Wilson 801247 Wireless Repeater: A Review

One of the challenges in today’s connected world is that we expect Internet and cellphone signals just about everywhere.  However, many rural areas are lacking in coverage and I recently embarked on a project to provide wireless service where previously there was little to none.

I frequently visit a summer house on a lake that has minimal cell coverage.  When walking outside, you are lucky to get one bar with AT&T while Verizon is a bit stronger, but still of questionable usability.  My goal was to find a way to deliver consistent coverage to a desk in the house.  Note that the objective was not to provide signal for the entire house, but simply to one location.  (This is an important distinction.)

I researched many solutions.  The first option was a femtocell.  Carriers provide femtocells which provide cellular coverage in houses using voice over IP and existing Internet connections.  The idea is a good one, but did not work in my case because the house did not have Internet access.  Additionally, the carriers charge around $10 a month for this service which is ridiculous.  Clearly, I needed an alternative approach.

The second choice, which I eventually went with, was a wireless repeater.  These systems include an outside antenna, inside antenna and an amplifier.  The outside antenna receives the carrier’s signal while the amplifier amplifies it and re-broadcasts it through the internal antenna inside the house.  Thus, all cell phones inside the house work normally because they connect to what is effectively the outside signal amplified.  There are a number of options to choose from including units from Wilson Electronics and Wi-Ex.  In general, the reviews of both units were positive.  Note that both companies also offer a range of accessories to improve signal quality and internal coverage area.

I chose a 801247 from Wilson Electronics due to the lower cost and positive reviews.  The Wi-Ex unit looked good too, but I thought that the 801247 would better meet my needs.  I also interacted with the Wilson Electronics support team prior to purchasing the unit and was impressed with their knowledge and responsiveness.  As part of the purchase (and based on their recommendation), I also added a directional antenna to further enhance the unit’s performance.

The entire purchase process went smoothly and I was excited when everything arrived.  My plan was to test the system in my home (which also has poor coverage) before bringing it to the lake house. However, my initial installation experience was a bit daunting.

The initial challenge

Repeaters have two antennas both of which act as receivers and transmitters.  If the two antennas are too close together then they will interfere with each other.  Both devices have technology to minimize interference, but require a minimum fixed distance between the internal and external antenna to avoid the situation.  This is a critical challenge since the distance gets greater as antenna power increases.  It is for this reason that I chose the 802147 because its internal amplification is fairly low thus minimizing the required separation.

All of the above said, I still had problems placing the internal and external antennas in the same room of my house because there was not a enough distance.  I never addressed the situation and the current plan is place the antenna in the attic at a later date.

The distance issue was less of a problem in the lake house because of the directionality of the antenna and the distance between it and the internal antenna.

The installation

The biggest challenge with installing a directional antenna is deciding where to point it; pointing it in the wrong direction will negatively impact performance. This was an area where the Android Market came to the rescue.  I installed the application Open Signal Maps on my Motorola Atrix 4G.  The application plotted the closest tower locations on Google Maps and then I used a larger map to decide where to point the antenna.

In order to allow for easy removal, I used a temporary mounting method and appreciated that the mounting hardware and cabling was included.  I also order a couple of these to simplify the process of running the cable through a window.   The resulting installation was stable, consistent and easily removable.

The results

The good

Verizon’s signal was massively improved.  I went from one bar and an unusable connection to five solid bars. Bandwidth tests showed download speeds in excess of 1 Mb/sec and uploads of about 600Kb/sec.  Note that it properly amplified the 3G signal.  Nice. 

The AT&T signal showed a significant increase as well.  It went from no bars to three and my bandwidth numbers went from zero to about 1 Mb/sec.  Interestingly, my Motorola Atrix 4G actually showed a 4G signal which was unexpected since the unit was only rated for 3G.  (Could it be that 4G uses the same signal band?)  Voice quality was good and the phone was perfectly usable.

The bad

The signal range was very short.  All of the above tests were performed with the aircard and phone six inches or closer to the 801247’s internal antenna.  As I moved the devices away, the re-broadcasted signal decreased rapidly and by 6 feet, the signal was gone.  Thus the amplification benefit only covers a tiny area.

Summary

The Wilson Electronics 801247 did an amazing job retrieving distant signals.  Its impact was substantial and the unit will allow me to work from the lake house when needed. 

The only downside of the unit (besides cost) was the relatively short range of the internal antenna.  For me, this is not a problem since I only wanted coverage at my desk, but those people looking for house-wide amplification should look to a different model. However, that more powerful model will require additional antenna spacing.

In summary, I am happy with my new amplifier and would purchase the unit again.  Its ability to pull in distant signals is compelling and it provides a viable method to deliver cellular coverage to those rural areas where it is limited or non-existent.

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4 thoughts on “Wilson 801247 Wireless Repeater: A Review”

  1. The reason your Atrix showed a “4G” signal is because AT&T doesn’t really offer a “4G” service, they set all their HSPA 14.4 and up phone’s to always display an H+ signal even if the tower is only capable of a UMTS or 3G connection. It’s done mainly to prevent customers from being confused because a normal phone like a european phone over here would bounce between 3G/H/H+ which would confuse us American’s.

    AT&T’s so called 4G, is really just a tiny bit faster version of 3G called HSPA+, which the Atrix isn’t even capable of, it’s an HSPA 14.4 device. The enhanced HSPA signal rides on the same signal bands as their 3G service which is why you would noticed an increased H+ signal.

    When real 4G from AT&T comes a lot (whenever that is), it will be called LTE and it runs on a completely new band called 700mhz and also AWS. Your signal booster wont be compatible with that. But you would have to get a new phone anyways to experience a difference.

    1. Hi and thank you for your comment,

      Your logic makes sense regarding the benefit of the amplifier. The only thing that I find perplexing is that an AT&T rep told me at a show that their 4G used a different signal band. Clearly, he could have been mistaken, but I carry two phones and noticed a distinct difference in signal quality between my older 3G phone and the Atrix. The rep attributed this to the relatively unused 4G frequencies versus the over saturated 3G network.

      Another point the rep made is that the 4G signal’s frequency better penetrates buildings which he stated would give a better signal too. My experience seems to align with this although I could be mistaken.

      Finally, your point about the network display on the phone makes complete sense. I have never seen the phone show anything related to 3G; it only shows GSM, EDGE or an H. Perhaps H without a plus means 3G? I have no idea, but do find it misleading.

      Thank you again for your comment.

  2. Was curious to know if you found a problem with the inner antenna. I found that the coverage was not sufficient when past about 20 meters, maybe there is something in my wall which the signal has a problem with for some reason. I was hoping that the amplification would be able to push through the wall to extend the repeaters proximity but I have failed to see this happen. I think I will have to fool around with a better location, but I just don’t want to have to reorganize my own house because I need the coverage to extend that much.

    The reason I decided to purchase the unit is because I saw that there were a lot of reviews on http://www.wifirepeaterreview.com which helped me figure that it wasn’t overpriced compared to a lot of other units, plus I found one refurbished. This isn’t to say that if you go refurbished your getting a bad deal, its just that I wish that maybe the layout of my house would be a little bit more condusive to coming to a solution.

    1. Hi and thank you for your comment,

      In general, if there is one disappointment with the device, it is the internal signal amplification. I definitely find the internal range to be extremely short. Some say that this depends on the outside signal quality and I have not had an opportunity to thoroughly test this. However, at best, it covers a room and at worse (which is my case), the signal covers the desk only.

      I am not convinced that this is any worse than competing solutions. I believe that you would get longer range from the “different model” I link to in the conclusion. However, this unit would add to cost and installation complexity.

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