Some rules relaxed while measures added to prevent interference to wireless networks
Back in early 2013, the FCC took steps to help consumers deal with the dreaded cell phone phenomenon of dead spots by allowing the use of private signal boosters. (Readers should recall that boosters receive and re-transmit cell phone signals to improve coverage in their immediate vicinity.) And now, underscoring its interest in encouraging such devices, the Commission has tweaked its rules. But be forewarned, the tweaks are highly technical and unless you’re deeply involved in the manufacturing side of the booster universe, you shouldn’t expect to notice any dramatic changes.
To recap, there are two classes of approved boosters, Consumer and Industrial. Consumer boosters, in turn, come in two flavors, Wideband Consumer Boosters (designed to boost signals of more than one cell provider) and Provider-Specific Consumer Signal Boosters (designed to boost the signals of just a single cell provider). All Consumer Boosters are subject to “Network Protection Standards” (NPS), although those standards differ somewhat between the two different types of Consumer Boosters.
Among the NPS imposed on manufacturers of Wideband Consumer Boosters was a testing requirement – involving downlink noise limits, if you really must know – which proved problematic for manufacturers. (As it turned out, neither the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology nor most Telecommunications Certifying Bodies had the filtering equipment necessary to measure the downlink noise as required, which obviously complicated the testing process.)
So several manufacturers, noting that the downward noise testing element was not included in the NPS as a means of protecting against interference, suggested that it could be tossed. They also suggested that bidirectional capability, which was what the downward noise limit test was designed to help achieve and confirm, could be addressed in other ways (for example, by adding downlink gain limits to the Transmit Power Off Mode requirement – we warned you that the tweaks are highly technical, didn’t we?).
The FCC agreed. Signal booster makers can thank Wilson Electronics, V-COMM and Wireless Extenders for getting the ball rolling on this front.
The Commission also added some requirements for mobile Provider-Specific Consumer Signal Boosters to provide additional protection against interference to wireless networks. In particular, mobile Provider-Specific boosters now:
- are subject to the stronger noise limits set for Wideband Consumer Boosters;
- must meet the stronger gain limits for Wideband Consumer Boosters if directly connected or using direct contact coupling; and
- may not exceed a maximum booster gain of 58 dB (for frequencies below 1 GHz) and 65 dB (for frequencies above 1 GHz) if they use an inside antenna and have both automatic gain adjustment based on isolation measurements between booster donor and server antenna and automatic feedback cancellation.
(We did mention that there would be some technical stuff going on here, didn’t we? But wait – there’s more!)
The Commission also will apply the “antenna kitting rule” to all Provider-Specific Consumer Signal Boosters. Originally, that rule was applicable to all Wideband units but only mobile Provider-Specific units; from here on, it will apply to all consumer boosters, mobile and fixed. (For those new to this: “Antenna Kitting” is a requirement that manufacturers sell antennas, cables and any other type of “coupling device” along with the booster, to control for interference.)
And, in what we view as borderline labeling overkill, all fixed consumer boosters – Provider-Specific and Wideband – must now include the emphatic direction that “[t]his device may ONLY be operated in a fixed location for in-building use”. And that incantation (intended to prevent, or at least discourage, interference to wireless networks) has got to be invoked not once, not twice, not thrice, but at least four (count ‘em, four) separate times: in on-line, point-of-sale marketing; in any manual or installation instructions; on the packaging; and on a label affixed to the booster itself.
In addition to all these revisions, the Commission has requested comments on whether to remove the “personal use” restriction in place for Provider-Specific Signal Boosters. Since consumers using those boosters are already required to obtain consent from carriers to operate on their frequencies, the Commission figures that the additional “personal use” provision is redundant. Deadlines for comments on this proposal will be set when the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking appears in the Federal Register, which hasn’t yet happened. We’ll keep you informed.