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Cellphone Boosters To Get FCC Nod

Washington — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) scheduled a tentative Feb. 20 vote on stricter regulations to prevent fixed and mobile cellular-signal boosters from interfering with cellular carriers’ networks.

The rules include technical, operational and user-registration requirements that the FCC declined to reveal until the vote is taken.

The FCC has asked for comments on whether existing boosters now in use but not compliant with the proposed regulations should be phased out or certain models grandfathered in.

Originally, CTIA-The Wireless Association and carriers sought an outright ban on the sale or use of signal boosters without carrier consent, but the FCC declined to propose a ban because well-designed boosters benefit consumers “by improving wireless coverage in rural, indoor, and other hard-to-serve locations where wireless coverage may be deficient.”

The vote would mark the conclusion of a near-two-year rulemaking process that started in early 2010, when the FCC launched an inquiry into whether boosters should be banned or regulated more.

In June 2012, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, booster maker Wilson Electronics and others submitted a joint proposal outlining proposed rules, and in a recent filing, Verizon said it would allow customers to use signal boosters if the commission adopts, without major changes, the protection standards that they proposed.

For its part, T-Mobile said in a filing that it supports the FCC’s efforts to allow “well-designed third-party signal boosters that can improve wireless coverage so long as the rights of incumbent, exclusive-use licensees are protected from interference.”

T-Mobile also said it supports regulations that would permit the use of signal boosters as long as “the boosters meet technical criteria designed to prevent interference” and consumers are required to get the consent of their carrier. T-Mobile said it supports “technologically neutral booster specifications that both would protect incumbent licensees from interference and promote the design of a wide variety of boosters capable of operating on a variety of networks.”

As long as criteria are adopted to ensure signal boosters deliver interference-free operation, “T-Mobile expects to be able to voluntarily authorize the deployment of signal boosters meeting these criteria,” the carrier said.

However, “if certain devices develop a track record of interference, or are otherwise demonstrated to be incompatible with the operation of T-Mobile’s network, T-Mobile would reserve the right to prohibit the deployment of such devices on its network until the interference issues can be properly addressed.”

For his part, Wilson Electronics COO Joe Banos said he expected FCC adoptions of the new rules on Feb. 20 “will remove regulatory uncertainty surrounding cell boosters.”

Banos said the company “appreciated the open dialogue with the carriers and their recognition that signal boosters are a customer retention and satisfaction tool.” He said the company is “optimistic that the ruling will eliminate improperly designed devices from the marketplace and improve cell service for many.”

Wilson has said in the past that its signal boosters are designed with safety features that don’t allow them to do damage to carrier networks’ hardware.

Also on Feb 20, the FCC plans to vote on proposed rule to expand the amount of spectrum Available for unlicensed devices in the 5GHz band “to accelerate the growth and expansion of new Wi-Fi technology offering consumers faster speeds and less network congestion at Wi-Fi hot spots.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski revealed the plan at International CES.