May 3 , 2007
By TED KRITSONIS
The Globe and Mail Online
There's a commercial from Rogers Wireless where one man is thrown into a trance, while looking at another man talking on his cellphone in an elevator. The incredulous look on his face — with Also Sprach Zarathustra playing in the background — is comical but it also illustrates the feeling of mobile disconnect.
Anyone with a cellphone has likely experienced a few dropped calls in their lifetime, and to see someone speak so easily into a wireless handset in low-coverage areas could raise an eyebrow or two.
Relying on the wireless carriers to make their networks better is one thing, but what if you could boost the existing one to improve reception? This is where the Z1900 comes in, a product from Ottawa-based Spotwave.
Creating the right conditions
The Z1900 is meant to boost cellular signals in an area as large as 2,500 sq. ft., which is more than most homes or offices. The product will only work with the 1900MHz band, so if you're using anything less, then you may run into problems. But the good news is that most phones operate on the 1900MHz band anyway, so you should be fine.
You can go to Spotwave's website and enter in your postal code to get an idea whether or not your phone(s) will work, and which carriers are supported. The details here should be enough to tell you what you might expect.
The instruction manual for the Z1900 is not that thick, but there's still plenty to take in. Most of this is taken up by the installation process. All you have to do is find an area of your home or office with the strongest signal and mount the Network Access Unit. The strongest signals usually come through windows, but it's best to check your cellphone and see where it can hit five bars of coverage and pick that spot. Even a wall can do the trick.
Once you've done that, you take a second smaller unit and put it in an area that needs more coverage. This could be as simple as the other side of the room or one floor directly below. The one issue here is that both units are connected with a coaxial cable, so the greater the distance, the greater potential for a mess.
You don't have to screw these onto the wall like the instruction manual suggests because shelves or tables can do the job just as well. Spotwave also says that the further you move the two units apart, the better the coverage and performance. But they also say that mounting them on walls increases coverage and performance. I wasn't about to screw holes into my walls, so I can't say if that's totally true.
Up and running
The main unit has a light indicator that tells you how good the coverage is. When it's not good, there's network interference of some kind, thereby disrupting the boost to your cellphone. Having wireless Internet and using appliances like a microwave don't seem to affect the Z1900 much at all, which is a good sign.
I tried three different cellphones from different carriers to see how each responded to the boost. All went from two or three bars to five and were pretty consistent in staying there. But the biggest turnaround was data processing.
Loading webpages and downloading music was a lot faster under these conditions. I would estimate that it took about half the time it would normally take to transfer data to a cellphone.
In marketing their product, Spotwave also says that battery life is extended because of the boost. This may be true but it was hard to read, particularly when a cellphone was only on standby. A 20-minute conversation seemed to have little effect on the phone's performance, despite a low battery. But at the same time, there wasn't a lot of other evidence to suggest that battery life is really enhanced that much by the Z1900.
Getting a much needed boost
Many cellphone users out there may not have thought of it, but the lack of reception — meaning the less bars you see — is the key culprit when data doesn't transfer all that quickly. Streaming video and radio, which is growing more popular, is made even faster with a product like the Z1900.
It's a bit of a niche product, certainly, but it makes sense for those that have forsaken landlines and just use a cellphone at home. Then there are the home offices where cellphone users can't risk dropping business calls because of lousy reception. It solves those problems well, though it needs a strong signal in order to do its job, which means that areas with no reception at all are out of luck.
It also comes at a hefty price of $400. Sure, it's great that there are no residual charges on a monthly basis or otherwise, but splurging that much for the Z1900 might scare some off.
It ultimately depends on which guy you prefer to be when you watch that Rogers commercial.