Radio spectrum and the law
Mobile phone, or cell phone, repeaters (also known as boosters, enhancers or amplifiers) amplify signals between a mobile phone and the network operators’ base stations, offering in certain circumstances improved mobile reception for the user.
Mobile repeaters are classed as radio apparatus and their use in the UK is regulated by the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006. It is unlawful to install or use this type of radio apparatus unless:
- that is done under and in accordance with a specific wireless telegraphy licence granted by Ofcom; or
- the apparatus and its installation and use complies with regulations made by Ofcom exempting it from the requirement for a licence.
Unless one of the above conditions is met, the unlicensed installation and use of a repeater would put the user at risk of prosecution under the 2006 Act. If found guilty users can face a fine of up to £5,000 and up to a year in prison.
In October last year, Ofcom made a decision that two categories of repeaters should no longer need a licence to be used legally. The two categories are:
- static mobile phone repeaters for indoor use (where complying with specified requirements); and
- low gain mobile phone repeaters for in-vehicle use (again where complying with specified requirements).
Ofcom has now made the regulations that will allow use of these devices, provided they meet the required technical standards and conditions of use set out in the regulations. The regulations are called the Wireless Telegraphy (Mobile Repeater) (Exemption) Regulations 2018 and come into force on 12 April 2018.
Only where the required technical standards and conditions of use are met will the installation and use of the relevant repeaters be lawful. Use of other repeaters will remain illegal.
Generally, repeaters which meet the relevant requirements are not yet available to consumers. Current generations of wideband repeaters, known to cause harmful interference to networks and their customers, are unlikely to meet the requirements for exemption and their installation and use will remain illegal.
Femtocells and smart repeaters
These devices are slightly different to the repeaters referred to above.
Femtocells are small base station transmitters that may be installed by a user and connect to the host mobile operator network via a fixed broadband connection. So-called “Smart Repeaters” are controlled by the mobile network via its transmission spectrum without a fixed physical connection. Some mobile network operators offer services using these devices which may provide improved in-building coverage and data rates.
Although these kinds devices may be installed in user premises, a key feature of them is that they are monitored and controlled by the host network. This is to ensure they operate only within the terms and conditions of the network operators’ licences under which they are authorised. It means the end-user does not need their own licence (or licence exemption) to use a femtocell or smart repeater controlled by their network operator.
For larger premises, other solutions such as a managed small-cell provider or a distributed antenna system may be available. We advise contacting your network provider in the first instance, to discuss your specific requirements.
Information on Ofcom’s approach to electromagnetic fields (EMF) is available in our dedicated EMF section.
Many people with a hearing impairment use Assisted Listening Devices (ALDs) to help them hear more clearly.