FCC Allows Private Signal Boosters to Enhance Mobile Device Coverage

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-02-24 Print this article Print

The two types of signal boosters are labeled and they have different use requirements, all of which is spelled out by the FCC. The agency has thoughtfully provided an FAQ page explaining everything.

You won’t be able to buy a signal booster until later in 2013 and the full provisions of the FCC’s rules won’t take effect until the beginning of March, 2014. While you can buy cell signal boosters now, you have no way to know whether the device will interfere with wireless services, but if they do, you’ll be required to turn them off.

The signal boosters are a different type of equipment from the nano-cells that some of the wireless carriers already provide. Those nano-cells don’t boost existing cell signals, but rather provide a cell signal where none exists. Typically they work by connecting to your high-speed Internet connection.

So far the FCC’s rule seems popular within the wireless community and will probably be popular with consumers once they can buy the devices. The FCC developed the standards in partnership with the CTIA—The Wireless Association and the Rural Telecommunications Group and the Competitive Carriers Association.

The Telecommunications Industry Association also weighed in, saying in a prepared statement, “The use of signal boosters improves the reach of wireless networks for consumers, and we applaud the Commission’s adoption today of its Report and Order. The Commission’s technical and operational rules will provide for enhanced coverage while guarding wireless networks from interference.”

Unfortunately, there’s a potential shortcoming to the FCC’s standards. The way the rules are written, each consumer signal booster works with a single carrier, and you have to have permission from the carrier to use it. Getting permission shouldn’t be a problem, since the major carriers and many regional carriers have already agreed, but what do you do if you have more than one carrier represented in your home, or even more likely in your office?

There would seem to be little technical reason why a signal booster for AT&T or T-Mobile wouldn’t work for the signals of either carrier, but would you be allowed to operate it that way? Or would you be required to buy two or more signal boosters? These devices aren’t cheap. If you had to buy one for each carrier in your office, it would be easy to drop a thousand dollars. In addition, the type of antenna and mounting are strictly regulated by the FCC.

While the approval of signal boosters by the FCC is a move in the right direction, it remains to be seen if the restrictions are such that they make these devices impractical.


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