Cell service from 12 miles away?

This question came from a customer. Apparently they are 12 miles from the closest cell tower and wanted to know if there was a booster that would work at that distance.

I was sad to have to say no. There are other options, like internet-based calling, but as far as regular cell service, that’s just not going to happen at that distance.

How the system works

The whole goal of the cellular system is to make sure that there’s a tower fairly close by. That way the amount of broadcast power used by your phone is fairly low. Low power means better batter life, smaller phones, less radiation. Considering that your phone is either in your pocket, in your hand, or against your head, less radiation is an especially good idea.

In most cases, you need to be within about 1.5 miles or less from a cell tower for it to work. Some marine users have found they could get good service from 5 miles away over open ocean, but on land that 1.5 mile number is pretty hard and fast. Even with the best cell booster, you won’t get more than that.

That’s why in most populated areas, you’re usually served by two to three cell towers at the same time. It’s a robust network that lets you hand off from tower to tower long before you lose signal.

Any options for 12 miles?

As far as the cellular system goes, there’s no real option if you’re 12 miles from the towers. But, you’re not completely alone. If you can get internet but no cell service, you can use Wi-Fi Calling or even something like Skype or Whatsapp that lets you make phone calls over the internet.

If you don’t have land-based internet service, you can get a VSAT system to get satellite-based internet. Systems like this have been around for years, and they are very reliable. They’re much more expensive than traditional internet, but certainly better than having no communication at all.

Traditional radiotelephone systems, like the ones available for the original mobile phone systems, are out there, but it’s something you would be on your own to set up. I don’t think they’re a real serious option.

You could also try to put up your own cell tower, but as I discovered that’s a pretty tough thing to do.

So really, satellite internet and something like Whatsapp is the best, possibly the only option.

Get reliable internet (and phone calls) anywhere

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About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.