Can You Hear Me Now? Yes? Really? Thanks Silicon Valley!

Greetings from Silicon Valley. After one week visiting here, it seems a lot like the East End. Warm climate, insanely expensive homes, lush gardens, a food and wine culture, and traffic. Lots of traffic.

I’ve noticed one other phenomenon that’s very Hamptons-esque: really crappy cell phone service. Ironic, isn’t it? Here I am, at ground zero of the mobile revolution, and I can’t make a call.

I should probably clarify: I have AT&T service, which means I can’t make a call from anyone’s backyard. But my wife uses Verizon. So you can imagine the look on her face when she tried to dial her office and couldn’t complete the call.

What are we to do? How will we survive in tech town without our games, apps, data and work calls? Well, it turns out there’s a gadget for that.

It’s called the Wireless Network Extender. The device is manufactured by Samsung and performs one simple task: It boosts your cell phone coverage inside and around your home. How it does this is pretty awesome. It’s basically a micro-transmitter, about the size of a cable modem. You can put it anywhere—we chose a deck by the window in the office.

Plug it in and turn it on. Within seconds, it locates a cellular signal from your wireless carrier. It then amplifies and distributes the signal across an advertised range of about 5,000 square feet. Anyone using that mobile carrier can instantly start calling; there’s no need to pair your phone or register, as with a Bluetooth system.

The early results are borderline astounding. My wife went from literally having no discernable signal to having clear, robust, crackle-free calls with her work colleagues. My daughters are able to connect instantly to their iPads and purchase lots of really expensive games without asking me. Even my mother is able to get a hold of me at all times of the day, to remind me how devastated she is that we moved out here and that I never cleaned up my room when I was a kid.

Wait a second—maybe this thing works too well!

Like any cutting-edge technology, there are limitations. To begin, you must have at least some cell phone coverage in your area. The good news: The signal doesn’t have to be very strong, just enough for the unit to detect and link. The bad news: If you’re off the grid and reading this article from your cabin in Yellowstone, trying to publish your manifesto, you’re probably out of luck.

Another drawback: You must have an existing broadband network in your home. The WNE basically routes calls through your home WiFi network—quickly and seamlessly. It doesn’t work across all carriers and wireless bands, but it’s good for making basic calls.

One other question to consider: What if you have Verizon and your wife has Sprint? There are third party, universal models on the market that claim to work on all bands and types of networks. These units are much more expensive—some over $1,500—and require more setup and phone integration. Ka-ching!

Bottom line: At $250 retail, the WNE is relatively inexpensive and adds a ton of value if you need to make basic calls. Unless you have major communications needs, you’re probably best off keeping it simple.

Can you hear me now?

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