FCC Allows Private Signal Boosters to Enhance Mobile Device Coverage

NEWS ANALYSIS: New rules for signal boosters are intended to reduce the chances of interference and provide better coverage in areas with weak signals.

The food that appeared before me on the table at Jaleo near Washington, DC, was startlingly beautiful. Once again, legendary chef Jose Andres and his staff had put together a meal that promised to be more than just memorable.

I couldn’t wait to take my first bite of the understated chicken fritter and experience the explosion of taste that I knew would come. But first, I wanted to share the experience, so I took out my phone so that I could Tweet out a photo.

There was no phone service. And not only was my carrier, T-Mobile, not present, neither was AT&T nor Verizon. I was in a dreaded signal-free zone. I regretted not having brought an extra ham radio with me just in case some emergency should arise. You can’t be too careful, you know. Virginia could get another earthquake and then where would I be?

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the wireless carriers to blanket the entire North American continent with enough cell coverage that the signals would make your teeth glow at night, I was in an uncovered area. I felt as if civilization was retreating even as I began to enjoy my meal.

Fortunately, the FCC has been aware of the nagging problem of cell-signal deprived areas for some time and first put out a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking back in 2011. Now, just after I’d been stymied in my failed attempt at social networking in a signal-free zone, the agency came to the rescue. On February 20, the FCC adopted a report and order specifying the operational requirements for cell phone boosters. The idea is that people with poor cell service in their homes or businesses could buy a signal booster so that the area would be covered.

The FCC approved two types of signal boosters. The first type is the consumer version, which does not require you to get a license, but it does require the maker to meet specific technical specifications and you must get consent from your wireless carrier. At this point, the FCC reports that all four major carriers have agreed to do this.

The other type is industrial signal boosters. These are designed for large areas including factories, stadiums, airports and tunnels. The industrial boosters are must be installed by licensed personnel and the boosters themselves must have an FCC license.

While there are already cell phone boosters on the market, the new rules are designed specifically to avoid interference with wireless networks.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...