Replacing Rural Analog Cellular Equipment With a Digital Signal

Following are a few of the questions and my answers from email I have received.

Remind your Carrier!! FCC law states ‘no coverage can be lost’ when turning off Analog.

1/2009 I have been testing Nextel/Boost iden service in some of my rural travels and it
performs very well. iden phones are higher power and iden will work a much greater distance
from the tower. Now that Boost Mobile offers a $50 per month unlimited prepaid plan its 
looking very attractive. Seems iden would be ideal for boats on the sea and rural users. 

''While Plateau wireless currently offers AMPS/TDMA/GSM in its markets, as demonstrated
and supported by the current use of AMPS in these markets, it is clear that there is a continued
need for AMPS service in these rural markets. Due to the analog receiver characteristics, which
allow a cellular call to continue under extremely poor received signal conditions, and due to the
power available with analog bag phones and mobile installations, AMPS works particularly well
in rural areas where digital service cannot maintain a call and, as in all markets, digital service
does not duplicate analog service. Therefore, prohibiting analog service to subscribers in
Plateau’s markets would not serve the public interest.''

Wouldn't it be nice if Alltel, Verizon and at&t felt this way about its customers?
Analog Cellular Status Reports Here
New! Alltel Analog Turn Off Timeline

reading your website, I see you have experienvce and knowledge about rural cellphone/internet use...
and you offer to field questions about this.

My application is a laptop operating with an internet connection through a tethered Alltel cellphone, rurally about 9 miles from the transmit tower near Duchesne Utah.
before, I had a Motorola V3M razr phone with a hard metel-to-metal antenna connection to a Cyfre booster with vertical antenna mounted on the roof of the mobile home. The connection wasn't spectacular but it worked after a fashion. It would take about 15 seconds for a page to load.
That connection was upgraded by Alltel from a direct antenna port connection to a velcroed Wilson patch connection to the razr's back. And that also worked more or less.

Then 2 months back they upgraded me on a promotion to a Motorola VE-20 cellphone --- this has no antenna port at all. So again the connection has been with the velcro patch.
... and this hardly works at all.... with very long upload times of one minute plus.
Last week they swapped out my Cyfre booster for a newer model that has the same outdoor antenna as the previous one but a wireless indoor antenna instead of the hard connection or patch connection..
And this again has pretty sad results to getting a good internet signal.
They no longer offer any cellphones with antenna ports.

The telephone signal has been very good throughout all of these hardware changes. Very rarely is there any problem getting through over the phone.... it's just the internet connection that's problematic.

Is there a way to make a yagi antenna work here ?
Would it do any good to go back to use of an antenna-ported cellphone ?

If you have time , please advise me as to my options for improving (or restoring?) a working internet signal.


Hey P,

I would dump both amps, go back to the v3m and directly connect your antenna to the phone. A little female to female adapter should have come with your direct connect amp, it looks like 1 inch long tube.
All the amps do is add noise and slow down data.

The other option is get a data card. Most of the antennas pull out of the data cards and there is a plug to connect your outside antenna with and adapter wire like your v3m. With all the money you spent on worthless amps you could have got a data card and several months of service.

Amps were good with analog because more power was better. All they do with digital is increase the noise floor in the digital signal and slow things down. Also the repeaters really require a yagi and carefull antenna placement because they can 'loop feedback' and cause more interference and headaches.

It sucks the new phones dont have antenna ports so you have to stick with the older equipment. I still use a v3c and e815 because of the great external antenna ports they have.

I think i will post this one on the faq page. Good question

Q-My question, is about the GSM Quadriband YAGI made in  china;,will work in united states?What is the best antenna GSM Quadriband YAGI in the american market?in my area there are some mountains not very high,What is the best antenna yagi gsm for to got signal?the tower is 30 miles,but in my area mycell not have signal;;thanks

A- GSM will only work up to 22 miles. So its not likely you will get GSM service. Maybe cdma, but only if the tower is set to allow 30 miles.

The best antenna will only be single band. We only have 2 bands in the US, 850 and 1900. If you decide to try it go with a Wilson Yagi antenna.

Q- good day,

Q-This past week, in an attempt to find something better than Motorola's M800, I searched on-line for "long-range cell phones", "long-range bagphones", "3 watt digital cellphones" and combinations thereof . . .  the old Motorola analog bagphones like mine pop up (for sale cheap), the new digital M800 and M900 pop up and a multitude of 3 watt boosters pop up, but that's it, apparently there are no 3 watt digital cell phones out there !!
The best thing that popped up was your webpage . . . I saw the Question and Answer page but the only email address I found was yours on the Homepage.  I have read over much of your webpage information on this issue, very informative, however . . .
Before I read the "boxcarcabin" webpage, I thought I knew what I was going to do, buy the new Motorola M800, test it, probably get a 3 watt booster test the improvement, get a new exterior antenna or an adaptor for my old one, test the combination and hope I had near equal performance to the old Motorola M2950.  Now I'm not sure what to do !!??
Within our group, we had five of the M2950's in service at one time, in our remote camps or cabins or trucks.  One of us has gone to an ordinary digital cell phone and given up on regaining long-range capabilities.  A remote cabin owner has bought an ordinary digital cell phone with an exterior antenna jack that allows plugging in a 3 watt booster, got an adaptor for his old yagi antenna and uses the setup at the remote cabin noted below but with marginal results at some 41 miles from the cell tower, not quite line-of-sight.  Two of us aren't sure what to do yet, satellite phones don't seem like an economical answer either.
Do you know of any plans to put a 3 watt long-range digital on the market, is Motorola going to make any improvements to the M800 ??
What are your recommendations for our needs in Alaska ??
I submitted the following inquiry to the Motorola 'Car PhoneTech Support Team' last Fall and got the answers shown in blue.  Luckily one of our local provider's customer service reps had warned us about the fractional wattage, the need for a booster (available at extra cost) and stated even with the booster you won't have 3 watts and even if you did, 3 watts digital performance is not equal to 3 watts analog if you are in the very fringe of area coverage !!
Greetings from Alaska,
On-line Motorola email support has recommended I contact your division directly with technical questions regarding the new M800 and M900 Bag Phones:

Several of my group in Fairbanks have owned a total of five Motorola 2950 Mobile/Carry Phones or long range "bag phones" for ten years or more. Even without a directional or roof mounted antenna we have gotten ranges of over 40 miles and not necessarily direct line-of-sight. This is important in rural Alaska with it's "islands" of cell service. We can bridge or extend many of those islands with the analog 2950.

We are now faced with the discontinuation of analog service in mid-February 2008 apparently by order of the FCC !!??  This will likely isolate many of our rural homes, hunting camps and cabins on the fringes of or just beyond normal cell phone coverage (see picture below).

One local provider, ACS Alaska, has offered the Motorola M800 as the digital replacement for the old 2950. Technical specifications on your web page and at ACS do not address comparisons with the analog 2950.

1. What is the wattage output of the M800, the 2950 is 3 watts.
The Max wattage output of M800 Bag Phone in CDMA is 0.25W and in Analog is 0.5W   (see attached doc.)  
2. I have been told a booster is available to increase the output wattage of the M800, if so what is the total output ? 2.0W  (see attached doc.)

3. What line-of-sight range might we expect to get with the M800, with or without booster, the 2950 has reached out at least 44 miles with its attached fold-up antenna.  A local service provider originally told me it had been found to be reliable out to 40 miles with a rooftop antenna on your car or truck, don't know if that was a performance spec or only a characteristic found from experience.  The real question is, can we expect more or less range with the digital M800 than we experienced with the analog 2950 ? 

It is depended on the network, However the sensitivity of the M800 CDMA up to -108 dBm, in analog up to -116 dBm. 

4. What area coverage can we expect, the analog 2950 seemed to work in cell phone areas throughout Alaska, so long as you were within 30 to 50 miles of a cell tower of course ?  I have been told a given M800 will only operate in a particular frequency band, not across the spectrum and therefore may operate in one area but not the next.  It would be unacceptable to have it work in Fairbanks but not 100 miles SE in Delta or to have it work in Fairbanks and 350 miles away in Anchorage but not the highway in between.
Please consult with the operator.

5. I have been told the M800 is dual mode, both analog and digital, is that true ?  If so, what is the effective range with each mode ?   M800 is dual mode: CDMA and ANALOG  
6. What is the difference between the M800 and the M900 ?  What is the MSRP $$ for each phone and the booster ?
M800 - CDMA, M900 - GSM. MSRP per the dealer in our landing page
Booster not included. Please refer to Wilson -  
7. The literature refers to data transmission capabilities, can the phone be connected to a computer and used to transmit email ?  If so how does the range compare with voice transmission ?  What accessories are necessary to connect with a computer and the MSRP for them ?
M800BP/M900BP can be connected to computer for mails. You'll need the Mini USB cable and  MPT (Motorola Phone Tool - CD ROM) is a whole different beast than analog, With analog, more power meant more distance. Not with digital. (the power is the same on all digital phones, the standard is for gsm, 2 watts cellular 850 band and 1 watt 1900pcs band, cdma is 325mw period. Size or packaged doesnt matter, they all have the same rf power output.) Digital is software controlled and uses hard distance limits. A digital tower if very rarely usable more than 20 miles from the tower. Doesn't matter if you have 1000 watts and the best antenna made. The tower I'm using now is set to 38.2 miles. That's the max setting it will go. Digital is very efficient and doesn't need much power to go 40 miles, but the tower must be set up to allow it.
This setting is called 'access window' or 'search window'. Its a setting your carrier makes, has nothing to do with the phone.
If you are getting a digital signal but cant call out on it most likely its this setting, not power. The only way to get it working is to talk to your carrier. You may need to do what ever it takes to get the local tech and tell him your issue.
The FCC did not require analog to be turned off, but they did state no coverage could be lost. It may be an issue you can pursue with them.
The max range of gsm is 35km or 22 miles. That's a hard limit that due to the time slots and how far the phone is before the delay as so great that the packet arrives late to the tower. gsm can be extended to 70km by cutting the capacity in half and doubling the time slots. Very very rarely done.
The carriers always put hard limits on cdma, there is a max setting in the software, usually around 38 miles. Different manufactures have different max settings, in the city most are limited to 5-10miles.
Not likely you are going to get digital to work in these remote areas at 44 miles. I know exactly what your dealing with and coming from.
One other suggestion...try a gsm carrier. All gsm phones are 2 watts 850 band and 1 watt 1900. You may just get lucky and find they are running extended range gsm there!

Q-i just spent some time looking at the different cell phone set-ups that you have displayed online.  i was hoping that i could ask you for some advice.

first i am curious if you know anything about reception in northern california or have any experience with connections here. 

regardless, i am currently receiving reception from an antenna hooked up to an analog bag phone (motorola), which is then hooked up to a black box (possibly a repeater?) and then a 1500 foot cable runs to a land-line phone at my cabin.  this set-up is at least 5+ years old and the person who set it up is no longer available.  do you think it would be possible to replace the analog phone with a digital one and still use the same cables and black box set-up?  if not, what would you recommend to get phone service?

thank you for taking the time to consider this situation.  if this is beyond your scope of knowledge, please let me know if there is any reliable and knowledgeable resource to contact (or if you know any specialists in northern california).

take care out there,

A- Who is your carrier? Some smaller Carriers are not going to decommission analog for awhile.You may not need to panic.

The first thing you need to do is make sure you have a USABLE digital signal where the bag phone is. If you or a friend has a digital phone with that carrier see if it works.
Digital signals almost always have a hard distance limit. In most rural areas this is usually around 20 miles. If you are outside this the phone may show a signal but will not complete a call.

If you have a digital signal, what you are going to need is a Telular box. Its a direct replacement for the analog setup you have. That little black box you speak of is called the Cellular Connection. It simply acts as an interface between the bag phone and your standard land phone. The black box generates the dial tone and converts the touch tones from you phone to numbers the bag phone can understand.

The Telular unit does all this with a digital signal.
The other option is the dock and talk. It does the same thing with a regular digital hand held phone as the black box does with the bag phone. The dock n talk does not work with fax/data.

The first things you need to do are, First find out if there is a good digital signal, see what kind of antenna the current phone is using and see if your carrier offers Telular units.

As I always tell people. DO NOT deactivate your current phone until its either shut off or a replacement can be found. Add a second line to you plan to test a new phone if there is no other way.


Q-Hi - Just writing to say thanks for the great info on your site. Its very helpful. I am Park Ranger in a remote State park that has spotty cell service. We currently use the old analog moto bag phone with the cellular box. Its all hooked to a yagi antenna on the roof of the office with 9913 low loss cable. I am able to use a regular fax machine and panasonic walk around phones with the set-up. We have internet access on a WildBlue satellite dish - and some of us use Starband satellite at home.

Anyways, I was wondering if the newer M800 digital bag phone would still allow me to use that cellular box that gives the dial tone (and allows the use of my fax machine). I am thinking of upgrading the phone before they totally phase us out for analog. We are starting to get intermittent service and Alltell won't offer support. Their pat answer is "You are in a marginal service area, we can't help you because we don't provide service there." Ya, that's why we have been paying the cellular bill for the last ten years - because there is no service. Its frustrating!

Our other issue is if I make any changes to our state phone service, I have to go with Verizon - its a State contract issue. We are stationed out here at the park and I have Verizon for my personal phone service and it works really well. (LG 4650 phone with antenna adapter to the 9913 to the yagi on a pole mount outside the house.) Maybe better than Alltel. Just wondering your feelings on carriers in these remote areas. It seems that no one at the carriers is willing to talk about who actually has the tower and how much of the time they broadcast in 800mHz vs. 1900mHz etc.

I have been using for advice and products. They have been really helpful also. >Anyhow - Just wanted to say thanks. Its hard to find reliable info out there on these issues and your site was helpful. Thanks in advance for any info or thoughts you are willing to share.

A-Good to hear from you.

The first thing you need to find out is, and this is the big one....Is there a USABLE digital signal. They apply hard limits to the digital signals radius. Usually somewhere around 30 miles in the rural areas with Alltel. If your outside this radius setting your phone may show the signal but you cant call out on it. Best thing to do is try a digital phone and see if you can call out, send a text or get on the web. Something that requires digital. If you do have a digital signal the solution you are looking for is a Telular unit. Alltel sells the Telular units. Its basically a box with an antenna port and a rj11 phone jack that you plug your fax, cordless phones exc. The Telular unit is digital only though.

The M800 does not support what you need. Its basically just a regular handset in a huge box. It would be ok if you needed a voice only desk phone that ran on a plug in power source. For 99% of users the m800 is a joke, a regular handset with a direct connect amp blows it away.
I don't know if Verizon offers the Telular unit, that could be a problem.
If Verizon does have digital there you will need to see if you can get a Telular box through them.

One other option is the dock n talk, it connects to a regular handset and allows your regular phone to connect to the handset. The dock n talk does basically the same thing as the box you have now on you bag phone. They say it does not work well with fax though. (this is a last resort)

1900 is not really used in rural areas, Its to line of sight. Your coverage is going to be cellular 800mhz band. Most all of Alltel and Verizons coverage is cellular 800.
I prefer Alltel, they are much more flexible with their policys and generally have much better coverage.

One thing I can stress enough right now is don't give up or turn off your analog phone yet. Until you have a fully functioning replacement. If your staff had old bags in their service vehicles tell them to keep them until they don't work. Once you turn it off that's it. Even if you need to add another line to try a new phone out do it. Do not deactivate the old phone!


Enjoyed your website and I have a question about your cell phone expertise.
I have a 3 watt analog bag phone with Alltel service. It will become useless
in the foreseeable future. I also need it for very remote locations in New Mexico.
Do I have to buy a m800 Motorola digital phone for mobile service or can I rely
on a simple "pocket" digital phone? If so which and what antenna would you
recommend. Is there a less expensive signal booster that I could use with either
Bottom line is that I need the power that a 3 watt analog would give for vehicular use.

Your help is appreciated.


First the most important thing, DO NOT deactivate your
3 watt phone till analog is turned off. The turn of
date for NM is 9/08. It could stay on longer than that
and once you turn off your old phone you cant
reactivate it.

Most digital has hard distance limits, usually
not more than 30 miles from the tower.
The limits are usually set with the use of a stock
handset in mind.
Your best choice is a standard handset with a port
for external antenna. About the only one they are
selling right now is the w315.
The antenna you want to get is the one cell gear usa
sells. link
nothing beats the performance this antenna will give
you for the money.
Keep in mind that nothing will get around the hard
distance limit of a digital tower. If its 30 miles.
thats it. No amount of power, antenna or phone will place a call
outside that 30 mile limit.

In general, a standard Alltel handset is good for 50
miles in digital mode IF the tower is set up for it.

The M800 is ok if the phone never leaves the car.BUT,
it IS NOT going to work magic or get service where a
smaller phone wont.
Performance wise, the m800 and a ''pocket phone'' are
the same. The only thing the m800 has going for it is
the external antenna. which you can add to your
''pocket'' phone.
I dont know if you saw this page,
but the first example is what you should go with, when the time comes .


© 2008