In a perfect world, your mobile phone would always find a reliable connection for voice and data. But, as any cell phone user can tell you, even on the virtually ubiquitous Verizon Wireless network, dead spots remain. The Verizon Wireless Extender ($249) addresses this problem. Like theSprint Airave, it's essentially a femtocell (that is, your own private cell tower) that provides an extra bar or two for your voice communications on a mobile. This accessory doesn't provide better data coverage at home, but it can help you ditch the landline for good.
Setup and Design
Like the Sprint Airave, the Verizon Wireless Network Extender is made by Samsung, so it's no surprise that the Extender has a similar size (7.8 x 5.8 x 2.1 inch) and shape. It looks exactly like a Wi-Fi router but is nothing of the sort. Instead, the all-black enclosure has a small antenna that connects on the back and one Ethernet port you connect to your existing Wi-Fi router. Since there is no configuration (Verizon Wireless customizes the device for your Verizon account), setup takes less than 5 minutes, most of which is needed for the unit to lock onto a GPS signal.
The goal of this product is to make the Verizon Wireless voice service more readily available in areas where the signal is weak, such as rural locales, office buildings, or your basement. Where you place the device is important; the Extender is only effective up to 40 feet away. Verizon Wireless includes an extension cable for the antenna, so if your router is in the basement, you can attach the cable and use the antenna near a window, where it can find GPS satellites. (GPS is used for E911 and to track the location of the Extender, but not for extending the cell signal.) When you place or receive a call, you'll hear a quick two-tone chirp that confirms the Extender is working. Four blue lights on the Extender also indicate the device is active.
We used a Verizon Wireless HTC Touch Pro for testing, and found that the extender just works: in a basement where no cell phone coverage existed, the Touch Pro suddenly had two bars of coverage. When we stepped outside, in a rural area where Verizon Wireless is barely available, the signal increased to four bars. Rather startlingly, voice quality on the Touch Pro was perfectly clear in areas where static, interference, and congestion were normally major problems.
We also tried using two different routers--a D-Link DIR-855 and a ZyXEL X550-NH, which both support Quality of Service to streamline voice calls. Technically speaking, the Extender is not a VoIP device, but the router dutifully improved connection quality while we uploaded about 10MB of photos over a 3-Mbps broadband line.
The Extender can support up to three Verizon Wireless customers at a time. However, users can create a "preferred list" of Verizon Wireless customers using the online management tool, which will give their phones priority when in range.
The Verizon Wireless Network Extender is no impulse purchase--at $249, it costs more than most phones on Verizon's network. Yet it works--and without any service fees. For any Verizon Wireless customer trying to get a signal in remote areas, the Extender is a great buy. While the Sprint Airave costs only $100 to start, the company charges an extra $5 per month to use it; provided you plan on sticking with Verizon Wireless for more than 30 months, the Wireless Extender makes more sense.