FCC eyes Wi-Fi expansion, approves mobile signal boosting rules

New unlicensed spectrum is needed to keep up with growing demand for Wi-Fi, the agency says

By , IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Mobile customers have purchased "literally millions" of signal boosters to improve signals and coverage, Commissioner Ajit Pai said. "It's too late for us to put the genie back in the bottle," he said.

The new rules allow carriers to veto the use of some signal boosters, raising the concern of some digital rights groups.

Pai called on carriers to act in a "consumer-friendly manner." Some carriers may give blanket consent to all signal boosters that comply with FCC rules, and others may issue approvals for each model, he said.

The rules will require booster buyers to register the devices before deploying them, but carriers shouldn't require buyers to get individual approval to set up a signal booster, Pai added. "Such a process would be inefficient for carriers and unnecessarily burdensome for consumers," he said.

The FCC order also sets up rules for industrial signal boosters designed to cover large areas such as stadiums, airports and tunnels. Industrial signal boosters will continue to fall under the existing authorization process, and must be installed and operated in coordination with licensees.

Wilson Electronics, a manufacturer of signal boosters, applauded the FCC rules.

The rules will "eliminate poorly designed products that currently plague the market, and have been a source of cell site interference," Joe Banos, Wilson's chief operating officer, said in a statement. "Today's outcome is a major victory not only for our industry, but also for the end users who benefit from added levels of safety, security and satisfaction with their service through the use of signal boosters."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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