Project Trail Hugger 2008 Hummer H3 Alpha Cell Phone Signal Booster - Can You Hear Me Now?

    Part 8: Wilson Electronics Cellular Signal Amplifier

    Ken BrubakerPhotographer, WriterDavid BrubakerPhotographer

    Quite simply, your cell phone is a two-way radio. Most modern cell phones have an output of 0.2 to 0.6 watts, according to the FCC. This isn't much, but it's enough to communicate with a cell tower up to 5 to 8 miles away. This distance is approximate; there are a number of factors that can decrease or increase the distance. We all know what happens when we're too far from a tower. The dreaded "no service" message appears. Those of us who travel to the cellular-challenged backcountry are used to seeing this message. The trails in and around Moab come to mind. But sometimes you don't have to be in the backcountry to lose cellular service. There are poor coverage areas on every network that can result in a significant decrease in signal strength, causing dropped calls or even a complete loss of signal. Another thing: Your cell phone may get a decent signal when you're outdoors, but when you surround yourself with the metal of your rig, the cellular signal can erode in a big way. So what can you do?

    Like you, we've experienced cell-phone signal hassles so we went looking for a solution. What we found is the SignalBoost Mini-Mobile Amplifier Kit. This kit is one of four mobile bundles manufactured by Wilson Electronics, a leader in the wireless communications industry for more than 40 years. The company offers a wide variety of amplifiers, antennas, and related components designed to significantly improve cellular communications for both mobile and in-building situations. The mobile kits have an MSRP ranging from $329 to $374. Our SignalBoost Mini-Mobile Amplifier Kit with Cradle Plus included a magnet-base external antenna, an amplifier, a power cord, earbuds, and the aforementioned Cradle Plus. This dual-band system supercharges the outgoing cellular signal up to 3 watts, is plug-n-play, allows multiple phones and data cards to be used simultaneously, requires no physical connection to the cell phone, and works with all major cell-phone carriers.

    Here's how it works. The system uses two internal amplifier circuits that boost cellular signals to and from the cell tower simultaneously. Weak signals broadcast from a distant cell tower are captured by the roof-mounted antenna, amplified by the highly sensitive receiving amplifier and rebroadcast with greater strength to cellular devices in the interior of the vehicle through the Cradle Plus or the Ultra-Slim antenna. Conversely, outgoing signals from cell devices in the vehicle are picked up by the interior antenna, amplified by the outgoing amplifier and rebroadcast back to the cell tower.

    It took longer for us to open the box and fish out the components than it did to get the unit installed and operational in project Trailhugger. We powered the unit up and were instantly blown away at the vast improvement in cellular signal. Here's what we installed and how it works.

    Trailhugger Is Done, For Now...
    With this installment we're going to close out the initial build of project Trailhugger. When we took delivery of our Hummer H3 Alpha on November 9, 2007, it was bone-stock with 52 miles on the odometer. From the beginning our goals were simple; improve its on- and off-highway functionality without sacrificing the great ride and handling. Trailhugger now has a slew of modifications and over 24,000 miles on the odometer and we feel like we met our goals. The rig is more capable off-highway but it still rides and handles beautifully. Better actually.

    So far we've only had one warranty issue (a faulty cargo light switch) and only had to part with a tad over $250 for regularly scheduled maintenance through our favorite dealer, Bergstrom Hummer in Madison, Wisconsin. When the truck was bone-stock, the 5.3L V-8 returned an average of 15.2 mpg. Our goal was to keep that number as intact as possible so the truck wouldn't turn into a wallet-draining gas hog. This goal had a lot to do with why we built the truck as we did. We're happy to report that the finished product averages 14.2 mpg, so mpg loss was minimal.

    So what's down the trail for our H3? Well, we know there are lots of products in development for the H3, including selectable front lockers, so that's on the radar. We're also exploring the possibility of a long-travel IFS kit or a full coilover suspension. For now, though, our H3 will stay as it is and continue to hug trails.