Wireless signal boosters and the FCC

This is a guest post from RepeaterStore. RepeaterStore.com provides amplification solutions to improve wireless cell and data reception in buildings, homes and vehicles. We’ve helped over 25,000 customers large and small improve their signal since 2007. Our headquarters are in beautiful Laguna Hills, California.

Signal boosters, also called amplifiers and cellular repeaters, are hardware devices that are “bi-directional amplifiers”. They amplify the signal being sent to and from the nearest cellphone tower. They are designed to extend and improve wireless coverage (2G voice, 3G/4G/LTE data, and wifi) to areas that would otherwise have weak signal and unreliable coverage.

Signal boosters can be installed in a home, office or vehicle. Booster kits typically contain two antennas: one that communicates with the cellphone tower, and another that communicates with the cell phone(s). The outside antenna receives an outside signal and transmits it to the amplifier. The amplifier boosts the signal and rebroadcasts it inside via the inside antenna, eliminating dead coverage zones.

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Booster kits include antennas, amplifier and cables to connect the system.

Wireless signal boosters are regulated by the FCC because they operate on cellular frequencies. The FCC’s concern was that malfunctioning or improperly designed or installed signal boosters could interfere with wireless networks and so cause interference to communication services. The past seven years have seen a lot of changes to RCC regulation of wireless boosters. Several parties filed petitions with the FCC seeking clarification of or changes to the FCC’s rules to address the proper use and regulation of signal boosters. In January 2010, the FCC released a Public Notice seeking comment on these various petitions. In April 2011, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on how best to facilitate the development and deployment of well-designed signal boosters. In February 2013, the FCC released a Report and Order which laid out new regulations for wireless signal boosters.

Manufacturers of consumer-grade signal boosters can submit their products to the FCC for approval. Once a device has been approved by the FCC, consumers who purchase and install it also need to register with their wireless service provider. The leading wireless service providers (Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T), and many rural cellular carriers that are members of the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) and the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) have committed to provide blanket approval for signal boosters that meet the FCC standards.

What are the FCC standards for wireless signal boosters?

The FCC stipulates a range of technical specifications designed to protect against interference:

All devices must comply with technical parameters (e.g. power level, emission limitations, and frequency tolerance) for the applicable spectrum band, and RF exposure requirements for the type of device (i.e., fixed or mobile).

Self-monitoring features. All consumer signal boosters must detect and mitigate oscillation (such as may result from insufficient isolation between the antennas) in both the uplink and downlink bands.  A booster that goes into oscillation will either stop the oscillation or shut down before it can cause harmful interference to nearby wireless networks. Boosters must also ensure compliance with applicable noise and gain limits and self-correct or shut down automatically if operating in violation of those rules.

Power down, or shut down, automatically when a device is not needed, such as when the device approaches the base station with which it is communicating.

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