounted wherever your like on your van with the cable routed through a window or dedicated port. When paired with weBoost’s app, you can identify the location of the nearest cell tower and quickly find the optimal location on your vehicle to place the antenna.
That’s a really nice feature when it comes to nights spent in a city where you don’t want to leave an expensive piece of electronics sitting out on your roof.
All in all, the weBoost Drive Reach is the longest-range, most effective, and easiest-to-use cell phone signal booster for van life. More powerful models are available, both from weBoost and other manufacturers, but the Drive Reach’s combination of features and ease of use won it the top spot on our list.
Max Signal Gain: 50 dB
Power Requirements: 12V/1.8A
Antenna Type: Omnidirectional Shark Fin (magnetic mount)
- Exceptionally long range for a consumer cell phone booster
- Maximum signal boost allowable by law for vehicle cell boosters
- Upgraded design gives you a larger footprint of signal boost, letting you take your phone further from the interior antenna
- Magnetic antenna easy to attach and remove from your van as needed
- Backed by an industry-leading warranty
- Relatively pricey
- Large heat sink is heavy and puts out a lot of heat
- Not powerful enough for larger vehicles or RVs
2. weBoost Drive Reach RV: Best Cell Phone Signal Booster for Large Van Campers and RVs- Link
Are you looking for even more range and power from your cell booster? The weBoost Drive Reach RV combines the same industry-leading amplification technology with a larger and more powerful antenna system.
The differences between the two are slim, with the Drive Reach RV beating out the Drive Reach in overall range. The Reach RV uses a larger mast-style antenna that can pick up cell signals in extremely remote areas, while the powerful amplifier can boost the signal as much as 50 dB.
That results in an overall more effective system than the standard Reach, but at a cost.
The mast antenna of the Reach RV requires permanent mounting somewhere on your vehicle. It’s also more prominent, taller, and more of a headache to install overall.
The weBoost app offers step-by-step videos that make installation and setup much easier, but the Drive Reach RV was still more annoying to get up and running than the regular Drive Reach.
The weBoost Drive Reach RV offers some improvement in range and performance over our top-ranked weBoost Drive Reach but does so at the cost of a more complicated installation, larger antenna, and a higher price.
Max Signal Gain: 50 dB
Power Requirements: 5V / 4.5A (ships with AC adaptor, DC adaptor sold separately and must be hard wired)
Antenna Type: Omnidirectional Mast (permenant mount)
- Larger and more powerful antenna improves range even further than Drive Reach
- Maximum signal boosting allowable by law for vehicle cell signal boosters
- Excellent internal antenna increases the range of boosting for cell phones
- Best for RVs and larger vans
- Ships with 120V AC power adaptor, DC adaptor sold separately and required hard wiring
- Antenna requires permanent mounting
3. SureCall Fusion2Go Max: Best Cell Phone Signal Booster for Small Vans and Car Campers – Link
The SureCall Fusion2Go Max is a compact and easy-to-install vehicle cell phone signal booster. It combines a low profile external antenna with DC powered amplifier and an easy-to-place interior antenna.
The Fusion2Go Max installs in just minutes using a low profile magnetic antenna. It’s powered by a standard 12V auxiliary power plug connected to the amplifier and can easily be turned on or off by unplugging the cord.
SureCall lists the maximum signal gain at 50 dB with the internal antenna range in a bubble a few feet to either side. In our testing, we consistently saw a jump from the mid 90 dB to about the low 60 dB. That was in low signal areas with lots of trees near a state park.
That’s pretty good, especially considering the conditions.
We noticed that the interior antenna bubble didn’t extend as far as our top-ranked pick. It’s easy to get around by placing your phone next to the antenna or using a wifi hotspot, but we thought it necessary to mention it.
Overall we thought the SureCall Fusion2Go Max was a solid performer as a cell phone signal booster. It can’t quite match the performance of our top-ranked pick, but it’s still a reasonable choice.
Max Signal Gain: 50 dB
Power Requirements: 6V/1.7A
Antenna Type: Omnidirectional (magnetic mounted)
- Reasonable signal boost in real world conditions
- Made from sturdy materials
- Easy to install and stow away
- Internal antenna range lacking
- Equally as expensive as top-ranked options
4. weBoost Drive Sleek: Best Single User Cell Phone Signal Booster for Van Life – Link
The weBoost Drive Sleek is a streamlined cell signal booster designed to provide improved reception for a single device at a time. The Drive Sleek uses a cradle system to boost signal strength for one device at a time rather than an internal antenna that several devices can use simultaneously.
The Drive Sleek lives up to its name in style and design. It relies on a compact magnetic external antenna and has a significantly smaller amplifier than any other booster on our list.
When space is at an absolute premium, such as in a van camper, the more miniature amplifier and antenna footprint of the Sleek can come in handy. It’s not without its downsides, though.
The weBoost Drive Sleek can’t provide nearly the same signal boost as our top-ranked boosters. It maxes out at 23 dB of signal gain under ideal conditions. In our testing, we consistently saw between 15 and 18 dB of gain in reasonable real world conditions.
The cradle design has its own limitations. You can’t hold your phone while boosting its signal or take it any distance from the cradle.
We found it worked best as a booster while driving or as a way to boost the signal strength of a portable wifi hotspot or similar device.
The Drive Sleek makes up for its lack of strength with an exceptionally friendly price. It’s the cheapest model we reviewed, coming in well under half the price of our top-ranked picks.
If you’re willing to accept weaker signal boosting and being tied to a cradle, the weBoost Drive Sleek can still offer substantial value. It’s powerful enough to give you reliable calls, texts, and data connections under the right circumstances.
Max Signal Gain: 23 dB
Power Requirements: 5V / 2.1 A
Antenna Type: Omnidirectional (magnetic mount)
- Affordably priced
- Easy to install
- Good for those looking to keep connection while navigating with their phones through remote areas
- Works well with mobile hotspots
- Smallest, lightest, and easiest to move around cell signal booster
- Requires phone be inside cradle
- Doesn’t offer nearly the signal boost of more powerful (though more expensive) models
5. AnyCall Vehicle Cell Phone Signal Booster: Best Value Cell Phone Signal Booster for Van Life – Link
The AnyCall Vehicle Cell Phone Signal Booster is a value-priced cell phone booster that offers an affordable option for those looking to improve their cell reception. It can be a good option for those looking for cell signal boosting but who don’t want to drop $500+ to get it.
The AnyCall uses a permanently mounted omnidirectional antenna with a pole-style interior antenna. We don’t really like the interior antenna. It takes up more space than the flat antenna used by most of the signal boosters we reviewed and doesn’t seem to provide any additional benefit.
AnyCall claims the booster offers up to a 50 dB increase in signal strength, though we never got more than a 25-30 dB gain in our testing.
One thing to remember is that this isn’t a premium product by any means.
AnyCall has a checkered record for quality control and customer support. We saw numerous reviews online from users who received non-functioning units and more from users whose boosters stopped working after just a few months.
If you decide to go with the AnyCall, we highly recommend you thoroughly check every component, cable, and accessory when you receive it.
That’s not to say that the AnyCall doesn’t offer value to the right buyer. It’s priced at less than half the cost of our top-ranked picks and seems to work reasonably well so long as everything is in working order when you receive it.
If you’re looking for a workable cell phone signal booster for your van or car camper without breaking the bank, the AnyCall Vehicle Cell Phone Signal Booster is an option. Just make sure you’re thorough in your after purchase inspection.
Max Signal Gain: 50 dB
Power Requirements: 5V/2A
Antenna Type: Omnidirectional (permanent mount)
- Very Affordable
- Provides reasonable signal boost
- Requires permanent installation
- Interior antenna takes up more space than most
- Shaky customer support record
- Quality control less than stellar, make sure to triple-check everything immediately after purchase
How do Cell Phone Signal Boosters Work?
Cell signal boosters rely on a three part system to increase the total signal strength of cell signals. The primary components of a cell signal booster are an external antenna (called a donor antenna in industry parlance), an amplifier, and an internal antenna.
The external antenna mounts outside your vehicle and sends and receives signals from nearby cell towers. It can be either a directional or omnidirectional antenna, a distinction we’ll cover in more detail below.
The amplifier takes the signals received by the external antenna and the signals from your phone and amplifies them to increase communication strength.
The indoor antenna is installed inside your vehicle and sends the amplified signals from the cell tower to your phone or phones and then amplifies and routes your phone’s response back to the external antenna and on to the cell tower.
These three components work together to boost the overall cell signal and make staying in touch in remote areas possible.
Do I Need a Cell Phone Booster for my Van?
Not everyone living the van life needs a cell phone booster. Deciding whether or not you need a cell phone booster for your van, RV, or tiny home comes down to where you intend to travel and how critical solid cell reception is to you.
If your travel plan includes primarily big cities, major attractions, and similar well trafficked areas, you can probably get by without a cell phone booster. Boosters shine in remote regions with questionable, but still existent, cell service.
Even then, whether you need one depends on how important data and communications access is to you.
More and more van dwellers and RVers rely on remote work to pay the bills while traveling. If that sounds like you, then having a reliable cell connection to take calls and perform tasks is essential.
Van dwellers who’ll see the most benefit from a cell phone booster are those who like to travel off the beaten path but still require solid cell reception wherever they find themselves.
Do Boosters Work on 5G?
Our research found conflicting reports on whether and how much current cell signal boosters can increase the signal strength of 5G. Many manufacturers claim that their boosters increase 5G, and technically they’re correct, but it’s a very big technicality.
5G isn’t a single technology or a single band of connectivity. It’s based on multiple signal channels, including sub-6 GHz and mmWave across numerous cellular bands.
Some 5G signal is carried on older cellular bands such as 2 and 5, which consumer cell signal boosters can amplify(hence why some cell booster users report seeing 5G icons pop up on their phones), but that doesn’t give you any noticeable increase in data performance.
The fastest and best 5G networks operate on bands n41, n260, n261, and n77 in what’s known as mmWave. As of the time of writing, no consumer cell signal booster supports any of these critical bands.
Don’t despair, though. You can still get significant benefits from boosting 4G and 4G LTE signals when it comes to using your phone or wifi hotspot in remote regions.
There are a ton of technical factors and considerations we could go into, but barring those with a degree in electrical engineering, we find it best to narrow down buying factors to four critical areas.
- Signal-Boosting Effectiveness
- Antenna Type
- Carrier Compatibility
- Installation and Usability
While you’re undoubtedly familiar with the bar system on your phone to display signal, you may not know that cell bars mean basically nothing in terms of actual numerical signal strength. Different manufacturers and carriers report different signal strengths in varying numbers of bars.
The best way to accurately measure your cell signal and to find out how much your signal booster is improving that signal is to look at the cell signal strength measured in decibels (displayed as dB).
A strong cell signal is around -50 dB (we know, we know, the negative is weird, there’s a complicated technical explanation, but we recommend you just go with it), while a signal of -110 dB means you’re basically in a dead zone.
You can find this information by navigating to the network status window in your phone’s settings, but we recommend another way. Downloading a signal tracking app such as the handy weBoost app or similar lets you identify both the exact strength of your signal and where the nearest cell towers are.
Cell phone signal booster effectiveness is measured in terms of signal gain. A booster that markets a maximum 50 dB signal gain is capable, under ideal conditions, of increasing your cell phone’s signal by 50 dB.
It’s those ideal conditions that get tricky. Different cell boosters work better under different conditions, with everything from weather patterns, geography, and tree cover affecting cell signal.
One crucial thing to remember is that a cell phone signal booster only works if there’s a signal to boost. If you’re in an actual dead zone with zero cell signal, there’s not much a consumer cell booster can do.
One of the most significant physical choices to make when choosing a cell phone signal booster is what type of antenna to go with. You can choose between a directional antenna and an omnidirectional antenna, with each type offering different pros and cons.
Directional antenna work by pointing an antenna directly at the source of signal. They provide the maximum signal reception and amplification for cell phone signal boosters and can work over longer distances, but there are some tradeoffs.
Because a directional antenna has to point at a signal source, it’s effectively unusable while in motion. Directional antennae are also generally bigger and require more advanced installation skills.
If you’re planning to travel to genuinely remote locations with only a single likely signal source, a directional antenna can be a big help, but generally they’re too large and too much work to make sense in a van setting.
Omnidirectional antennae receive signals from 360 degrees and can easily hop from tower to tower based on where the strongest signal is coming from. They require no positioning or adjustment to work and can boost signals from several different directions simultaneously.
Omnidirectional antennae are also easier to install and use. They don’t need to be pointed at a cell tower to work, meaning you can use your cell booster even while driving.
The downside to an omnidirectional antenna is that the signal boost is never quite as powerful as with a directional antenna of the same power.
Despite this shortcoming, we still think an omnidirectional antenna makes the most sense for most van dwellers. The loss of signal boosting is more than made up for in convenience, ease of installation, and the ability to increase your cell signal even while driving.
While most consumer cell phone signal boosters work well with most cell carriers, it’s essential to confirm with the manufacturer that your specific carrier is supported. All the boosters on our list work with all the major cell carriers in the U.S. and many of their mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs).
Installation and Usability
Vans don’t have a ton of space like larger RVs or tiny homes. Many of the most potent and effective cell phone signal boosters require either significant space or the mounting of large permanent antenna setups.
In choosing the boosters for our list, we focused on models that offered exceptional performance while still being reasonably easy to install. Things we looked for include:
- Magnetic exterior antenna
- DC power compatibility
- Permanent mounting requirements
- Cable routing
Our preference for van cell phone signal boosters are reasonably sized units that can easily be installed and used how and when you need them. Many larger RV units require permanent mounting infrastructure and significant wiring.
The best cell phone signal boosters for van life can be set up within minutes, don’t require permanent external or internal antenna mounting, and can easily be plugged into a DC outlet or similar.
Magnetic external antenna are especially important as they make it much easier to pack away when cell signal is strong such as in a town or city, then pull out again when you’re back in the boonies.