The FCC may soon initiate a rulemaking process concerning the use of cellular amplifiers — which are used heavily today by the first responder community to augment mobile data and cellular coverage in buildings, and in vehicles that travel to more rural areas where coverage is sparse.

The mobile operator community has sounded the alarm to the FCC for some time over the cheap amplifiers that have the power to knock out cellular and public-safety transmissions for miles, by creating noise feedback in the radio frequency transmission.

The use of channelized amplifiers—which are designed to not interfere with cellular towers — would solve the problem. But these are expensive solutions. The influx of cheaper cellular amplifiers from China and other regions that don't have such protections in place are enticing to those wanting a less expensive way to extend coverage.

"I have one [of the cheaper devices] next door to my office here," said Joe Banos, chief operating officer with Wilson Electronics, which makes the more expensive, higher quality amplifiers. "It oscillates (causes feedback in the RF transmission) and it is going to affect a nearby 800 MHz system."

Wilson recently took its case to the FCC to argue that cellular amplifiers are in need of some type of FCC certification, but it rejects the notion that operators should be allowed to have them "carrier certified." Carriers reason that amplifiers manipulate their cellular signals, so they should have the right to control how these signals are amplified.

"That's why the FCC is here, to minimize and prevent interference," Banos said.

The commission already has a type-acceptance program in place for approving devices, including cellular amplifiers. There isn't any reason why the FCC can't add more parameters to the well-established program to eliminate oscillation, in-band noise floor increase and uni-directional amplification — the primary reasons for network interference today, the company said in a recent presentation at the FCC.

Banos said the problem with going down the "carrier approved" route has to do with the onerous task of submitting approvals to 10 or more carriers — all with requirements of their own. This would discourage legitimate manufacturers — like Wilson — while encouraging the proliferation of illegal, non-type-accepted amplifiers.

Wilson also has developed broadband/multiband amplifiers it says are more flexible than the channelized amplifiers that only can be used in buildings. Broadband amplifiers can be used in both building and mobile applications and, if properly designed, won't cause interference to cell towers. Canadian operators Telus and Bell Canada already have approved such amplifiers and have purchased more than 40,000 units, Wilson said.

What Wilson hopes was most persuasive to the FCC was its list of 500 government entities—sheriff's departments, correctional facilities, E-911 centers, federal government agencies and the U.S. military—that have purchased the company’s amplifiers. Their communications might be impacted if the FCC goes the "carrier approved" route, Banos said.