Signal booster vendor Wilson Electronics and Verizon Wireless are making nice. Wilson announced that it has come to an agreement with Verizon regarding new technical specifications for consumer cellular boosters. The two companies have filed jointly in a response to the FCC’s signal booster notice of proposed rulemaking, and Wilson may finally get what it has been seeking.

If you recall, Wilson and mobile operators have been at odds for years over signal boosters, otherwise known as cellular amplifiers, which increasingly are being used to strengthen signals in areas with poor cellular coverage. Public-safety and mobile-operator advocates, among them the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), are alarmed over the improper installation and use of signal boosters that have the power to interfere with cellular and public-safety transmissions for miles by creating noise feedback in the radio frequency transmission.

Mobile operators have wanted the FCC to allow them to “carrier certify” these devices, but Wilson has opposed that position, saying the move would stifle sales of signal boosters. Instead, it wants the FCC to add more parameters to its type-acceptance program to eliminate the primary reasons for network interference.

Now Verizon and Wilson have come to an agreement, which includes support from wireless engineering consulting firm V-COMM.

Wilson believes the joint proposal is a win-win for both consumers and cellular carriers, according to Joe Banos, the company’s chief operating officer.

“Boosters meeting new stricter design standards can ensure that private users as well as government agencies can continue to have reliable service in areas where signal coverage may not be optimal due to terrain or economics,” Banos said in a statement. “The new standards will also ensure that carriers' networks will be protected from cell site interference, which poorly built boosters might cause.”

The key to the agreement is that Wilson believes these technical specifications drafted by the two companies should work for all cellular networks.

“If the technical specifications in the proposal have been deemed sufficient by Verizon Wireless to protect its cellular networks, they should be deemed sufficient to protect all cellular networks," Banos said.

Will the move bring closure to a debate that has been going on for more than six years? One thing that is highly agreed upon in the wireless industry is that Verizon Wireless has strict standards for its wireless networks. Based on that alone, it is reasonable to think that the new specifications sufficiently will protect all cellular networks.

The joint proposal covers consumer boosters, industry-certified boosters and licensee-installed boosters. The most problematic are the consumer boosters that have been sold and deployed in the U.S. that often use improper technologies and/or are installed incorrectly by end users.

Highlights of the consumer booster requirements are as follows:

  • The specifications should enable consumers to install and operate boosters without causing harm to cellular networks.
  • Consumer boosters can be installed and used by consumers for use in buildings or vehicles.
  • Consumer boosters must by FCC type-certified and registered with the licensed operators, either manually or through a Bluetooth device.
  • The boosters must be bidirectional RF amplifiers.
  • The boosters must not exceed 1 W (uplink) or 0.05 W (downlink) composite power per band of operation, and must have the proposed requirements for elements that protect interference.

Despite the agreement between Wilson and Verizon, important questions still remain to be answered. For instance, will carriers have the ability to detect unlawful boosters? Also, how will the FCC keep those cheaper booster suppliers from continuing to target the market? I hope to see the commission incorporate some sort of enforcement of these regulations.

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