FCC Tightening Regulation Of Cellular-Signal Boosters
By Joseph Palenchar On Apr 18 2011 - 4:01am
The Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) plans to impose more stringent
regulations on fixed and mobile cellular-signal boosters
to prevent interference with cellular carriers’ networks.
The commission proposed new technical standards
for mobile (in-vehicle) and fixed (in-home and in-building)
signal boosters. The FCC also wants to impose a
series of obligations on users.
CTIA-The Wireless Association and carriers had
sought an outright ban on the sale or use of signal
boosters without carrier consent, but the FCC said
it declined to propose a ban because well-designed
boosters will benefit consumers “by improving wireless
coverage in rural, indoor, and other hard-to-serve
locations where wireless coverage may be deficient.”
The commission noted, however, that “malfunctioning,
poorly designed or improperly installed signal
boosters … may harm consumers by blocking calls, including
E-911 and other emergency networks.” Verizon
Wireless, the FCC noted, has complained that signalbooster
interference “has ranged from degrading a single
digital channel on a single cell sector, to degrading
multiple channels on multiple cell sites, leading to a reduction
in the coverage area of a cell sector, to shutting
down channels, sectors, or cell sites entirely.”
AT&T disclosed an incident in which a mobile signal
booster on a yacht caused substantial interference to
six AT&T towers in Florida for 21 hours, causing 2,795
dropped calls and 81,000 “blocked or impaired calls”
because the signal booster came too close to the cell
towers, the FCC continued. AT&T also complained that
signal-booster interference increases the percentage
of dropped calls, reduces base station coverage, and
reduces the battery life of cellphones used by other
Public-safety agencies have also complained that
the boosters interfered with public-safety radio networks,
the FCC said. In some cases, a cell booster
might give an inaccurate GPS location to emergency
personnel if the user is dialing 911, the FCC noted.
For its part, Wi-Ex, a supplier of boosters under the
zBoost brand, said it was happy with the FCC’s plan.
“With hundreds of thousands of boosters already
helping municipal, state and federal governments,
military installations, security agencies, businesses,
healthcare facilities and most importantly consumers,
[the FCC notice of proposed rulemaking] is a win for
consumers,” said Wi-Ex CEO Lloyd Meese. “We recognized
from the beginning that oscillation could be an
issue and developed patented technology as a solution
to the problem.”
To prevent network interference, the FCC proposed
multiple technical standards, such as requiring boosters
• meet applicable technical specs required of cellular
handsets, including specific power levels and outof-
band emissions limits.
• elf-monitor their operation to ensure compliance with
FCC technical rules and shut off automatically within 10
seconds or less if they are not operating as required.
• detect feedback or oscillation (between the booster’s
antenna and the cellphone’s antenna) and deactivate
their transmitter within 10 seconds of detection.
Mobile signal boosters would also have to power
down or shut down as they approach the base station
with which it is communicating, thus “mitigating excess
noise to base stations from signal boosters that
are operating but not needed.”
The commission also asked for advice on how to
prevent a mobile booster from interfering with a base
station with which it is not communicating. It asked, for
example, whether to permit only carrier-specific signal
boosters for mobile applications or perhaps require
that mobile boosters be tethered to the phone to ensure
amplification of only the desired signal.
The FCC also wants to impose obligations on users.
Users, for example, will have to:
• register a mobile or fixed booster to help carriers
track down boosters that might be causing
• stop using a mobile booster if notified by the FCC
or a carrier of interference.
• turn on a fixed booster only after getting local carriers
to okay the booster’s channel selection and power
Marketers would be required to print these user obligations
on marketing materials, packaging, instruction
manuals and on the boosters themselves.
As for existing boosters now in use but not compliant
with the proposed regulations, the FCC asked
whether those boosters should be phased out or certain
models grandfathered in.
In proposing the new regulations, the FCC also
asked the industry for suggestions on how it could refine