The Federal Communications Commission has adopted a report and order designed to improve the nation’s wireless infrastructure by expanding consumer wireless coverage. The new rules govern signal boosters, which amplify signals between wireless devices and wireless networks, requiring manufacturers to include safeguards that protect wireless networks and improve signal booster design.

All four nationwide carriers and many rural and regional carriers have consented to the use of boosters on their networks, as long as those boosters meet the technical specifications outlined in the FCC’s order. The FCC believes that removing the consumer and industry uncertainty regarding signal booster use and operation will promote further investment in and use of the technology.

“In New York City, the transit authority is using signal boosters to enhance coverage in the subway system. In North Dakota, emergency personnel use signal boosters to facilitate communications on search and rescue operations in areas of challenging terrain,” said FCC chair Julius Genachowski. “In Arizona, single boosters are used to improve wireless service on the Navajo reservation. In small towns in southwestern Virginia, signal boosters increase signal strength by three times.”

The order addresses two classes of signal boosters, consumer and industrial, with distinct regulatory requirements for each. Specifically, consumer signal boosters must meet the stringent technical specifications of the Network Protection Standard and are authorized under provider licenses subject to provider consent, voluntarily provided in this case by most carriers.

Signal boosters help consumers improve coverage where signal strength is weak. They also help first responders by extending wireless access in hard-to-serve areas like tunnels, subways, and garages. Consumers must register their signal booster with their provider prior to use. Labeling requirements ensure that consumers understand these terms of use.

“They are a cost-effective means of expanding the reach of our nation’s wireless infrastructure,” Genachowski said. “Individual consumers with no technical expertise can install signal boosters in their homes or in their vehicles.”

Consumer boosters can be used on most mainstream wireless bands: cellular, PCS, AWS-1, 700 MHz, and ESMR (after rebranding). The use of consumer boosters may not cause interference with wireless networks even if a device meets the Network Protection Standard.

“Now it is critical that signal boosters not interfere with commercial, private, and public safety wireless networks, as they have in the past,” said Genachowski. “I am pleased that we have worked with all stakeholders to create a common sense, consensus-based technical solution to mitigate interference risks to wireless networks.”

Furthermore, the order details rules for industrial signal boosters designed to cover large areas such as stadiums, airports, and tunnels. Industrial signal boosters will continue to fall under the existing authorization process, and they must be installed and operated in coordination with licenses.

A diverse range of wireless supporters represented by CTIA-The Wireless Association, the Rural Telecommunications Group, and the Competitive Carriers Association supports the new rules for boosters.

Federal Communications Commission