Verizon Wireless has teamed up with cellular booster company Wilson Electronics to propose federal standards for boosters, which sometimes help to overcome weak signals but can also interfere with mobile operators' networks.
Wilson, a small manufacturer in St. George, Utah, has been calling for standards on the devices for years. The company claims its boosters don't interfere with carrier networks but that many others can because they are not regulated. With its joint proposal to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday with Verizon, Wilson finally has a major carrier ally in pushing its case. Verizon came to Wilson seeking to work together on a plan, said Wilson spokesman Jonathan Bacon.
Cellular boosters are designed to improve coverage in buildings and vehicles by picking up the signal from the nearest cell tower and amplifying it at the same frequency. That gives the subscriber's regular cellphone a stronger signal to connect with. Carriers complain that the devices can degrade service for other subscribers if they are too powerful or reach beyond the owner's home or car.
In April, Wilson helped persuade the FCC to start seeking public comments that might lead to regulations for the devices. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking involves possible amendments to a series of FCC rules that would pertain to the boosters. The original 45-day comment period was extended by a month and concluded this week. A 30-day period for responses to those comments is now beginning.
The proposal from Verizon and Wilson, along with wireless consulting firm V-Comm, calls for dividing the booster category into three classes. Consumer Boosters would be the sort of small, relatively simple devices that Wilson sells today. Certified Engineered and Operated (CEO) Boosters would be larger ones for campuses and offices, and Licensee Installed Boosters would be owned and operated by the carriers themselves.
For Consumer Boosters, which would be user-installable, the proposal lays out transmitter power limits, which Wilson's products already meet, Bacon said. The companies also proposed requiring that boosters be registered with the consumer's carrier. This would involve either buyers sending their names, addresses, booster model numbers and other information to the carrier or having their identifying information sent automatically through the cellphone, via Bluetooth. In that case, the booster would be recognized as an extension to the phone or other cellular device.
The partners said standards for the CEO Boosters should be set by industry participants, including manufacturers and carriers. Organizations that installed and operated the CEO boosters would coordinate with the carriers and would have to provide a 24-hour phone number so the devices could be turned off in case of interference.
CTIA, the trade group for U.S. wireless carriers, issued a strongly worded statement along with a proposal demanding technical standards that would completely mitigate harmful interference. "The ongoing illicit use of signal boosters can cause serious disruption to wireless networks and interfere with the vital Public Safety communications," the group wrote.
T-Mobile USA also submitted a comment, saying boosters should be authorized in the same way as handsets and be designed so the carrier can remotely shut the device down or modify its operating parameters. But T-Mobile said it agreed with the FCC's tentative conclusion that older, non-compliant boosters that users already own should be allowed as long as they don't interfere with the carrier network.