The Cellular Operators Association of India has asked e-commerce portals to stop selling network signal boosters and repeaters because the sale of such devices are illegal and may attract fine and imprisonment. Moreover, these instruments interfere with mobile signals leading to call drops and sluggish data speeds.
Why is it illegal?
It is illegal because boosters use spectrum for which they haven’t paid for. Its usage creates interference in the area and hence could also cause deterioration in services for other customers in the vicinity. And since most of these boosters are China-made they create signal issues for others.
While illegal signal boosters may enhance wireless coverage in a particular area, such devices, when improperly designed or installed, will cause interference with mobile networks and thus will impede communication services, including emergency calls in the community.
What are boosters and how do they work?
Mobile signal boosters are devices that provide strength to a weak signal by amplifying the carrier frequency signal. Due to the presence of numerous dead spots where there is no signal or very poor signal, mobile signal boosters help wireless network providers to improve coverage in such areas.
So in essence signal boosters are used to amplify network reception in weak network zones. While such equipment is also used by telecom operators to improve network reception in areas where positioning a dedicated network tower is difficult, it is the third party boosters and repeaters that do not comply and create severe interference in the licensed frequency bands assigned to telcos, impacting the overall quality of mobile services.
Readily available on Flipkart and Amazon
These devices are readily available on all major e-commerce platforms, including Amazon India and Flipkart. Available for as low as Rs 12,000, these devices claim wide area coverage, easy installation, and network support for 2G and 4G network with data services and voice over long term evolution (VoLTE) connectivity. Interestingly, known brands with expertise in network equipment such as Huawei, Netgear, etc. do not have any such products listed on e-commerce platforms.
People buy the imported variety
Most of these devices available on e-commerce platforms are either locally made or sourced from China. For example, the OXYWAVE high gain dual band 2G /4G mobile signal booster is claimed to be manufactured by a Madhya Pradesh-based proprietary firm Netboon. The manufacturer has listed a couple of products on its official portal with claims such as “works on all 2G GSM and 4G network operators like Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, Aircel, BSNL, Tata Docomo, Reliance GSM, Telenor Uninor”. However, licence details to manufacture such network equipment is not available.
The illegal use of such devices does not solve signal issues but rather lead to service degradation of telecommunication companies.
According to The Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, no person shall possess wireless telegraphy apparatus except under and in accordance with a licence issued under the Act. In a letter sent to DoT, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) noted that equipment available on the e-commerce portal fall under the definition of ‘wireless telegraphy apparatus’ and ‘wireless transmitter’ under the Indian Wireless Telegraph Act. Sale, purchase or possession of this equipment is illegal and a punishable offence.
COAI also noted that the specifications of boosters and repeaters available on e-commerce portals claim that these devices enhance signals across the 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz and 2300 MHz licensed spectrum bands, which are assigned to telecom carriers.
As per law, in case of wireless equipment, the purchaser needs to obtain a ‘frequency authorisation/agreement in principle letter’ from DoT before purchasing any equipment in the licenced bands, and subsequently wireless operating licence for the same after submitting required documents and spectrum charges.