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Ofcom plans to legalise narrowband mobile repeaters for UK consumers

Regulator launches consultation to give consumers legal access to their own narrowband repeaters to enhance mobile network access in their homes and vehicles

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Mobile networking

Consumers may soon be able to legally buy and operate narrowband repeaters to enhance mobile network coverage in their homes and vehicles, after telecoms regulator Ofcom launched a consultation on liberalising the rules around how the technology may be used.

Repeaters are devices designed to improve signals in wireless communications networks. They comprise a receiver, amplifier, transmitter, isolator and two antennae to restore and boost degraded radio signals in their vicinity.

The devices are often deployed by mobile network operators (MNOs) to improve network coverage in remote areas, but the use of self-installed repeaters by third-party users is illegal in the UK because they are generally crudely-build wideband repeaters which, if improperly used, can cause interference and network degradation for nearby users.

Ofcom said the interference or other adverse effects on technical quality of service caused by illegal wideband repeaters was one of the most complained-about problems.

However, recognising its desire to do everything possible to improve mobile network coverage for end-users, the regulator is now setting out proposals to “facilitate the development of licence-exempt devices to improve coverage within a consumer’s home or vehicle without causing harm to the mobile operators’ networks”.

It will therefore look to allow consumers to buy, install and operate static narrowband repeaters indoors, and mobile ones in vehicles, as long as the devices operate only over the frequency bands of any single licensed operator at a given time, adjust their power to the minimum needed to sustain a viable connection, and incorporate anti-oscillation technology. Static wideband repeaters will remain illegal.

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“In our statement of 18 March 2016, we set out the important role consumer-installed mobile phone repeaters could potentially play in improving coverage, particularly inside buildings, vehicles and trains, and in remote rural locations,” said Ofcom in the consultation’s preamble.

“We also recognised that a legitimate retail market for consumer-installed mobile phone repeaters would help reduce the likelihood that consumers unwittingly purchase unauthorised illegal repeaters, which may cause undue interference to other mobile networks.”

The regulator has been working on the issues around the use of repeaters for some time, and last year it engaged PA Consulting to investigate the likely effects of different repeater installations.

The analyst report concluded that it would be possible to make and install repeaters that did not cause interference for other nearby users. .............................................................................

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