To hunters all across the world, cell cameras are without a doubt the biggest technological advancement since modern day firearms! That's a pretty bold statement considering they still have their limitations.
The biggest limitation of cellular trail cameras is simply that they need service to work. As hunters we often find ourselves in remote locations void of any cellular network or even in some type of topographic feature where cellular signal is limited. These are the scenarios that limit cellular trail cameras and their performance. While you cannot do much in areas void of any cellular coverage, you can do something about weak and/or limited signal strength. Meet external high gain booster antennas!
One important insight before we dive into external antennas is something very important to understand. Often times you see some pretty bold claims of certain products having better signal than others. For some reason this seems to only happen in the hunting industry and the world of cell cameras...Probably based on the fact that most companies use "prostaff" personnel for marketing.
Any product certified to operate on major cellular networks goes through a specific series of reception and transmission tests. These parameters and tests are enforced by the FCC and cellular carriers to guarantee device performance and also to protect the general public from RF exposures. To explain this very simply, ALL CELLULAR DEVICES HAVE SIMILAR RECEPTION AND TRANSMISSION ABILITIES. Claims of one device having more ability to find signal is typically bogus unless the device itself is having a failure. While there may be some circuitry designs and performances that lead to better device performance, the ability to find and connect to signal is a relatively even playing field.
Directional antennas are our pick of the litter. They are exactly what they sound like, external 3rd party antennas that need to be relatively aligned with the closest tower providing cellular signal. Relatively aligned referring to the specific azimuth of the cellular equipment creating the signal source, another way to say that is these antennas have a narrow field of degree to work with. Overall, directional antennas offer a bigger gain in signal strength. We've ran these for several years, field testing our own direction antenna product, and have seen an average increase of 2 bars with the Exodus cell cameras.
- Best performance
- Higher dBi Gain/Higher Signal Gain
- Time consuming installation
- Higher price point
Omni Directional Antennas
Omni Direction Antennas encompass 360°. Without the need for specific alignment, setup of these is a breeze. Easy setup comes with a kickback, lesser performance. In the case of most cellular trail camera users wanting to maximize the device's performance this isn't the best performance based product to increase signal strength. If you're a guy who wants something simple then an omni direction antenna is your best bet.
- Encompass 360°
- Simple and quick installation
- Lower price point
- Lesser performance compared to direction antenna
One thing to watch when purchasing a booster antenna for your cellular trail camera is the type of coax and connection hardware it comes with. Common sense says you want to be sure the fittings are compatible with your cellular trail camera. Something you probably didn't know is that coax cable has a loss coefficient. For example, if you are using very cheap coax with high loss coefficient of 3 dbi/foot, with just a few feet of cabling you just negated any gain the external booster antenna has given you. Most booster antennas designed for cellular trail cameras are going to top out around a 10 dBi gain, so the coax is important. Stay with RG58 or better.
Also, you need to be sure which every antenna model you go with is tuned to the proper frequencies. Each cellular carrier has designated frequencies for individual bands of technology. ATT has specific bands for 4G and LTE, Verizon's are different. Be sure your purchase is designated to work with the correct carrier.
Author: Chad Sylvester, Exodus Co-Founder/Owner