2021 VERSION: Will you need a new cell booster for 5G service?

This article originally ran in 2016 and has been extensively updated.

If you’re thinking of buying a cellular booster in 2021, you’re probably worried about futureproofing. It seems like the cell world is always changing. A cellular signal booster is a pretty decent sized investment and you want to be able to get your money’s worth.

There’s going to be a new standard in cellular communications. That’s absolutely going to happen. The good news is that it’s not going to happen very soon. With 5G rolling out throughout the country in the last 12 months, it’s going to be a while before anything new comes down the pike. But, there are going to be changes and it’s important to know what’s going on.

Innovation always happens

If you look back in recent history, you’d think that things were pretty stable. But really, there was a pretty massive revolution in cell service between 2012 and 2019. Even though carriers started rolling out LTE nine years ago, there’s been continuous improvement. Different parts of the LTE standard were rolled out, including moving all voice service to LTE. We finally got to the point where we were using the full LTE standard just in time to move on to 5G.

Now, 5G is here

5G is a totally different form of cell service. Because it has so little in common with today’s voice and data, it has to work on a different set of frequencies than today’s cell service. It will probably be a decade before LTE service is finally retired, so 5G and LTE will have to live together for a long time.

In order for this to happen, you need new cell phone frequencies. The FCC spent most of 2017-2019 clearing out space in the 600MHz band.  They’ll spend the next several years allocating space in the 1GHz-4GHz bands for additional capacity.

However, AT&T and other carriers have also been allocating space for 5G where their older 2G and 3G networks used to be. That’s important, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

True 5G boosters are years away

Cell boosters for all those 5G frequencies are going to take a while. It’s not the fault of manufacturers. They know how to build the boosters. It’s the fault of the FCC.

For the last four years, the FCC’s focus has been on other things. They’ve opened up 5G Cellular, yes, but they also worked on a lot of other projects that took their time. For that reason, there’s no standard for cell boosters for those new frequencies. Without even a draft standard, you won’t see any equipment submitted for approval. The industry is essentially at a standstill.

Because of government approvals, it takes a long time for things to change in the cell phone business. That’s a good thing, even though it seems like it’s bad for innovation. Without a little bit of supervision, cell carriers could choose to make your phone obsolete pretty much any time they wanted. In fact, the US is pretty lenient with cell phone regulation; it’s one of the few countries where you can’t take your phone from carrier to carrier and where carriers are allowed to “lock” phones so that they can’t be used on any other carrier. Then again, it’s also one of the few countries where cell phone companies routinely give away free phones, so there’s obviously some good to offset the bad.

The good news

The good news here is that today’s cell boosters will work with 5G on today’s cellular frequencies. That’s a good first step. They’ll also do a good job with the LTE-Advanced implementation used by AT&T and others. That means you’ll still get crystal-clear calls and really fast data. You just won’t always get 5G, depending on how your carrier rolls it out.

It’s also good news that the current frequencies aren’t going away. Over time, you’ll see less emphasis on them, but they’ll be around for years, even after the average lifespan of a cell booster has been exhausted.

What I’m trying to say here is that you might want to worry about 5G on your next cell booster, but you don’t need to worry that this one will become obsolete. It’s hard to even know when that next-generation booster will be available, so it definitely shouldn’t be a concern for you.

By way of paying the bills:

If you happen to be in the market for a cellular booster, I would appreciate if you’d check out our corporate parent, SolidSignal.com. They keep the lights on here and it’s nice to give back once in a while. If you need some help choosing that booster, give us a call at 888-233-7563.

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.