The FCC voted Thursday to remove the personal use restriction for consumer cell signal boosters. Individuals use boosters to improve their wireless coverage indoors, underground and in rural areas. The devices don’t need professional installation.
During the vote, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said: “And with our action today, we aim to make that tool a more powerful means of meeting our goal of expanding wireless connectivity. Someday, hopefully soon, failed calls can be relegated to the silver screen.”
The original rules, effective in 2014, limited operation to specific spectrum bands in operation then and authorized provider-specific boosters and wideband boosters, which extend coverage by all providers in range. The agency says the personal use restrictions on provider-specific devices are no longer needed, meaning businesses, public safety entities, and schools can use them.
Bruce Lancaster is the CEO at Wilson Electronics, which makes cell signal boosters, antennas and related components. He tells Inside Towers the change can especially help small businesses. “Boosters help users stay connected in areas where the carriers struggle to reach with their network. Whether this is in remote areas while camping, or in difficult to reach areas in buildings, boosters have solved hundreds of thousands of consumers’ connectivity issues, without causing any issues to any of the carriers’ networks,” he says. The elimination of the personal use restriction makes this same benefit available to businesses, which have similar connectivity challenges for themselves or their customers, he added.
The Commission is also seeking public input on ways to allow more flexibility in the use of consumer signal boosters. It proposes to remove barriers to embedding boosters within vehicles and boats. Lancaster explains that when the initial rules were adopted, there were specific registration requirements that consumers had to follow during the setup. The rules are difficult to comply with when the device user may not be the original purchaser.
“An example is a person buying a car that could have a booster built into the vehicle to improve the connectivity while in the car. Even though the customer purchased the car, they may not be aware of the booster’s presence or the fact that it is improving the connectivity of everyone in the car,” Lancaster notes. “Asking this person to register this booster would be complicated and a challenge that automakers have not been able to resolve under the current rules.” The effect has been to limit booster use in these situations, he added.
The agency proposes to eliminate the personal use restriction on wideband boosters too, and to authorize non-subscribers to operate both types of signal boosters; it also seeks comment on whether to expand consumer signal booster operations to additional spectrum bands.
By Leslie Stimson, Washington Bureau Chief, Inside Towers
March 27, 2018