The inside of my apartment was a cell phone dead zone (cue creepy music left-over from Halloween) and I’ve written about the problem before. My first attempt at a solution, the zBoost zPersonal Cell Phone Signal Booster, fell flat and didn’t do anything to boost my signal (in fact, it was hard to tell if it was doing anything at all). Fortunately, Amazon allowed me to return it with no problem. My second attempt has proven to be more successful using Sprint’s Airave. The device is a femtocell meaning it acts as a mini cell tower and creates a cell phone signal instead of just repeating one by using your broadband connection and routing your calls across the Internet.
Unfortunately things were not quite smooth the first time around but now the system seems to be quite stable. This has improved my cell phone reception and put a stop to my dropped calls. I no longer have to lean towards a window on one foot or stand outside in the cold in order to have a conversation not be disconnected. The Airave has changed my reception from one bar of EV to five bars of 1X (voice). The calls are clear and I no longer have to worry about losing an important call.
The Airave package contains 4 items:
- Airave unit (looks a lot like a wireless router)
- External GPS antenna
- AC Power Adapter
- Network Cable
The Airave unit comes activated and assigned to your Sprint account. All you have to do is place the Airave near a closed window, plug the network cable into a port on your router, and plug in the power cable. If you aren’t able to pick up a GPS signal from the Airave’s location, you can try moving it to an elevated position or another location. You can also plug in the external GPS antenna to boost its reception and give it more flexibility in picking up a GPS signal.
When you turn the power switch on, 4 lights at the front of the Airave will power on and flicker between blue and red as the unit activates itself. This process, the quick start guide warns, can take upward of 4 hours, but I found mine to complete within an hour. At the end, all four lights will be a steady blue or else it indicates a problem with either being unable to acquire a GPS signal, no network connection, or perhaps a problem in your account on Sprint’s side of things.
The connections in the back allow you to connect the network, power, and GPS signal. The GPS signal is covered with a small rubber cap which can be rotated out of the way. You can then connect the GPS antenna in with the mini-coax connection on the antenna.
The Airave can handle up to 3 calls at once depending on your broadband capabilities. I’ve noticed no detrimental side effect on my connection while on the phone and it is listed that for each call the Airave is handling, it will need 40 Kbps for upload and download bandwidth. The Airave primarily handles the voice side of a phone. If you try to use data, it will direct that traffic back through the EV network. If EV isn’t available, the data traffic will go through the Airave connection.
The wireless range of the Airave covers an area of 5,000 square feet and is similarly affected by building materials like wifi ranges. Your Sprint phone will automatically switch back to the national network if you walk out of range of the Airave. You can hear a low tone when the switch happens. If you want to test that your phone is connecting to an Airave access point, just dial *99 on your phone and you’ll be greeted with a repeating prompt that says you’re connected to an Airave station. You can also limit your Airave to 50 phone numbers if you’re in a congested area and notice neighbors are prohibiting you from being able to use the Airave.
The Sprint Airave costs $100 for the unit and $5 per month for the Airave usage. There is also an $18 activation fee, the same as a new phone line. You can optionally add unlimited calling plans to your Airave for additional costs. You should also read the Shenanigans section below for more practical experience with the cost.
All in all, the overview of the setup steps above should be all there is to it. I first received the Airave about a month and a half ago where I set it up and it worked great for about 15 hours. With nothing changing, it went into a system error and I was unable to get it to work again despite numerous calls to Airave tech support. Everything from resetting the device in my Sprint account to placing the device in the DMZ of my router and forwarding UDP ports 500, 4500, 53 and 52428.
It may be of interest to some that I was able to log one of the Sprint IP’s of the server it tries to connect to: 126.96.36.199
Finally, a second Airave was shipped out to me. I put it through the exact same setup (after resetting my router to its default configuration) and the new Airave activated and has working perfectly for the past few weeks.
You can see if Airave service is available in your area: sprint.com/airavezip Learn about Sprint’s Airave service and read the FAQ (pdf).
While I was investigating the Airave online and looking for reviews, I stumbled across a few forums mixed in with reviews that stated you could get an Airave for free if you just called Customer Retention and said you would cancel your service unless you received an Airave.
After reading enough reviews and high recommendations, I wanted to get an Airave, but legitimately. I drove to my local Sprint store and asked them about getting one. They informed me that they were out of stock and I should call Customer Support to see about ordering one. I left the store and called customer support. After explaining the situation and that I wanted to order an Airave, the nice lady that answered tried to transfer me away three different times; the first time to sales, the second to a higher up in sales, and finally after she came back on and told me that everybody she tried said they didn’t have an Airave to sell, she transferred me to Customer Retention. There I spoke with somebody that said they usually deal with people that have drawn the line, and if he doesn’t do something about it, they’ll cancel their service. For that reason, he informed me that he could give me the Airave and the Airave service at no cost. I gladly accepted because this seemed to be the only way to get an Airave to address my actual problem and if I had many more dropped calls my then-fiance’ certainly would have killed me, meaning they would lose me as a customer anyways.
That’s my story. I would recommend anybody on Sprint that has no signal in their home should try to legitimately get an Airave and if you end up at Customer Retention as the only means, best of luck.
I am very pleased with the Airave and can reliably use my phone in my home now.