February 22, 2013 By Rachelle Chong
The Federal Communications Commission took two actions on Tuesday, Feb. 19, both of which benefit wireless users with smartphones or laptops that rely on wireless connections to the Internet.
First, the FCC approved an order to enhance wireless coverage for consumers by adopting new rules for signal boosters, while protecting existing wireless networks from interference. Second, the FCC issued a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to open new parts of the 5 GHz spectrum for unlicensed uses by wireless devices.
The 195 megahertz of additional spectrum will help encourage new Wi-Fi technology that can offer faster speeds of one gigabit per second or more, increase overall capacity and reduce congestion at Wi-Fi hotspots.
As to the first FCC action, signal boosters amplify signals between wireless devices and wireless networks. They are inexpensive ways to expand the reach of the nation’s wireless infrastructure to handle the increasing load. The FCC’s new rules will improve signal booster design by requiring manufacturers to include safeguards that protect wireless networks. The major nationwide and regional wireless companies have consented to the use of boosters on their networks, so long as those boosters meet the technical specifications in the FCC order to protect against harmful interference. Wireless companies and public safety communications systems have had issues with technically deficient or improperly-installed signal boosters causing interference with their networks. The order strikes a balance between encouragement of signal boosters with clear operating and technical rules, and ensuring harmful interference is prevented.
The practical importance of these new rules is that signal boosters can help consumers where wireless signal strength is weak, and consumers experience dropped calls, reduced data speed or loss of service. Given increased consumer reliance on mobile devices as their only communication device for voice and Internet service, “dead spots” can be very vexing.