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. They can improve the user’s mobile reception in some circumstances.
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 an unlimited fine and up to a year in prison.
In October 2020, Ofcom decided 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).
In November 2021, Ofcom decided to extend the range of static indoor repeaters available for people to buy and install themselves without a licence to include:
- provider specific repeaters; and
- multi-operator repeaters.
In May 2022, Ofcom made the regulations that allow the installation and use of these devices, provided they meet the required technical standards and conditions of use specified by Ofcom. The regulations are called the Wireless Telegraphy (Mobile Repeater) (Exemption) Regulations 2022. It will remain illegal to use repeaters that do not meet these standards.
Ofcom intends to publish a list of repeaters that we understand comply with the technical requirements of our licence exemption regime. We will publish the list later this year, once manufacturers provide evidence that their products are compliant.
If a manufacturer or vendor wishes to have one or more of its repeaters included on our list, it must provide evidence to us that the device meets the required technical standards. It can do this by arranging (at its own expense) to have the device assessed by an accredited testing house, using a voluntary testing standard (PDF, 860.4 KB) produced by Ofcom.
If testing confirms the device meets our technical requirements, the manufacturer or vendor can then submit the evidence from the testing house to Ofcom at email@example.com. Subject to our confirmation, we will then list the device on our website.
All radio apparatus placed on the market or put into service in the UK must meet the requirements of The Radio Equipment Regulations 2017 SI No. 1206.
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 of 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.