Poor mobile signals can be the bane of our interconnected lives. Whether at home or in the car losing a signal becomes incredibly frustrating. The solution has long been to install a mobile signal booster, but they have been, until now, essentially illegal to use.
Also known as mobile signal repeaters, boosters amplify signals between a mobile phone and the network operators’ base stations offering improved mobile reception for the user.
These signal boosters are mounted on a roof or window like a satellite TV dish and use powerful antennas to amplify your cell signal. It basically acts as your own personal cell tower.
Prior to 2017 it was illegal to install or use a mobile signal booster, even though you could easily purchase them. As far as Ofcom was concerned the strength of a signal was the responsibility of the mobile network operators even though coverage could be uneven.
Ofcom acknowledged in its decision, that accessing a mobile network can be troublesome for some consumers, particularly those living towards the edge of mobile network coverage or in built-up areas. The same, they said was the same for accessing networks in-vehicle.
Then in 2017 Ofcom went someway to remedy this anomaly with its consultation on the technical requirements for mobile phone repeaters. Ofcom said it wanted to ensure that undue interference did not impact on the quality of the service and limiting the potential harm to consumers.
It decided that signal boosters that matched certain technical requirements would be licence-exempt.
While this decision led to a legal minefield for consumers, it was criticised by many leading manufacturers as putting too many demands on their products. Products that were struggling to compete with the cheap Chinese boosters that dominate the market.
Ofcom is responsible for authorising use of the radio spectrum. As such they permit the use of the radio spectrum either by granting wireless telegraphy licences or by setting regulations, including exemptions.
At present it is illegal to install or use wireless telegraphy products without a licence or obtaining an exemption.
In this case Ofcom, after consultation have decided to make the regulations licence-exempt for the deployment of mobile repeaters for static in-door and low gain in-vehicle use.
There are though restrictions. In particular they have limited exemption when it comes to 4G only repeaters. At present it covers 3G and in-car boosters. While they give no detailed reason for this other than the decision, after consultation, to restrict the exemption of boosters for static indoor use.
Ofcom said this is a precautionary measure and will look to return to the issue when appropriate.
This all means that the use of a licence-exempt booster is now legal as long as it doesn’t interfere with other networks.
The booster must also remain within the licence conditions of your mobile network which you want to boost.
Ofcom has stated that your mobile network must be able to control them, that is turning them off and on and the booster must automatically configure themselves so as to never cause harm to the network.
If you are thinking of getting a booster then it probably pays to talk to your provider before purchasing one. Boosters are available for all the major carriers such as O2, EE, Three Mobile, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile, BT, Orange, Tesco, T-Mobile and GiffGaff.