New rules from the FCC went into effect on May 1st - outlawing sales of old booster models and paving the way for a new generation of cellular boosters designed to reduce the potential for causing interference to wireless networks.
Waiting for these new standards and the accompanying certification process has essentially
frozen the market for cellular boosters, holding back new models for over a year. Consumers wanting boosters with LTE and 4G support have been left with incredibly few choices, frustrating bandwidth hungry nomads everywhere.
But at last - new boosters are shipping!
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But these boosters all now come with a scary mandated warning label:
“BEFORE USE, you MUST REGISTER THIS DEVICE with your wireless provider and have your provider’s consent. Most wireless providers consent to use of signal boosters. Some providers may not consent to the use of this device on their network. If you are unsure, contact your provider. You MUST operate this device with approved antennas and cables as specified by the manufacturer. Antennas MUST be installed at least 20 cm (8 inches) from any person. You MUST cease operating this device immediately if requested by the FCC or a licensed wireless service provider.”
All the major carriers have already issued blanket consent for the use of the new generation of FCC approved boosters on their network, so you don't need to ask any of the big four for permission. But that doesn’t get you off the hook from registering.
Old booster that do not support the new network protection features are no longer legal to be sold, though they are still OK to use with some carriers... for now, at least.
But according to the new FCC rules you are now required to register all old boosters too.
But - how? Where?
And what will happen to you if you don’t register?
The currently shipping boosters don’t come with any instructions on where to go and register - just a warning sticker saying you MUST.
And these new rules are still completely confusing and often unknown even to the “advanced” support desks at the major wireless carriers. Calling and asking for advice about "booster registration" will just get you sometimes hilariously inaccurate and often conflicting information. Stopping in to the carrier stores will just get you blank stares.
We’ve done the research and have tracked down all the critical details for all of the major carriers. Read on for the definitive guide to booster registration.
In the name of science, I tried multiple times to contact AT&T to ask how to register a cellular booster. AT&T online chat and phone support literally had no idea what a booster is, much less how to register one.
But after two cumulative hours logged on hold, I eventually reached “advanced support” - where I was told the Wilson Mobile 4G cellular booster I had was actually intended to help with AT&T landline telephone service (wrong!). When I pointed out that this was actually for cellular mobile RV use, I was told that the booster must be for “a new type of radiation” and that I should probably notify RV park management, not AT&T. “This is something new - thanks for showing it to me."
Clearly - calling AT&T support is not the best way to go about getting registered.
To actually register a booster with AT&T, you need to go directly to this address:
AT&T’s form requests the owner’s name, operator’s name (if different), contact phone number, booster make, model, and serial number, date of initial operation, and installed location.
AT&T references use in “recreational vehicles” in the FAQ - but AT&T offers no clarification on what you should enter for the “booster location” if your location is going to be changing regularly. I suggest using your mailing address, wherever that may be.
A literal reading of the AT&T FAQ also seems to imply that older boosters are no longer authorized:
“After April 30, 2014, only FCC certified or carrier approved signal boosters may be operated on the AT&T network."
At the moment, AT&T seems to be the only carrier that is taking a "no old boosters unless explicitly approved" stance - a very sharp contrast to Verizon's openness.
Verizon has a much more thoroughly developed registration process than any of the other carriers, with a nice FAQ and even an explicit (tentative) approval for older booster models:
“Verizon also tentatively approves the use of consumer signal boosters that do not meet the new network protection standards. This approval is provided only for the boosters not causing interference and may be revoked if the particular booster or booster model is found to cause interference issues. To help avoid possible interference issues, however, Verizon recommends that customers who need signal boosters replace existing boosters as soon as possible with consumer signal boosters that meet the new network protection standards.”
Verizon also gives instructions for how mobile boosters should be registered:
“For mobile boosters in a car, RV or boat use the address where the vehicle will be stored or parked like the home address or marina in the case of a boat."
This is a start - but what about full-timers who never "store or park" their home on wheels? Again, I recommend going with your mailing address, unless you are going to be in one location for an extended amount of time.
Here is the link to register a booster with Verizon:
To actually register a booster, you have to have a Verizon account. If you get Verizon service via an MVNO like Millenicom- you'll need to wait until your account is transferred over to Verizon directly.
Sprint has the most primitive booster registration page that you can possibly imagine. These instructions are not even findable via “search” on the Sprint home page, but we tracked them down:
You actually register by emailing the following information to firstname.lastname@example.org:
"The name of Sprint customer. Make and model of the signal booster. Sprint phone number linked to the signal booster. Mailing address Address where the Sprint customer will operate the signal booster if different from mailing address.”
Sprint offers up no guidance on whether or not old boosters are welcome, or how to register a booster that has no fixed operating location.
T-Mobile has an FAQ and booster registration tool located here:
There is no information given on whether old boosters are approved (though very few actually fully supported T-Mobile fully anyway), but presumably they are ok to register and use.
And just like AT&T, T-Mobile seems to have no conception of boosters that lack a fixed “use address”.
Unique to T-Mobile is a request for the "number of users" that will be using a booster.
We will update this post with links to other booster registration pages as we find them, but at the moment most are still missing. If you know of any not listed here, please leave a comment.
US Cellular — The booster registration link for US Cellular is located here.
Straight Talk — The popular Walmart-linked MVNO Straight Talk Wireless has an FAQ page with registration information for T-Mobile-Compatible boosters here.
MetroPCS — T-Mobile owned MetroPCS has an FAQ page with registration information here. At the time of this writing, the actual registration page linked to returns a "Page Not Found!" error.
Based upon how cobbled together the registration process is for even some of the big carriers, it is not surprising that so many of the smaller cellular networks seems to be totally caught off guard by their responsibility for having a registration process in place.
Booster Registration FAQ's:
I honestly expect that many people will not register, often without even realizing that they are supposed to. And this isn’t the end of the world.
But - by registering you are demonstrating the demand and need for cellular boosters, and if the new process works the carriers and the FCC will hopefully make more advanced boosters possible.
The primary purpose of the registration databases being built is to help with network troubleshooting issues. If a defective booster is wreaking havoc on the network, the registration info may help carriers track down and isolate the problem before it causes too much interference.
There really isn’t a downside to registering, other than just a little bit of hassle.
BTW, here is the official FCC justification:
“Registration is a key element in providers’ ability to control the devices that operate on their network. Registration is also one way for subscribers to obtain and demonstrate that they have provider consent. Further, registration will assist providers in locating problematic boosters in the event interference occurs and will facilitate consumer outreach. We find that the benefits associated with a provider-based registration system (e.g., provider control of devices, rapid interference resolution, ease of consumer outreach) outweigh the costs of such a system.”
What if I don’t register?
You will not be fined, or hauled off to jail. But you might be required to cease and desist if your booster is caught causing any network issues.
AT&T sure doesn't sound too threatening here: “The operator of an illegal signal booster could be required to stop operation of the device."
This general leniency only applies to “consumer boosters”. If you install a booster labeled for “industrial use” without having documented explicit permission from a carrier, you may be facing “penalties in excess of $100,000”.
And if you ignore a request from the FCC or any licensed carrier to stop using a booster that is causing interference… well, then you are just asking for trouble.
Here is what the FCC has to say:
“At this time, the FCC likely will not pursue enforcement against current or prospective signal booster users unless it involves an instance of unresolved interference. If a wireless licensee or the FCC asks you to turn off your signal booster because it is causing interference to a wireless network, however, you must turn off your booster and leave it off until the interference problem can be resolved."
Is this just a ploy to eventually outlaw boosters?
"If cellular boosters are outlawed, only outlaws will have good signal..."
Actually - the new FCC rules point to a long and bright future for cellular boosters. Old booster designs could cause serious network interference issues, and they were already operating in a legal grey area by transmitting without authorization on airways that are licensed by the various cellular carriers.
The cellular carriers, FCC, and booster manufacturers came together to define new technical and operational standards to minimize interference so that boosters could continue to help users in fringe areas, while avoiding causing issues everywhere else.
The FCC webmaster is clearly a fan of boosters - notice the page title for the FCC consumer booster information page: "Signal Boosters are the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread" (seriously!)
What is Required to Register?
All the registration forms I tracked down request some subset of the following information - owner’s name, operator’s name (if different), contact phone number, booster make, model, and serial number, date of initial operation, and installed location.
Some of the forms ask whether the booster will be “mobile” or installed at a “fixed location”, but many of them seem to not have considered mobile users - especially mobile users without a fixed location home base.
In those cases - the best thing to do is to use your mailing address.
What if I have multiple devices on multiple networks?
Most boosters are not carrier specific, and many of the new ones are nearly “universal” supporting boosting on most of the major carriers. So - who should you register with?
The guidance from the FCC says that you should register with every carrier where you will regularly be connected. You need to register once per booster per carrier - it does not matter how many devices you are connecting.
What about friends who use my booster? Guests?
The FCC has ruled that it is perfectly fine for friends and visitors on other carriers to take advantage of your booster without explicit registering. But if you have a housemate who is making regular use of your booster, they should register with their carrier too.
Straight from the FCC:
“In some instances, a subscriber may be authorized to operate a Consumer Signal Booster to connect to his/her wireless provider and a third party may also wish to use the booster occasionally to connect to the third party’s wireless provider. Examples include a visitor in a home or guest in a vehicle. We view these occasional, incidental uses as de minimis and authorize them under the license of the third-party user’s serving provider.” ... “If a third party intends to use a Consumer Signal Booster on a regular, sustained basis, the third party must seek its provider’s consent to do so.”
What is the deal with the E911 warning?
The E911 system provides the location of your cell phone to 911 dispatch automatically when you make an emergency call. This system works in part by cell tower triangulation. With a booster thrown into the mix, it is possible for this triangulation process to get confused and to think that you are closer to the cell towers than you actually are. If you are on a booster and call 911, be sure to confirm that the dispatch operator has your actual location.
Can I Change Around Antennas?
One of the other stipulations of the new FCC rules is that consumer boosters can no longer be sold other than as part of a kit that includes all necessary wires and antennas. This is meant to ensure that whatever is installed matches what was submitted to the FCC for testing.
There is nothing that technically prevents an end-user from changing around antennas at a later date, and the rules do allow for booster antenna upgrade kits to be sold as well. But to stay compliant - all additional antennas should at least meet manufacturer specifications.
Here is the official FCC rule:
“Our antenna kitting rules require a manufacturer to sell Consumer Signal Boosters (fixed and mobile) together with all necessary antennas, cables, and/or coupling devices. This requirement is not intended to preclude equipment options, such as upgraded antennas or other equipment options, to be offered with the Consumer Signal Booster purchase or with an after purchase upgrade, but all equipment options and features must be tested to ensure the Network Protection Standard is met. This requirement ensures that consumers have the appropriate special accessories when they purchase a Consumer Signal Booster and that after purchase upgrades still comply with the necessary requirements. We do not require consumers to use Consumer Signal Boosters only with these manufacturer-provided special accessories to allow for future replacement due to damage, loss, upgrade, etc. Consumers must nonetheless use any Consumer Signal Booster with manufacturer-specified special accessories.”
In other words - if you want to use a different antenna with a booster, contact the manufacturer for advice and recommendations. We already know that both Wilson Electronics and Maximum Signal are planning to offer special "RV Kits" with new antennas later this year to go along with their new mobile boosters.
If you choose to use an antenna that has not been officially tested with your booster, try at least to match the specifications of similar antennas that have been.
A Final Reminder...
Always remember - if you ever get a knock asking you to shut down your booster because you are causing interference, do it.
And yes, your location can be triangulated if your booster is causing network interference. They will find you.
Even if you are using a new FCC compliant booster with the stock provided antennas, you are required to comply with any FCC or licensed operator requests to shut down if you are causing interference. It is the neighborly thing to do too - a technician would not have been sent out to triangulate your location without a good reason.
We've had a friend who has recently "gotten the knock" (with an old-style booster), and the FCC tech was actually incredibly friendly and even gave him advice on how to reconfigure his system to avoid interference.
And that just means... more signal for everyone!