FCC Cellular Signal Boosters Certification Specifications Adopted Today

FCC Cellular Signal Boosters Certification Specifications Adopted Today

FCC Cellular Signal Boosters Certification Specifications were adopted today

I’ve made no secret of the fact that if it weren’t for the Wilson Electronics AG Pro 75 Celluar Signal Booster, mobile phone service at my house would be pitiful; we would have likely had to incur the (possibly substantial) expense of putting in a landline. I live outside a rural community and in the middle of a ranch; you could argue that poor signal is the price Kev and I must pay for being able to enjoy the great outdoors, and perhaps you would be right. But what about people like Dan, who live in the middle of an urban area, and yet they still can’t get a strong dependable signal? Wilson Electronic’s products are very helpful in that scenario, too.

So it would seem that the ability to add a cellular booster to your home or automobile would be an obvious necessity for many — perhaps even a right — since we are, after all, paying for service that we can’t always count on in areas that aren’t always as solidly covered as advertised. But for the past several years there has actually been a lot of controversy around that very subject. Did you know that in November 2007, “CTIA-The Wireless Association petitioned the FCC for a ruling that would prohibit their customers from using any consumer cellular signal boosting devices.”

Why would CTIA want to keep consumers from being able to purchase signal boosting devices?

The CTIA alleged that their primary concern was that unauthorized (“illicit”) signal boosters cause “serious disruption to wireless networks and interfere with vital Public Safety communications.”  (read more by clicking here and here)  The CTIA further said that the FCC should make the sale of cellular signal boosters to “unauthorized parties” illegal. According to the CTIA, “Signal boosters‘ disruption of wireless networks continues to occur frequently and, in many cases, is quite severe.”

What disruption was the CTIA referring to? They said that it had been proven that signal boosters can and do produce noise in the form of “adjacent channel interference, oscillation, or base station receiver overload”. They also said that “signal boosters risk amplifying not only the signals the user intends, but also causing co-channel interference. These types of interference issues degrade network coverage and quality of service. Not only do signal boosters damage wireless networks and  degrade service for neighboring users, they also require carriers and Public Safety to  divert significant resources toward finding and addressing the source of interference to their networks.”

In November 2009, Wilson Electronics filed a request asking the FCC to “increase the technical certification standards that cellular signal boosters must meet to gain FCC approval.” In other words, Wilson Electronics was saying that if the boosters met all the tech certification standards and were properly designed, consumers should be allowed to have and use them. (Exactly!!)

Evidently the FCC agreed, and in April 2011, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking so that properly designed cellular signal boosters could be developed and produced. The FCC saw the need for boosters in the hands of consumers, because they noted “. . . hold great potential to empower consumers in rural and underserved areas to improve their wireless coverage in their homes, at their jobs, and when they travel by car, recreational vehicle, or boat.”

Last March, Wilson Electronics, Verizon Wireless, and the independent telecommunications engineering firm V-COMM jointly filed their proposals for consumer cellular signal booster technical specifications with the FCC. By the end of the year, T-Mobile was on board, too.

Those specifications were the basis of today’s FCC vote, when they met together to consider (among other things) a “Report and Order to significantly enhance wireless coverage for consumers, while protecting wireless networks from interference by adopting new technical, operational, and registration requirements for signal boosters.”  You can watch the entire FCC Open Commission Meeting by clicking here.

But if you don’t have the time and just want the Cliff’s Note version, these are the highlights:

  • The vote by FCC Commissioners passed unanimously
  • Beginning March 1st, 2014, consumer signal boosters sold in the U.S. will have to comply with the technical specifications adopted today
  • AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon – have already filed with the FCC their intent to give consent for signal boosters that meet the technical specifications adopted today

So the good news is that today the FCC Cellular Signal Boosters Certification Specifications have been adopted, and consumers will still be able to keep and purchase cellular signal boosters — as long as they comply. The bad news is … well, it looks like there are some new regulations we will have to deal with. For starters: “Under the FCC’s new rules, you (1) need your wireless provider’s permission to use the booster, and (2) must register the booster with your wireless provider. Absent your provider’s permission, you may not continue using your booster.”

But that’s not all. Before buying a new booster, you have to  “(1) make sure you have your wireless provider’s permission to use the booster, and (2) buy a booster that displays the label to the right (this means it meets the new FCC rules.) The four largest providers, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T have already agreed to give consumers permission to use boosters displaying the label below.”

FCC Approved Signal Boosters Label

On top of that, once you’ve received your provider’s permission, “you must register your booster with your wireless provider before turning it on.”

You can read more at the FCC’s new FAQ. I can’t help but feel a bit put out by all of this; it’s aggravating!

So what’s going to happen? Is an FCC enforcer going to show up at my door and take away my cellular signal booster if I don’t register and comply? Perhaps not … but there are always other ways to make you comply — fines, for one. Like the fine for consumers who use an industrial use booster — that can be as high as $100,00. Yikes.

FCC Industrial Use label

Hm. Looks like I have a call to make to AT&T in the morning … or not. Evidently wireless providers have until March 1, 2014 to implement a free system for consumers under their coverage to register their boosters. Grace period? Not really.

I wonder if you can write the company who sold you a booster and get a compliance sticker after the fact — assuming the device is in compliance. Maybe that is that call I need to make tomorrow morning. =P


UPDATE 02/21/13: I just received an email from Wi-Ex about their zBoost cell phone signal boosters, the gist of which is this — if you have a zBoost cell phone signal booster, you do NOT need to power it down. They say that their boosters do not interfere with the wireless providers network, and that you can continue using the boosters. You should also be on the lookout for a notice they will send you regarding registration of the product with them.

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct smaller.com; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.

2 Comments on "FCC Cellular Signal Boosters Certification Specifications Adopted Today"

  1. A few thoughts:

    – First, I’d bet this has nothing to do with cases such as yours … but DOES have to do with Dan – as well as anyone who works in an office building.

    – Second, one legit reason for this is cheap electronics makers. Boosting frequencies is relatively easy, but remember that they call it a ‘spectrum’ for a reason – it is a continuous signal stream. Boosting a very narrow portion of the spectrum is harder than boosting a less specific range … and boosting one area in a way that doesn’t create side-lobe frequencies and harmonics is even more difficult. And in electronics, difficult = expensive.

    – So … in residential applications, it is entirely possible that an cheap AT&T booster could create interference with wireless devices such as baby monitors, cordless phones, WiFi networks and so on. And would then cost providers to come troubleshooting these issues.

    – But ultimately my bet is that it has to do with commercial applications – cell signals don’t penetrate concrete and steel very well, so right now they (carriers) provide ‘repeaters’, which are not cheap and which provide added revenue. If building managers or companies could just add in cheaper boosters they could theoretically save money. And cost the carriers more for support and lose them revenues.

    So … as always it is all about the money, and it is the ‘little guys’ such as yourself who are the roadkill on their way to higher profits.

  2. I’m sure that you’re right about the original complaint not being specifically because of cases like mine (except perhaps for the 911 locating part), but we are definitely roadkill in this if we can’t get our booster approved whenever this starts being enforced. Hopefully, that won’t be an issue. =P

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