What is a mobile signal repeater and is it legal to use one?

A mobile signal repeater is a device used for boosting the mobile phone reception by the usage of three units: a reception antenna, a signal amplifier and an internal rebroadcast antenna. The latter is very much similar to the mobile phone mast used for broadcasting by the network providers. The only difference is they are much smaller and usually used in one building. Modern mobile repeater amplifiers ‘repeat’ or to be more exact rebroadcast mobile signal inside the designated area. This type of systems usually uses an external antenna to collect the best mobile signal, which is then transmitted to an amplifier unit which strengthens the signal and retransmits it locally.

Life would be less complicated or at least in some way easier if we never lacked mobile phone reception if not one minor detail. It is illegal to use these in the UK. Why then, you would ask, I can find so many solutions available online? Well no one said it is actually illegal to sell these online or even own them. You can easily buy the mobile signal repeater online and place it in your house or other building but you can’t actually use it as this according to English Law is illegal. A little messed-up, isn’t it?

According to Ofcom: “Repeater devices transmit or re-transmit in the cellular frequency bands. Only the mobile network operators are licensed to use equipment that transmits in these bands. Installation or use of repeater devices by anyone without a licence is a criminal offence under Section 8 of the WT Act 2006. Any person found guilty of installing or using such devices without a licence would be liable on conviction to a fine of up to £5000 and/or up to 51 weeks’ imprisonment (Six months in Scotland and Northern Ireland).”

It’s pretty much clear that mobile signal boosters / repeaters can't be used in the UK to rebroadcast the mobile signal. If so you’d probably ask how can I actually strengthen my mobile signal without breaking the law?

Well one of the ways of boosting your mobile phone signal that is totally legal is by using Cel-Fi. Yes Cel-Fi is a mobile signal booster so how different is it from other signal repeaters?

Ofcom also says: “In the UK the use of any radio transmitting device is required to be either licensed or specifically exempted from licensing under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 (WT Act 2006). For mobile telephones, the use of the spectrum by the network operators is licensed to cover the use of transmitters and repeaters, while user devices (i.e. handsets) are covered by a general exemption.” Off.com advises anyone interested in improving coverage in a particular area to contact their network provider.

In other words the Ofcom rules are:

  1. The boosters must not interfere with other networks.
  2. The boosters remain within the license conditions of the mobile network which they boost – this means that the mobile network must be able to control them (turn them on and off) and the boosters must automatically configure themselves so as to never cause harm to the network.

Some products may claim to meet (1) but no product other than Cel-Fi can meet (2). Incidentally you may not have been aware, but all Cel-Fi RS2 devices sold in the UK can be turned off by the network if they set certain parameters to be sent over the air.

The loophole in the Ofcom policy is that it is not illegal to sell boosters that meet only (1) however it is definitely illegal to actually use them!