Keep connected

09/30/2011 @ 8:54am

Smartphones are transforming the way the ag industry communicates and does business. But because farmers often work in areas where reception is marginal, these devices can become expensive paperweights in a matter of moments. So the ability to keep that connection plays a big role in purchasing decisions.

In a recent Ag Poll, 51% of Agriculture.com visitors say the most important feature when they chose a smartphone is service signal. And while a plan may have excellent coverage, no plan is foolproof in every location.

To get a better signal, many have turned to a booster (also known as an amplifier) to enhance performance.

“Boosters are like providing a satellite dish or antenna for your phone in the immediate area,” says Greg Wegman, Purdue University. “Depending on strength of the amplifier, there would be a range in which your mobile device would receive a better signal, thanks to the amplifier.”

When it comes to choosing a booster, however, it's not a one-size-fits-all system. The only amplifier that will work with smartphones is the repeater type. This kind of amplifier actively picks up your cell phone signal and repeats it, only at a higher power. This type of booster can boost up to five phones inside a vehicle simultaneously and can also boost laptop Internet cards.

“For farmers, this is a pretty wise idea, since they will likely be relying more on mobile technology and communications in the near future,” says Wegman.

What about frequency?

Bear in mind that cell boosters operate on different frequencies – 800 MHz, 1900 MHz, and iDen. And it's important to know which frequency your phone operates under.

For smartphones, look for an amplifier that is a dual band cellular repeater. These repeaters operate on 800 MHz and 1900 MHz bands, which ensures proper coverage with most major carriers.

“Certain areas are provided signals at different bandwidths. Some areas are at 800 MHz; other areas are at 1900 MHz,” says Wegman. “Dual band amplifiers can handle both, but you'll see more improvement in the signal with 800 MHz.”

Proper installation is key

“One shortcoming is that the product isn't the easiest to set up,” Wegman says. “You need to know what you're doing. Placing it in the wrong area may reduce its effectiveness.”

There are specific installation instructions that come with repeater-type amplifiers. Key to a successful installation is to keep the proper distance between the transmitting antenna (located on the center of the truck's roof) and the internal antenna, which you should locate in a low spot. Never place the internal pickup antenna on the windshield because this will create cross talk. Some amplifiers even display a warning light that indicates the two antennas are too close.

One benefit of using a booster is preserved battery life. When cell phones aren't receiving a strong service signal, the phone repeatedly tries to acquire the best signal, which ends up killing a battery.

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