The telecoms regulator Ofcom has laid out plans to legalise mobile signal boosters to improve crappy phone signal that blights the UK.
Many thousands of households across the country suffer from poor quality phone signal, especially indoors.
But as of April 2017, it’s still illegal to install and use a signal repeater in your home or car.
Mobile signal boosters amplify the phone signal inside the area that’s been set out. That might be your kitchen, bedroom or living room, or in your car if you take a lot of Bluetooth headset chats while driving.
They’re for sale all over the internet and a cursory Google search for mobile signal boosters will show you how popular they are.
Why is it still illegal to use mobile signal boosters?
Ofcom say that personal use of these boosting devices plays havoc with the system because it causes terrible electronic interference to other people trying to use mobile networks.
And it’s one of those quirks of UK law that while it’s not illegal to buy or sell a mobile signal repeater, if you actually turn it on and use it, then you’re breaking the law.
Only mobile network operators like O2, EE and Three are on the right side of the law when using these devices.
Under section 8 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 anyone caught using a repeater without a licence is liable for a £5,000 fine or up to a year in prison. Pretty harsh, no?
So why the change?
Ofcom has realised the extent to which dropped phone calls and sketchy signal are causing misery.
With such a large proportion of the country now engaged in working from home, bad signal, dropped calls, or sounding like you’re standing in a tunnel can have a catastrophic effect on small businesses.
Funnily enough it’s the window glass used to protect drivers from ultraviolet radiation that also limits radio signals inside cars.
Major car manufacturers have already approached Ofcom wanting to install low gain mobile phone boosters, so there’s a ready market for this if they can swipe the ban out of the way.
There’s also the fact that Ofcom know these mobile signal repeaters are being used anyway, whether they tell people not to, or not.
Heavy mobile signal interference is already going on and getting trickier by the minute.
And there’s cash to be made by mobile operators.
In the policy document Ofcom say they think manufacturers “would respond to consumer demand” by developing their own mobile signal repeaters.
“Our view is that these proposals would further citizens’ and consumers’ interests. We are therefore minded to adopt this option,” they say.
There will be rules, oh yes; Ofcom loves rules.
These repeaters must turn themselves off when they’re not being used, for one.
There’s a 39-page document from Ofcom here, which lays out all the technical bits and bobs too lengthy and boring to post here.
A consultation is now live, closing on 6 June, with Ofcom due to rule by July. If you want to make a statement or add your voice to the debate, you can call Jack Hindley on 0207 981 3810, or email email@example.com.