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Communications Cellphones United States Wireless Networking

Got a Cell Phone Booster? FCC Says You Have To Turn It Off 245

Posted by timothy
from the commons-problem dept.
First time accepted submitter Dngrsone writes "Some two million people have bought cell-phone wireless signal boosters and have been using them to get better communication between their phones and distant cell towers. But now, the FCC says they all have to turn their boosters off and ask permission from their providers, and register their devices with those providers, before they can turn them back on."
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Got a Cell Phone Booster? FCC Says You Have To Turn It Off

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm just falling all over myself to listen to an agency that fines people tens of thousands of dollars for saying "fuck" on the radio.

    • by cod3r_ (2031620) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:59AM (#42967711)
      Yah.. I'm inclined to say "or else what?" Have fun chasing down those oilfield trucks that are 30 miels in the brush illegally using cell phone boosters!
      • by Dishevel (1105119) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:13PM (#42967917)

        To put it succinctly ... Fuck the FCC
         

        • by Penguinisto (415985) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @02:23PM (#42969903) Journal

          Err, no - the phrase "dead lay" pops up mentally too much when I think of doing so.

          I live out here in the sticks. Damned near half the county uses boosters, because, well, we have to. Between the abundance of mountains and the twisty roads, it's a given that if you want a signal, you get a booster.

            Hell, the carriers should be grateful we do, since w/o the boosters, they'd get to hear about how their coverage sucks, and they'd either have to put in more towers ($$$!), or have to do some shrinkage on their cute little coverage maps. (Yes, on the latter they would pretty much have to. Here in Tillamook county, residents aren't afraid to give the sales droid a good loud "bullshit!" when shown a carrier's local coverage map - especially if that carrier is AT&T.)

      • by dougmc (70836)

        Have fun chasing down those oilfield trucks that are 30 miels in the brush illegally using cell phone boosters!

        The FCC used to have great fun chasing down 18 wheelers with their CB radio amplifiers. CB radios are supposed to be capped at four watts, but some people used amplifiers that boosted that to hundreds or thousands of watts. And the FCC would get complaints and would track down the offenders, sometimes as they're driving down the road -- after all, 20 kW is pretty easy to follow. And they'd hit people up with substantial penalties.

        That said, cell phone boosters only operate at like a watt or so. As long

        • You mean like how the FCC is allowing vendors to keep selling the devices for another year [basically screwing customers buying these devices]?

        • by 0111 1110 (518466)

          Do you have any kind of reference for 100 kW boosted mobile CB radios? That is a lot of power. It's hard for me to picture how you could get that much power from even a very large 12v battery and/or the alternator. Even 20 kW seems pretty amazing for a mobile transmitter.

          • by BlueStrat (756137) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @04:20PM (#42971509)

            Do you have any kind of reference for 100 kW boosted mobile CB radios? That is a lot of power. It's hard for me to picture how you could get that much power from even a very large 12v battery and/or the alternator. Even 20 kW seems pretty amazing for a mobile transmitter.

            I used to do CB radio electronics work back in the day. The biggest mobile amplifier I ever saw was 2KW. That required the addition of another alternator & battery to supply enough current. Most commonly-used solid-state mobile CB amplifiers are/were anywhere from 50W to 500W.

            For 10-20KW or more, you'd almost have to have an auxiliary engine, battery, & alternator (and some extremely-heavy wiring) to supply the extremely high current levels needed for those kinds of power levels.

            Strat

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        Are people buying theirs from Radio Shack or something? Because my dad has one, he got it from the cell phone provider so I don't see how anybody would say he would need "permission" from the company that sold it to him, not like they don't know about it. They were more than happy to sell him a booster for his shop and what they called a "mini-tower" for his home which lets him use his DSL instead of their tower because their reception is very poor where he lives. Works great, doesn't have the drop out his

    • by flyneye (84093)

      I remember you couldn't run linear amplifiers on C.B. radios either. But, loads did anyway and nothing ever happened.
      I don't know about the world of shortwave, but I bet they have some FCC tales to tell. Anyone?..

      • by jjhall (555562) <slashdot&mail4geeks,com> on Thursday February 21, 2013 @05:40PM (#42972525) Homepage

        Actually... Yes. All you have to do is look at the webpage for the FCC's Enforcement Bureau.

        http://transition.fcc.gov/eb/ [fcc.gov]

        Just the headlines near the bottom of the page show $20K fines for operating without the appropriate license, interfering with licensed users, etc. If you browse around a bit you'll see some fairly recent enforcement of CB operators with illegal setups, primarily amplifiers, but some are also related to out-of-band operation.

        I don't think the FCC really has time or resources any more to go randomly look for violations, but they will react when they receive complaints of interference. They also don't usually accept "But I didn't know" as an excuse.

        It can be rather interesting reading through the enforcement actions, especially since some contain responses from the accused, and the subsequent FCC responses.

  • *sigh* (Score:5, Funny)

    by voice_of_all_reason (926702) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:07AM (#42966991)
    Oh, great. More bullshit.
  • by adam.voss (1854938) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:08AM (#42967013)
    How do I turn off my as seen on TV signal boosting sticker?
  • HA!!! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:13AM (#42967071)

    I'll turn my booster off when the FCC forces cellular companies to provide better coverage. Until then, they can both bite me.

    • by skids (119237)

      Maybe the prospect of 2M users calling up to try to register their boosters could result in just such a thing.

    • I'll turn my booster off when the FCC forces cellular companies to provide better coverage. Until then, they can both bite me.

      I'll GLADLY shut mine down when the ILEC for my area installs a hard line for an affordable price. Their quote of $250K is a bit above my budget. All the years I lived in a metro area I paid a "tax" to support rural service. Now that I'm in a rural area I can't get a hard line - go figure.

  • makes some sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@h a c k i sh.org> on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:13AM (#42967073)

    Devices transmitting in the regulated bands (as opposed to unregulated space like the Wifi spectrum) have to meet & be tested for certain noninterference properties, which is only valid if they're used unmodified. A provider could get a device+addon combination certified, however.

    • by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:34AM (#42967339) Journal

      No, it doesn't. There are two parts to the new regulation.

      1) New cell boosters must meet stricter standards of non-interference.

      That's great. No objection here.

      2) Carriers must approve of the use of each and every one of these boosters, even the new ones that meet the stricter standard. If you have multiple carriers connected devices, you must have the booster approved by each carrier.

      That makes no sense at all.

      • Re:makes some sense (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Richard_at_work (517087) <<richardprice> <at> <gmail.com>> on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:45AM (#42967515)

        It actually does make sense - the carriers hold the licenses for using the spectrum these boosters are boosting, they paid a lot of money to use those spectrum licenses.

        Thus, you must get the permission of the license holder before you can use that portion of the spectrum.

        • by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @02:02PM (#42969623) Journal

          But the only reason for using one is to make use of the service that I already pay for. If they are going to refuse my efforts to make their system work for me, I should have an automatic penalty free exit oppretunity from any/all contracts.

          • That's a rather facetious argument - if you entered into the contract knowing that the service required a booster, the problem is yours. If you entered into the contract not knowing the service required a booster, but the service provider made no false promises regarding coverage in the area, the problem is yours.

            If the service provider made false promises, or the service degraded, then the problem is theirs.

            I don't see why the contract should be null and void because you screwed up on your due diligence p

      • Re:makes some sense (Score:5, Interesting)

        by satch89450 (186046) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:02PM (#42967753) Homepage
        If you have ever been involved with regulated radio, the regulation " Carriers must approve of the use of each and every one of these boosters" makes perfect sense.

        The introduction of a repeater into a cell system means that the engineering of the cell boundaries can be affected. Now, for boosters that are used in building that shield the RF, there is little engineering that needs to be done -- you are essentially extending the antenna outside the shield. (And you can get repeater antennas without boosters that do the same job, and I suspect they are *not* covered by this regulation.)

        When you have an active repeater, that means the cell signals from the provider can be relayed as well as the signals from your cell phone. With microcell design, this can play hob with the clearances, so that a phone will see two cell site courtesy of your repeater.

        I'm not an expert on cell systems, but I remember some of the arguments used to keep people from using cell phones from airplanes.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          (And you can get repeater antennas without boosters that do the same job, and I suspect they are *not* covered by this regulation.)

          Repeater antennas without boosters do not do the same job. They cause attenuation.

          When you have an active repeater, that means the cell signals from the provider can be relayed as well as the signals from your cell phone. With microcell design, this can play hob with the clearances, so that a phone will see two cell site courtesy of your repeater.

          That's not even the only issue. There's also the issue of power levels. Your phone has one, the amplifier has another, the phone is matched to its antenna, etc etc.

      • Re:makes some sense (Score:4, Informative)

        by Mattcelt (454751) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @03:06PM (#42970545)

        The FCC FAQ mentions only that if you are told by a wireless carrier or the FCC that your device is interfering with a mobile network, you must turn it off. It says nothing about doing so preemptively.

    • by jythie (914043) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:35AM (#42967359)
      Unfortunately people get really pissy when a regulation takes away some advantage they have over other people using the shared resource. It is kinda like those triggers that turn red lights green, when a few people are using them it isn't a huge deal and the people love the devices, but as they become more common it starts to degrade the whole system. Granted the FCC might be jumping the gun a bit here, but conceptually this is pretty in line with what they are supposed to be doing for once.
    • by bobbied (2522392)

      Devices transmitting in the regulated bands (as opposed to unregulated space like the Wifi spectrum) ....

      Technically all of the spectrum is regulated. There is spectrum set aside for consumer use under various parts of the FCC's Rules, but there are regulations to follow even then. Most consumer devices operate under Part 15 rules, which generally regulates how much RF power you can radiate and stay legal, which boils down to "not much" and if you interfere with a licensed user you have to turn your stuff off.

      By the way, there is at least one part of the WiFi spectrum that is actually allocated to Amateur Ra

      • It is in the bottom of the 2.4Ghz band. (802.11b and up). Hams can use 100 Watts or more, where consumers are limited to Part 15 levels (about half a watt).

        We can actually use up to 1500 watts. Technician licensees like myself are limited to 200 watts on the small chunks we're allowed to touch below 50 MHz and even the Extras are limited to 100 watts on the 60 meter band, but everything else including all of our overlap with ISM bands is full power.

        Of course we're only supposed to use the minimum necessary power to establish communications, so outside of contests you really shouldn't be running at that sort of power level. I'd also be concerned for my safety

        • by bobbied (2522392)
          You are correct.. My brain must be starting to go... After looking it up. Us Extras down to you technicians can blast away at 1500 watts on that band, assuming you needed that much power. But as you say, the RF safety issue is going to get pretty important.
    • A provider could get a device+addon combination certified, however.

      Something tells me this will cost users a large monthly fee despite the testing being a one-time cost...

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      Devices transmitting in the regulated bands (as opposed to unregulated space like the Wifi spectrum) have to meet & be tested for certain noninterference properties, which is only valid if they're used unmodified.

      Then shouldn't they be registered with the FCC, the government body that deals with testing and compliance of noninterference, rather than with a provider that will probably force you to use some kind of new plan that costs extra?

    • Re:makes some sense (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Technician (215283) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @04:05PM (#42971321)

      A passive device does not need approval. A dish antennal on the roof with an appropiate feedhorn and feedline down to an in home antenna should not be a problem. Only active transmission equipment needs regulated.

      I was in hilly countryside and asked a resident about the blank billboard on a hill nearby. They explained it was a passive cell phone repeater to bounce signal into the homes in the valley between hills. It seems to do the job well.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:19AM (#42967137) Journal
    What do you mean I have to turn it off? The cell phone booster I got ain't got an off switch. Sounds funny, but to get this cell phone booster is so thin it fits between the battery and the inside of the battery cover. I was really lucky because they had a promotion going and this 30 .. 40 or even 50$ value booster was on sale at 19$ and I was fast enough to call them within the next 10 minutes and got the second one for free, just paid S&H alone for the second one.

    This amazing cell phone booster works on all brands. It looks like a sticker with weird tattoo image like log printed on it. All I have to do is to open the battery cover and stick it to the inside of that cover. That is all. I am guaranteed to get four bars on the antenna no matter where I go. I itching to get my hands on this thing, I would like to rub it in the face of my friends who are paying big bucks for brand name companies like Verizon, AT&T and T-mobile. My cell phone provider just charges me 10$ and his coverage map does not include my home. But, they don't know about this amazing cell phone booster. It is going to be sweet baby!, so I thought.

    Suddenly this big government is thrusting its nose where it is none of its business and is banning the cell phone booster. What am I going to do?

  • by mattytee (1395955) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:22AM (#42967169) Homepage
    ...that will happen.
  • A client of mine has a metal building that is basically a Faraday cage. You had to go outside, or next to one-of-two windows. So they installed a cell signal repeater for the employees.

    So just who do they register with? Any? All?

    FYI - There is no associated carrier with the company. They let the employees expense a portion of their cell bills.

    • by Controlio (78666) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:40AM (#42967441)

      You could always install a passive repeater - two antennas and a wire connecting them. They're not illegal, and they pass signal out of faraday cages effectively. Make the outside antenna a directional one and point it in the general direction of your nearest tower, and you shouldn't have any issues.

      • by tibit (1762298)

        I agree, but it'd be wise to have it engineered before buying any components. Whether you do it on your own or hire a consultant RF engineer is of course up to you.

    • by F34nor (321515)

      Lath and plaster has the same problem.

  • by Controlio (78666) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:31AM (#42967297)

    ...and I'll give you a perfect example of what they're trying to fight. I work in a stadium, in an area covered by 15-20 different "cell towers" (real towers, DAS, COWs, etc). The TV production crew works in one or more 53' aluminum expando trailers. Depending on how they're grounded, a lot of them make pretty impressive Faraday Cages - meaning cell phone and radio services are terrible inside them. Some of the TV truck engineers have installed active cell repeaters to help combat this, but of course forget if they have them turned on or not.

    A TV truck came to town during an NFL game, they happened to be a truck whose engineers I'm close friends with and I happen to be aware that they run a repeater. During the game I hear reports of cell network issues. I'm walking through a service area only to find a guy with a spectrum analyzer waiving a directional antenna around the halls. I ask him what he's doing, and he says that six cell towers have been completely shut down due to some interference and it's making cell phone communication nearly impossible. (There is a baseball park next door. This can easily lead to tragedy when you have 100,000+ cell phones on the same street corner and no way to call out due to interference and capacity bottlenecks.)

    I asked the engineer if he knew when the interference started, he said about 8am Saturday. He said it went away for a while, but then started up again at about 6am on game day. This is the exact schedule the TV trucks were powered up. I tell him to hang on, go to the truck engineers, and ask them if their repeater is on. I tell them to pull it, walk back in to the engineer, and ask how the towers are doing. He says everything seems to be fine now, and asks me what the issue was. I tell him it's taken care of, and walk away.

    One cell repeater, left on accidentally in a densely populated area, effectively shut down communications at two major sporting events. They seem like a great idea, but they amplify so much noise at such a high power that they blow regular cell users who can't reach the repeater out of the water. I've seen it happen, and I'm glad the FCC is doing something about it.

    • by jythie (914043)
      And that is why there is backlash. Asking people to give up something that gives them an advantage and only negatively impacts other people plays into a rather strong narrative that many have.
    • by tibit (1762298)

      Lol, the same shit about grounded vs. ungrounded Faraday cages. Man, it makes absolutely, positively no difference at the frequencies involved. None whatsoever. Any grounding you would have is a big fucking inductor that is more of an open circuit at the frequencies involved, never mind probably a half-decent antenna as well. I have checked it for myself with WiFi, and it makes absolutely no measurable difference at all whether the Faraday cage is grounded or not. No matter how I'd measure things.

    • Thank you for an excellent example of the "Right" answer being forsaken for the "Right now" answer. (Or, if you prefer, the Cheap over the Elegant.)

      Specifically, that the TV truck engineers chose an off-the-shelf answer (cell boosters) that required zero effort and knowledge, rather than, say, wiring external cell antennas on the trailer, and running connections inside.

      Because, after all, you stop looking once you have an answer...

    • by afidel (530433)

      Yeah, we accidentally blinded a Verizon tower, we used a certified installer but something was wrong with the amp used and we had effectively shouted over all other users on a sector of the tower, basically shutting off Verizon service for one of the biggest business areas in our region. Verizon recommended a different installer who fixed the system and we scheduled a test with them on a Saturday to make sure we weren't going to cause any further interference issues.

  • Can the carriers see that someone is running a booster?

    I know a few businesses' that run boosters inside (from hospitals to churches to office building) so cell works in the basement or in rest of building for the major 4 carriers (or 2 att/ver in some cases). So do they have to get permission from all 4 even if the company itself doesn't have a contract with any of the 4, it's for their employee's/visitors? And really how can they tell?

    Truly curious about the tell part.

  • Snowball's chance in hell?

  • by kelemvor4 (1980226) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:40AM (#42967447)
    I doubt it. The article, and the summary in particular is spreading quote a bit of fud. Specifically, the FCC does not say you have to turn anything off. Most of the questions people are posting about research is answered on the document linked right on the homepage of fcc.gov. Here, since most seem to lazy: https://www.fcc.gov/ [fcc.gov] or specifically: https://www.fcc.gov/document/use-and-design-signal-boosters-report-and-order [fcc.gov] Here's an important excerpt:

    In order to use a Consumer Signal Booster, a consumer must:
    Have some form of consent from his/her wireless provider to operate the Consumer
    Signal Booster. We note that Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, and the RTG
    member companies have made voluntary commitments to consent to all Consumer Signal
    Boosters that meet the Network Protection Standard.42 Therefore, we expect that
    subscribers of these companies will not need to specifically seek consent from these
    providers, or other providers who make similar “blanket” consent commitments, for
    Consumer Signal Boosters that meet the Network Protection Standard.

    So, consent is needed, and most providers have already given blanket consent.

    Maybe the boys over at ARS didn't bother to read anything other than the limited FAQ, either? Or more likely they did like any "news" organization and selectively picked out the pieces that would get them the most hits on their website regardless of how they were bending the truth.

  • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:42AM (#42967465)
    So you can't get coverage in your location without booster, and you need to call your provider to ask permission to turn the booster on, but you can't get signal to make the call? What then, telegram?
  • Booster Trouble... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:50AM (#42967565)

    So about five years ago everyone in the office was complaining about how they had "No Service" on their cell phones... so I went ahead and installed a "booster"-- an outdoor antenna with amp connected to an indoor antenna.

    A few months later, some gentlemen from "AT&T Security" showed up at my office and told me they had been trying to diagnose problems with their nearby tower for several months... until they spotted the outdoor antenna on my building, and aimed some sort of gadget at it and discovered it to be a booster. They said the problem was that their antenna system was seeing the increased signal strength of my booster antenna as if their system was receiving strong signals from cell phones in the neighborhood, and their system was automatically lowering its output signal strength, causing users in the area to have dropped calls and poor connections...

    They told me that legally they, as a carrier, had priority on the cell spectrum and I had no choice but to turn off or be fined. So if someone's booster is interfering with public cell use, they WILL hunt you down and pry it from your cold, dead hands.

    • by PPH (736903)

      They said the problem was that their antenna system was seeing the increased signal strength of my booster antenna as if their system was receiving strong signals from cell phones in the neighborhood, and their system was automatically lowering its output signal strength, causing users in the area to have dropped calls and poor connections...

      Actually, cell phones are supposed to modulate their output to suit the distance and attenuation between themselves and the base station. The fact that your booster revealed itself with a higher signal strength indicates that it does not properly implement that function.

      There may be 'boosters' or repeaters that are tested and approved by the carrier. Ask and they may provide you with a list.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      They told me that legally they, as a carrier, had priority on the cell spectrum and I had no choice but to turn off or be fined. So if someone's booster is interfering with public cell use, they WILL hunt you down and pry it from your cold, dead hands.

      Your booster is technically transmitting illegally on a licensed band and it was discovered to be interfering with a licensed user.

      AT&T did a very friendly thing by asking you to turn it off. They could've gotten the FCC involved at which point not only wi

  • So Sprint users are supposed to go back to smoke signals and semaphore flags?
    • So Sprint users are supposed to go back to smoke signals and semaphore flags?

      Since Sprint has already issued blanket consent for boosters, Sprint users are supposed to keep using their boosters.

  • I refer you to the reply given in Arkell and Pressdram. Revised to include all seven words [wikipedia.org] currently proscribed.

  • If a regulation falls in the forest, will anybody put down their "legal" pot long enough to comply with it? Will their buddy driving 10 mph over the speed limit get there in time? He's coming over to install a light fixture; but he was betting on sports in a bar. Did he file the proper permits with the county to install that fixture? Inquiring minds don't even really need to ask. We already know.

  • by J'raxis (248192)

    Or you can just ignore them and keep on doing what you're doing.

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