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CTIA to FCC: Signal Boosters Do More Harm Than Good

Consumers demand wireless broadband anywhere at any time, and carriers compete vigorously by investing in towers and equipment to improve coverage. With limited spectrum available to transmit wireless data, wireless devices must finely tune into narrow spectrum bands so they can communicate with the network and provide consumers with service. Even though the U.S. is the most efficient user of spectrum in the world, any interference can negatively impact consumers’ wireless experiences when there are so many devices using the limited amount of spectrum.

The FCC recently issued an NPRM to evaluate the use of signal boosters to improve wireless coverage. While it may sound like a good idea in principal, signal boosters can easily cause interference to wireless networks and do far more harm than good. In our commentsPDF, we urged the Commission to proceed carefully because the use of illicit signal boosters can cause serious disruptions to wireless networks and interfere with vital public safety communications.

To address the interference issue caused by signal boosters, CTIA recommends an industry-based solution. Since the FCC lacks the authority to license signal boosters for use in licensed spectrum under the “citizens band radio service” provision of the Communications Act and instead of trying to create a regulatory framework, CTIA encourages the Commission to allow the industry to develop certification standards.

With the huge risk of harmful interference, it is critical the Commission affirm and enforce its existing requirements that state a FCC license or licensee consent is needed in order to buy or operate a signal booster. Otherwise, an unauthorized user can cause co-channel interference that degrades network coverage and quality of service for other users. Signal boosters also have the potential to create inaccurate location estimates for 911 calls, potentially affecting emergency responders. If it was unlawful to sell or operate an unlicensed signal booster, there would be a dramatic reduction on wireless interference.

The FCC should adopt technical and design standards for signal boosters that would mitigate all harmful interference. We support continuing discussions with booster manufacturers and carriers to develop the technical and design features that safeguard against interference. We recommend:

  • Designing signal boosters so the network operator ultimately controls the device, since the network operator must continually monitor the network for interference and ensure spectrum is being used efficiently and effectively.
  • Including technology so that signal booster can be located at all times.
  • Ensuring the booster uses only the frequencies authorized by the network operator.
  • Including automatic gain control in the boosters so they can sense the power of local base stations and act as a safeguard against interference.

Similar to the equipment certification process that all wireless devices undergo, signal boosters should be certified by the FCC or a telecommunication certification body, pass an industry-driven certification process and receive approval from the carrier that the device is in compliance with the network’s protocols. If applied to signal boosters, this type of certification process would ensure that the FCC, signal booster manufacturers and network operators are in agreement no harmful interference is possible.

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