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Using a Three Home Signal Femtocell to improve a Mobile Phone Signal

Mobile Phone Cell TowerA couple of years ago now I broke away from the typical UK Mobile Network arrangement of signing up for a multi-year fixed contract with subsidised handset, and moved to a monthly SIM deal with UK mobile operator Three. I typically upgrade my Smartphone handset every 7-15 months, so being locked into an expensive long-term contract no longer made sense.

My experience with Three has been mostly positive, with good customer service (albeit through an offshore call centre with sometimes difficult to understand Indian accents) and good service, matched with some of the most competitive pricing for a voice and data network.

Three network coverage inside buildings

Unfortunately, of all the UK mobile networks, Three has the poorest coverage inside buildings. This isn’t normally an issue when I’m in a City, such as at home in Birmingham, but when I’m in a more rural location with poorer network coverage I often don’t get a mobile signal at all.

Such is the case when I’m at my home away from home in Lowton in Cheshire. I’ve blogged before about my experiment in finding free Wi-Fi in a rural location and this lack of coverage applies to the mobile networks – I only tend to get a mobile signal in one room within my house, an upstairs bedroom, making it a frustrating experience to try to make and receive calls.

Putting my geek hat on, I started investigating ways to improve my mobile signal when indoors.

Mobile Phone Repeaters

Having consulted the Ofcom Site Finder web-site I determined my nearest Three mobile phone base station mast was less than 1/2 mile away from my house.

There are plenty of web-sites offering mobile phone repeater units. The principle is simple. You install a small repeater unit, which catches the weak mobile phone signal through an external antennae, amplifies and boosts the signal, and then distributes this signal through a second antennae which allows you to receive a strong mobile signal inside your home or office.

The Three UK networks works on the 2100MHZ signal band, so I bought a 3G 2100MHZ Mobile Phone Signal Repeater Booster from Mobile Repeater Shop and tested it in a variety of locations within my house, all to no avail. My mobile signal wasn’t boosted in the slightest.

Whether I’m missing out on something required to make the system work (I have e-mailed Mobile Repeater Shop for advice, but never received a response) or whether the system is a cheap Chinese piece of rubbish remains to be seen.

For anyone considering buying a mobile phone signal booster, I’d urge you to check out the PC Pro web-site story warning about the legality of mobile repeaters. The unit I bought was sold as “CE Approved”, but when it arrived the unit bore no such stamp, leaving me to wonder about the legality of the unit. It’s unlikely I’d get a knock at the door from Ofcom, but I’d prefer to stay within the letter of the law regardless.

Trying to obtain a Three Home Signal

My next step was to investigate the Three Home Signal device. The device is a Femtocell unit, which in layman’s terms means that it plugs into your Broadband Internet, creates a short-range base station to cover your home or office with a strong mobile signal, and transfers any calls, SMS or data from your mobile phone via the Internet. In a nutshell, you carry on using your mobile phone as normal but in order to compensate for the weak signal from your local mobile phone mast, you use a sort of Voice-over-IP system to make and receive calls.

The Home Signal is not available to buy “off the shelf” so I telephoned Three to explain my lack of signal and to enquire about the Home Signal device, and had to spend some considerable time speaking to a very pleasant lady in Three Technical Support in India who did some troubleshooting – asking questions about my handset, whether I could receive a signal outside, etc. I was told there was a problem with the Three network mast in my area that was being worked on. I explained that I’d experienced the poor signal for 2 years or more, so this was unlikely to be the issue.

At the end of the call I was promised a call back within 48 hours from Second Line Support to investigate further.

Later that same day, Second Line Support called me and worked though some more troubleshooting questions. A little frustrating, as I knew the issue was signal related, not handset related, but I understand why they need to ask the questions.

A third call later, and the Second Line Support engineer agreed that sending me a Three Home Signal device would likely help. The cost was £50, and the device was shipped out for next day delivery.

Setting up the Three Home Signal

Three Home SignalSure enough, the Home Signal arrived the next day. A small device with a signal LED that flashes Red or Green to advise you on status, you plug the Home Signal into your Broadband Router via Ethernet cable, plug in the power cable – and the unit does the rest.

There are setup instructions included, and Three provide an Home Signal setup video on-line too.

My first attempt to setup the Home Signal failed with the device flashing Red five times in succession – the Three Using Home Signal help page advised me this was because I needed to plug in a Smart Card underneath the unit – something that the setup instructions didn’t mention.

My second attempt saw the unit continuously flash green for an hour or more. I telephoned Three Home Signal support on 0800 358 4828 and was told that the Home Signal unit hadn’t been registered (another step missing from the instructions). 10 minutes later, Three Support had registered the unit, and advised me to power the device off and on again and then to wait while it connected to the Three network.

Unfortunately, after another hour the unit was still flashing a green light meaning it hadn’t connected. I used a paper clip to press and hold the units reset button, the LED flashed red, and then went back to a flashing green light. I waited, and waited…

Another ‘phone call to Three Home Signal Support, and they sent a remote reset to the device which caused it to reboot 3 times. On the third time, I saw a solid green light meaning all was well. I restarted my Smartphone and instead of no signal, I had a full 5 bars!

Using the Three Home Signal

There’s not a lot to say about using the Three Home Signal – it just sits in the corner and you use your mobile phone handset as normal, making and receiving calls and SMS with a strong signal.

In use, calls made and received had a slight “Satellite delay” (around 1 second) when talking, but nothing that was too distracting.

Walking outside the Home Signal range and then back into range seems to be seamless, in much the same way you walk between normal base stations outside.

SMS messages are sent and received via your handset as normal.

It seems a bit illogical to use your Three tariff data allowance to send 3G via your Broadband, so if you use Wi-Fi at home, leave that on.

Notes on the Three Home Signal

Some things to be aware of. The Home Signal is only for use at the address you register it at (and to ensure that if you dial emergency services on 999 then they know where you are) try to use it elsewhere and it likely won’t work.

The Home Signal will also only work with Three mobile handsets that have been registered with it (presumably to stop your neighbours nicking your signal and bandwidth). You can easily add up to 24 numbers with Three Home Signal via an on-line form that is processed within 24 hours.

The Home Signal will only work with four concurrent handsets at a time, and won’t boost signals from any other network, or non-registered handsets.

It doesn’t use much bandwidth, around 37mb for an hours call. Negligible, unless you’re on a metered Broadband plan.


It was a little bit of a pain to jump through the Three Technical Support hoops to buy a Three Home Signal rather than being able to buy one directly, but I understand that there are issues that prevent Three doing this.

Once I’d persuaded Three to send me a Home Signal, the setup was simple albeit frustrating. The setup instructions could do with updating to include minor but important points such as the need to insert the Smart Card and telephone Three to register the unit.

However, once the Home Signal was up and running it made a vast improvement – I can now use my Smartphone anywhere in the house without fear of missing calls.

I know Vodafone provide a similar Femtocell device in the UK called Sure Signal, and Verizon offer something similar for US customers too.

If you’re suffering with a poor mobile signal at home, it’s worth contacting your network to see if they offer something similar to help you as the Three Home Signal helped me.


photo credit: Michael Holden via photopin cc

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Richard Tubb

I help IT companies grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. My clients are business owners of small to medium sized IT firms. at Tubblog
I help IT business owner's to free up their time, concentrate on what is important, and build a business that can run without them.


  1. Elkapitalisto says:

    So, Richard, when are you going to ask Three for your money back? 1) The instructions were not fit for purpose, your time was wasted, and a County Court would agree that your time is worth money and would likely award you compensation. RIGHTLY-so if they did. Why do manufacturers put these kind of half-realised products out there, foisting them onto frustrated consumers? Because ignorant consumers are more likely to assume it’s their own lack of knowledge or something, and put up with it, that’s why! The market needs to wise-up and have ZERO tolerance for companies’ bullshit.
    You also paid £50 to Three, plus had them wasting your own bandwidth in order to do what is basically available via an App and Wifi for FREE. In order to overcome a problem that you ALREADY pay your mobile network provider to solve: namely, providing a good signal, at all of HALF A MILE AWAY. Wouldn’t it seem incompetent to not manage that, to the layman – or to a judge?

    TV signals come from many miles away. I can just about get a signal at my parents rurally-located house, when the (shared) transmitter is easily three miles away with mixed terrain between.

    Three instead provide a rubbish signal even accounting for the tiny distances it has to cross. Is this because they get the 2100MHz band, and this is somehow harder-to-perform proper mobile network operation on? Why accept it?

    My ultimate point is that when someone’s making a profit off you for a poor service, you affect others in the market by accepting that poor service. You increase their suffering for the same level of service.
    Why do that? It’s the kind of thing uneducated, unintelligent people do, not educated intelligent ones. Unless the latter are overly-indoctrinated into accepting that which they oughtn’t to (aka a dogmatism, a mental-illness in all but name), that is…

    Why didn’t Three offer to pay for the device in order to secure themselves extra business? Why don’t they put the money into upgrading their network if possible. Why don’t they get thrown-out of the market if that ends-up NOT being possible? That is the point of the statutory consumer laws, to protect consumers from their own ignorance being taken advantage too much of by companies, not to protect those companies from proper scrutiny.

    What is with all these jokers around, who are wasting their money, overtly, on such incompetent businesses? Can I have some free money too? Is all I have to do, create some nice logo and a couple of minutes’ advertising on TV? Then pretend to provide a full-time service whilst only providing a part-time one and thus saving costs? Again, can I have some of the margin created by this behaviour? No? Then stop making me suffer for it via being irradiated and having the marketing in my face every time I walk down the street!
    People will never give someone something for free who just asks for it, but if they pretend a bunch of bullshit, in the form of marketing / advertising, then fine, here’s 10% of my net disposable income, why not? Madness.

    • Thanks for the comment. While I broadly agree that you should expect to get a good signal from any mobile provider, real-world experience tells me that 100% coverage (or anything near it) in all areas is technically very difficult and commercially unrealistic. I’m a fan of Three’s customer service and their tariffs – which are priced competitively – tariff’s which would likely not be as competitive if Three spent what was required trying to give everyone a signal.

      That’s not making excuses for Three, but for me, £50 for a Femtocell device is a small price to pay to continue getting the service I want at the ongoing tariff price I like.

      But I appreciate you reading my blog despite it being written by an uneducated, unintelligent person. I’m guilty as charged. 😉

    • Wrong, wrong, wrong. Clearly you don’t understand the law in any way shape or form.

      A judge is firstly highly unlikely to decide that instructions are not fit for purpose… secondly, this is a small claims court issue, where costs are not recoverable: so you would be going to court, and spending money to get nothing. Thirdly, compensation for this nature is only that: compensationary damages to put you back where you would have been, had you not incurred a loss. And no loss has been incurred here.

      They charged £50 for a service they are under no obligation to provide, because without a yearly contract, they worry that you might run off.

      Further, you generally waive rights, or accept that coverage problems are not the fault of the provider in most instances – and at first, they will often (not always) allow you to leave.

      Richard himself seems quite reasonable… Elkapialisto seems highly litigious! This is coming from a legal professional, who has also worked for trading standards (three years ago now) and I wouldn’t take kindly to hearing this in court!

    • Hi, I’ve also had trouble with network outages over the last 6 years. Two years ago after complaining about their poor network coverage they sent me a signal booster just like the one in the article, this they gave me free of charge because I have a contract phone with them. The network was down all day yesterday, all the mobile masts are on a water tower in the next street??? Well, I’ve had enough of this terrible company and have accused them of breach of contract, they are not providing me with a reliable service, considering I pay £22 a month. I deserve better! Due to my dissatisfaction, I am going to ask them to release me early from my contract. Whichever the case….They will be dumped at the earliest opportunity!

      • Sorry to hear of your problems Angela. I’ve been using Three with no issues for a couple of years, but had terrible issues with T-Mobile prior to that. I don’t think you have to look hard to find tales of woe about any of the networks it seems.

  2. LightEzmo says:

    I don’t understand why you have to pay for the home signal booster? Surely they are not fulfilling their end of the agreement?

    • As I understand it, Three provide the Home Signal for free to certain customers. As I was on a monthly rather than annual contract, they made a charge for the Home Signal device.

      While some might be outraged to not get 100% signal, I’m perfectly happy to pay £50 to get a full signal in my property. For me, it solves a problem!

  3. Steve colbeck says:

    I too am on a monthly contract but fortunately my wife is on a 24 month contract so we have been given the home signal box for free. I have been with numerous phone companies over the years and since being with three I have found a company that gives me unlimited, fast data and a huge amount of minutes and texts. Since joining three I never go over my allowance and am happy that I no longer get unexpected bills. Having a home signal box for me is a no brainer, I have unlimited Internet at home but a poor phone signal in the house. This box has removed all of the stress my wife was having with her home, and as we all know, when our other half is happy, we are too.

    I appreciate your blog as I knew nothing about this system until I was looking for a signal booster as we have recently moved from York. Three CS were excellent, although as you point out sometimes hard to understand. I have learnt over the years that if you are polite and work with CS then they generally try and help you. Although this is not true for orange!

    • Steve – thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it and I’m glad you found the blog useful! I agree, the Home Signal box makes life easier – and the bandwidth it uses is actually negligible. Problem solved!

  4. Clairebear says:

    Hello I have been offered a 3 home booster to help with the signal u have phone numerous times to the technical team and cannot seem to get a straight answer if I will recieve the box described above others have said there is a black signal box in the three page which is not the above mentioned signal booster I recieve my box on Tuesday but if I open it I will not be able to return it can any one advise me which box currently three are sending out

    • Claire – I agree, Three aren’t very open about advertising the “Home Signal” box. Presumably because they don’t want to be inundated with everyone who has every had a poor signal contacting them. As far as I’m aware there is only one type of “Home Signal” box – I hope yours works well!

  5. Hi Richard,
    The £50 charge is presumably because you are on a SIM only deal. I have just received my Home Signal Box from Three free of charge (it is the black lozenge shaped one, rather than the white on in your pic). I did have to wait 14 days until my “cooling off” period had ended (I am a new customer) and was even told, when I said I had no signal in my home, that I could cancel my contract! A rather odd statement from the 3 support person I was talking to – but I said I didn’t want to leave as outside the signal was good and the 3G speeds are 5 times faster than my home broadband here in the rural wilderness!
    My phone is now 5 bars of signal in the house (with areas a bit lower, say 3 bars).

  6. The one I have is covered by its own page on the Three website –

    Not sure exactly why it warrants its own page – it functions the same way as the one you have reviewed, although there is a small LED type light at the back to indicate the status, rather than the natty coloured strip on the white one.
    Seems to be working OK though – except when the daughters boyfriend pulled the plug out so he could charge his phone….

  7. Linda Lawson says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences. I’m also with three and plan on asking for a Home Signal device so the information you’ve provided has been really helpful. 🙂

  8. Dave Forsyth says:

    Good stuff thanks for the info, I just got off the phone with 3 CS and they offered me the booster for £110 pounds as my wife and I are on a sim only (monthly contract)… Glad I said no!
    Will call back and offer £50 😉

  9. I just spoke to 3 and have had signal problems in my home since I started with them 2 years ago. So much so they agreed to give me a £5 monthly reduction in my line rental. I’m with you, I find their customer service and prices etc more than reasonable value. After speaking with them today about an upgrade as my contract had expired they offered me this signal booster free of charge at the same time as going onto a monthly sim only deal at half the cost of my expired contract which I thought was excellent. They told me the equipment belongs to them and if I leave three I’m responsible for sending it back to them otherwise they would charge me £99. Again seems fair. I was doing some research into this box because I’d never heard of it and was a bit sceptical of the chances of it working well, Hence why I landed here on your blog. Thanks for the info that you’ve provided on here, it’s been really useful and I’m looking forward to receiving the box now and actually being able to use my price plan to it’s full potential. :))

  10. Nicola Janes says:

    I have been with 3 for 2 years with absolutely no problems, so we cancelled our phone line and broadband as they seemed surplus to requirements what with unlimited data and tethering. All was good until 8 weeks ago when the signal went to rat sh#t!! Buying a booster to me seems to negate the purpose of having unlimited data and tethering as we would have to re install phone line and broadband to make it work. Why bother having smart phone? The signal strength did come back about 2 weeks ago and it’s gone again now. Very Very frustrating

    • Nicola – I’d agree, buying a booster in your situation isn’t the solution. If you were getting a great signal and aren’t now – I’d report this to Three and ask them to investigate the reasons why.

  11. Hi Richard,

    Just keen to understand if you find your HomeSignal reliable for calls …

    I have two Vodafone SureSignal units in two locations that I use for my company mobile, and I have wasted so much time trying to get hem to work reliably that I hate the sight of them! I had a V1 SureSignal before these, and hoped that V2 might be better. After using them regularly in different houses on different ADSL lines (3Mbps and 11Mbps speeds), I find that they usually work for the first ten minutes of a call and then they gradually start to break up the voice audio. I have since noticed the same thing with another colleague on conf calls, and then found he was using a SureSignal as well.
    Occasionally they lose synch altogether and then take up to half an hour to resynch. I have tried them in three different locations on three different ADSL lines, with the same results.

    I have a private mobile on the Three One Plan.
    Question: Do you think that the Three HomeSignal is any better than I describe above?
    If you do then I will give it a try, because I can only get decent Three signal near certain windows.

    Pages of stories of users of SureSignal with audio problems:

    • Jonathan – thanks for the comment. I’ve found the Three Home Signal to be reliable and without issue. Calls have a very slight “Satellite” delay of around 1/2 a second (presumably due to latency) and it’s not enough to cause issues in normal conversation.

  12. Thanks very much for this, I found it as my first result when frantically googling after moving into a new house (5 mins away from my old one which ad perfect signal) to find I had 1 bar (or sometimes the odd 2 at BEST if by a window), of intermittent signal that would fluctuate between No Service, 3 only, and 3G. Even when I do have a signal it is dropped every minute or so. Lots of missed calls, delays on important texts, and using 3G to go online is very slow if not impossible and only available upstairs! Signal in the living room is constantly No Service, the main place I want to use my phone…! I have finally got round to calling 3 and am now awaiting my call back which they said could take up to three days but may even be today. Praying they offer me one of these boxes!! I’m 7 months into a 24 month contract and so far I’ve been really impressed with 3….

  13. I’ve just moved house, and found this article after a bit of searching to find info about Three signal boosters.

    After a quite painful conversation they agreed to send me one, then phoned back a couple of days later to say they would now only send one if I started a new 24 month contract (I’ve been on sim-only for a while after buying my own phone).

    When I pointed out that this seemed to be a very bad deal, they said it was that or nothing!

    I guess I’ll look at switching providers.

  14. john harmer says:

    hi, iam getting a three signal box delivered tomorrow, but was thinking can these devices be set up using a home plug system? cant see why not, but i thought i would just ask! thankyou.

    • Hi John – if you need to position the Home Signal elsewhere in the house then I don’t see why you shouldn’t use a Home Plug system – the Home Signal just needs an Ethernet connection. With that said, I’d make sure the system is working connected *directly* to your Router before you try re-positioning elsewhere. Good luck!

  15. Hi, Just moved onto 3 from vodafone and the signal is worse than vodafones (husband is still with vodafone), I have tried the Sure signal (vodafones version) and it just made the signal worse and broke up when on a call – I dont know if it is due to the very poor broadband signal we have here in rural area 0.82gb on a good day – does anyone else have a rubbish broadband signal and have tried the 3 booster – the whole point of switching to 3 was to use their unlimited data free tethering for our wireless devices around the house to get decent speed internet.

    • Leanne – I’m using 1.6mb down and 400k up and the Three Home Signal works well for me. That said, when my Broadband speed degraded the other day (a speed test showed I had 500k down, 100k up) calls didn’t work across the Home Signal.

      I believe Three will ask you if you had a 2mb minimum – anything less and they may not recommend the Home Signal.

  16. Erm – I meant 0.82Mbps (I think) its rubbish internet speed anyhow for broadband and there is no way of it improving

  17. Read your blog and THANKYOU. I also had the device but to no avail
    phoned the 0800 number , registered device and hey ho – -works


  18. I live in a rural area, and due to the poor signal, Three actually provided me with a home signal device for free (The same one as yours going by the picture).

    Overall it has worked fine, but I do find that from time to time, it will go through spells of unreliability, requiring the SIM card to be removed and the contacts cleaned before it’ll connect properly to Three over broadband.

    The oddest issue has happened over the last couple of days, leading to me to currrently leave it unplugged. Bizzarely, when connected over the Home Signal box, my phone believed it was in India!

    When out of range, and connecting as normal to Three, the location corrected itself.

    I have BT Infinity, so bandwith/allowance is not an issue. Overall I think it’s a great idea, but it does need work in order to be the service it could be. If I had paid for mine, I’d be asking for a refund due to the erratic issues I have with it.

    I believe there is a newer version (A black plastic unit), so I may call the Home Signal support to ask for a replacement.

  19. And thanks for visiting my site Richard 🙂

    Help for the newer, what Three call ‘Home Signal Black’ can be found here:
    Interestingly, the set up instructions found here make no mention of the SIM card that comes with the white unit, so they either use a preinstalled SIM, or use some other way to uniquely ID the box.

    An interesting note. My wife had a new phone at Christmas, and it didn’t immediately work with the Home Signal, even though she retained her number.

    If you find yourself in this position, call the Home Signal help number, 0800 358 4828, and they will change the SIM serial associated with the number, and it will begin to work straight away.

  20. Just thought I’d comment to say thanks for blogging your experiences with getting a Home Signal from Three – it is certainly one of the more in depth and useful articles that Google threw at me when I’ve been researching this issue!

    I rejoined Three with the 12 month SIM only One plan (£15/month) a little over a month ago, after a year with EE’s 4G – which I decided in the end wasn’t really worth the premium, so when I saw Three would be offering it for no extra charge I decided to switch back. I had moved flat since I had last been with Three so before I switched back I did a quick check with a 3 PAYG SIM which appeared to show a half-decent signal, however after signing back up properly it turned out after a few days that the signal was extremely patchy indeed. I could realistically only make phonecalls from one corner of my lounge as moving anywhere else tended to result in dropping the call (however it was the same story with EE so it was probably just down to the old building’s thick walls).

    I thought I’d wait at least a month as I was needing to phone them up to enable international roaming (which they insist wait 1 month for if you are SIM only) and once they had sorted that I thought I may as well see what they would say about my patchy signal at home. After getting transferred to the iPhone tech team they asked some of the standard questions and then said they were escalating to 2nd line who would call back within 24-48 hours. So far so good I thought…. Sure enough I was called back a few hours later and after confirming a couple of the details I was offered a Home Signal for free and it should be arriving tomorrow!

    Given my previous experience with 3’s customer services had been a very lengthy and tortuous attempt to wrangle my PAC off them when I was switching to EE, I was quite astonished that a) I managed to get my international roaming sorted straight away, b) that I was able to get a Home Signal at all, and c) that they offered it for free after only being (back) with them for just over a month! I guess they are gradually relaxing the rules and requirements for getting them either for £50 or for free. Perhaps the fact that I’m on the 12-month version of the One plan helped, even though it’s SIM-only.

    Still – very pleased with the outcome and will be even happier once the Home Signal has arrived and is giving me a useable signal throughout the flat!

    Reading online it looks like it can be just as troublesome, if not moreso, to get these femtocells on other networks (if they even offer them) so I am very impressed I managed to get one sorted with basically one call to CS, and one callback from 2nd line support.

    Unfortunately O2’s TuGo app seems to get a lot of bad reviews on iTunes, so I’m guessing it isn’t as robust a solution to poor mobile signal at home as a femtocell, and the UMA system that Orange offers is dependent on your handset supporting it, which most don’t. Overall it seems that Femtocells are the best solution and it’s good to know that it seems that it is getting easier to convince networks to ship them out to you.

    • Simon – my pleasure, I’m glad you found the article valuable!

      I’d agree with you that while I’m sure it’s technical possibly to get one networks Femtocell to work on another, I’m not at all sure it’s worth the trouble you need to go to.

      Glad to hear your own Home Signal is working well!

  21. Well the Home Signal (the Black version) arrived today and was up and running in about 15 minutes – so far so good! I believe the Black model (manufactured by NEC by the look of it) has some additional error message indication in the form of a red blinking LED in addition to the Green one that indicates connection status to the Three network, and when I first powered it up it suggested there was some signal interference. I simply reset the Home Signal though and after a few minutes it had successfully connected to the Three network and my phone was getting full signal throughout the flat. Just hope it stays that way!

  22. Matthew says:

    I’m experiencing bad signal in my house so I went ahead and bought a home signal box off of eBay as I’m on sim only contract. Was very annoyed and confused to find it didn’t work even though the light is green and not flashing. After reading your article it seems I have to ring them up and get them to register my phone to the device? Will have to do that as it isn’t recognising my phone currently.

    • Matthew – as I understand it, all of the Home Signal devices are linked specifically a customers address. For this reason, it’s probably not a good idea to try buying a HomeSignal box from eBay. While I’d suggest speaking to Three to ask them to register your box might work, don’t be surprised if they are unable to help.

  23. Interesting thread. I’m SIM only and recently moved to a black hole in rural Yorkshire. Rather than switch to the more expensive Vodafone who do have signal in the area, I contacted 3 first. They were very helpful. They asked all the usual questions and acknowledged it was a signal problem. They immediately sent a signal box FOC. The black box came with SIM pre-programmed and installed. Plug and Play! And it did. It took about 3 minutes to show a steady green light – and has now been giving me 5 bars at home for weeks. My daughter has now swapped to 3 and has been added (effortlessly) to the box. It was worth the minimum of hassle just to have my daughter texting friends all evening instead of bugging me!

    • John – thanks for the feedback and glad to hear you’re on Three and working well! My own Home Signal box is doing great after a few months of use.

  24. Thanks for the detailed post. It’s very helpful.

  25. I’ve had a similar Orange/EE home signal box for 18months now. (Femtocell). Works great for 2x iphones and visitors on Orange (with the right wifi code). Over the last 5months I’ve noticed my Broadband usage being sky high – exceeding the limit. Each month on my broadband (BT) there is over 30GB of UPLOAD. Can these booster boxes cause that sort of broadband usage? Has anybody noticed this with theirs?? I Can’t find any other causes! It’s probably BT and their metering – but they deny it!

    • Hi – I’d be surprised if the Femtocell caused this type of usage, but I guess it’s not impossible. Can any other readers of the blog cast any light on this issue?

  26. Ken Macfarlane says:

    With a BT Homehub, the MTU (max. trasnmission unit length) has to be increased to at least 1500. This is the number of bytes per tcp/ip packet (I thought it was 1560 by default). Three told me this on my 3rd time of calling to complain that the box wasn’t working. 2nd time round, it was simply that they hadn’t registered it with their network, even although they said that they had. If I thought that any of the other phone companies would be any better, I’d change!

  27. Ken Macfarlane says:

    My saga continues:
    Three says that I have to open these ports

    http: 80
    https 443
    upd dns 53
    ntp 123
    isakmp 500 esp 4500
    the last 2 of which, I’ve never heard of, & neither has BT’s home hub!

    & BT’s HH4 doesn’t support any protocol other than tcp, udp or “other”. BT say that they don’t support 3rd party devices (like Xbox’s), so I think I’ll be living Three: life’s too short! Three say that only 2/10 customers have to do this, but I suspect that BT’s HH’s are the most common type in Britain. HH5’s don’t sound terribly different.

  28. Thank you Richard for this information.

    My Three sim-only PAYG service works reasonably well except one location where I work. At that factory and offices in the Birmingham area there is a good signal but calls and texts cannot be made nor received.

    Many staff at the factory have already given up on Three because it does not work. As soon as I discovered the problem in May 2014 I reported it and I have continued to report it week after week. The customer support is very good, helpful and sympathetic, but the technical response has been wholly inadequate.

    I recently started investigating the problem in more detail using an Android app called Netmonitor which shows me the base stations I am connected to. I was surprised to find that the problematic connection was not a mast, but something inside someone’s house in the middle of a housing estate. I believe it may be a home signal device. Despite assertions that these devices will only work with registered phones, it seems there are many of these devices in that housing estate and my phone successfully uses all of them, except the one that always seems to be the one my phone locks on to.

    This problem could explain why some people with femtocells experience high internet bandwidth usage, acting as a public base station.

    I will try to get a Home Signal box so I can test it, but I would be very interested to hear from anyone about how these actually work. What range can you get with your Home Signal Box? Do other people use your Home Signal Box without needing to be registered? If not, what happens, does their phone appear to ignore the Home Signal box or does it show a strong signal but can’t make and receive calls?

    If my problem is not an isolated one, it could explain why many people have problems getting Three to work in the Birmingham area, perhaps in other cities too.

    • Andrew – thanks for the feedback and while the Home Signal box is only supposed to have a range covering a typical home, you raise an interesting question. I understand that only phones that have been registered to a Home Signal can connect to it, so while it is unlikely that other phones would be connecting and using bandwidth, I guess it is possible with an incorrectly configured Home Signal.

      I’d be interested to hear more of your findings! Keep us posted!

  29. Hi.

    I also have black home signal box. It is connected via TP-link 1043nd wifi router and BT unlimited.
    It has two phones connected. Connection speed is at least 40 mbps down and 11 up, with 11ms ping.
    HSB is located about 1m away from wifi router.

    What I have noticed, that almost 30-50% of our Incoming calls (absolutely randomly) goes straight to voice mail. For both phones. Phones show full bars connectivity, indication light on HSB is green, but calls go straight to voice mail. It is very frustrating.

    I have contacted Three and they have reset it few times, and after my 5th call they are investigating the issue.

    Have you or anyone experienced same issue?

    I have very patchy coverage at home without HSB (can have 2 bars at one spot and no bars at all one meter away.)

  30. I live in a black spot with zero signal from any provider. Vodafone allowed me to purchase a Fem2Cell which has worked well for years.

    I signed up to Three assuming I could just buy one. They just won’t let me have one. “There is an issue locally”.. B*@ll0ck5 there is!!??!! Even their coverage map shows no coverage!?!?!

    Now I am a new customer who has already told my friends that Three customer service is TERRIBLE and I truly believe I’ve been lied to. TERRIBLE start with this joker company. I suppose I have to have another few phone calls on hold for hours before I can get this resolved.

    WHY are they so ridiculously tight with these things?! I’d drop £100 on one in an instant.

    • Al – I understand your frustration. I was initially given the “There is an issue locally” excuse myself, but after pressing with the question “Has there been an issue for a few months now?” Three allowed me to buy the Femtocell. I’m not sure why it’s not on general sale — I’m sure many users would like to buy one to alleviate poor coverage.

  31. Deborah Peppin says:

    Interesting blog– thanks! I’ve just extracted a Home Signal Box from 3. I was using the Three in Touch app, with no problems at all, until I updated my Android phone to Lollipop, when it totally failed for voice calls. LOTS of being passed around, endless reboots, SIM removals, re-installings of the app — nothing worked. I have a SIM-only contract and they did require me to contract for a year (I was on rolling monthly). It seems the box will be free and I got a 50% off for 3 months deal,. So far, I’m a happy bunny. As long as it works! I find it funny that the “2nd level” I got to was called Home Signal” but they speak to you as though you have no idea it is a possibility to be given one! It a deep dark secret. I was careful not actually ask for one — I let them go on and on with tests while I got more and more insistent that I wanted a fix!

    • Thanks for the feedback Deborah. I’m a bit perplexed as to why Three make the Home Signal box a “secret”. If customers are prepared to pay for it and it improves the service, why not sell it? I’d be interested to hear Three’s response to this question.

  32. Now in talks with THREE. Vodafone, EE and O2 all have 4G indoors at my home.
    According to THREE website, they too have coverage, so bought into THREE for my wife.
    I am now a very unpopular husband, as no signal indoors, despite all other networks being fine.
    When I checked OFCOM, they said no 4G from THREE in my area. Grrr! Feel I’ve been misled hugely.
    Only 1 month into 24 month contract, paying for no calls and no data at home. Waiting on phone call from THREE in next 48 hours to sort out.

    • Chris – ouch! I’m sorry to hear about that. I hope you get your issues sorted. I’ve recently moved from Three to the EE network and found their coverage to be superb, indoors and outdoors.

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