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Saturday, June 22, 2024

The bane of illegal signal boosters

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“The rampant unauthorized use of illegal signal boosters has led to widespread network interference, affecting millions of users”

Illegal signal boosters, also known as repeaters, have become a pervasive issue in the Philippines, causing significant disruptions to cellular services nationwide.

These devices, designed to amplify and rebroadcast cell tower signals, are intended to improve signal strength in areas with poor reception.

However, the rampant unauthorized use has led to widespread network interference, affecting millions of users.

According to the National Telecommunications Commission Memorandum Order 01-02-2013, the sale, purchase, importation, possession, or use of cellular mobile repeaters and portable cell sites without proper authorization is illegal.

Only licensed CMTS (Cellular Mobile Telephone Service) operators, the three telcos, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, and other government agencies involved in national security or safety are permitted to use such devices.

This regulation aims to prevent the detrimental effects of unauthorized repeaters on cellular networks.

A quick internet search will show sellers posting a range of mobile signal boosters/repeaters for LTE, 3G, 4G and even 5G.

I checked out one posted by a local seller in a popular online shopping platform which has photos of the set of equipment and included accessories, technical specifications, and fairly detailed installation instructions.

Several pages of very positive reviews from users with photos would inspire confidence to purchase.

Typically, they consist of three main components: an outdoor antenna, a signal amplifier, and an indoor antenna.

The motivation to invest in these devices is to improve poor signal strength but they become problematic when used without proper authorization and calibration.

While everyone hates a weak mobile phone signal, resorting to illegal signal boosters interfere with the regular operation of cellular networks, leading to a host of problems.

Users in the area where these signal boosters are installed experience slow or failed connections, dropped calls, and poor voice quality, even when their signal bars indicate good reception.

This interference can be particularly dangerous during emergencies, hampering critical communication and potentially putting lives at risk.

Telecom providers report routine scans have identified numerous unauthorized devices, prompting collaboration with the NTC to address the issue.

One of the main issues with illegal repeaters is their poor installation and the substandard components that generate spurious radio signals, which interfere with the cellular network.

These devices are not properly calibrated or tuned to the correct frequencies and configuration, causing further interference with legitimate signals, compounding the problem.

All our mobile phones rely on radio frequency communication to send and receive signals through the air.

However, radio signals are affective by various natural and man-made obstacles that can disrupt, block, or degrade signal transmission and quality.

Illegal repeaters add to these challenges by introducing unregulated and often overpowering signals into the network, which can wreak havoc on signal quality and reliability for all users in the affected area.

Authorized repeaters installed by telecom companies are properly designed for in-building coverage, like very low power distributed antenna systems.

These systems are meticulously engineered to improve signal strength without causing interference. However, implementing these solutions is not straightforward.

Telecom companies need permission from building owners and tenants to install these systems.

Efforts to combat illegal repeaters include partnerships between telecom companies and government bodies.

For instance, Globe has teamed up with the Bangsamoro Telecommunications Commission to crack down on illegal devices in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

These initiatives have led to the confiscation of numerous illegal repeaters, significantly improving network performance in affected areas.

Despite these efforts, the ease of purchasing these devices poses a continuous challenge.

Though the NTC has ordered e-commerce platforms to stop the sale of illegal signal boosters, the cooperation of all of us mobile phone users is needed.

So, if you are experiencing signal problems mentioned above, and suspect an illegal repeater is in your vicinity, immediately report the issue to your telco provider to facilitate timely intervention.

The use of illegal signal boosters is a bad quick-fix attempt to solve a complex problem.

It underscores the importance of adhering to regulated solutions and working collaboratively with telecom providers to ensure a stable and reliable mobile network for everyone.

The long-term solution I have featured many times in this column is for government to aggressively invest in upgrading and expanding the nation’s digital infrastructure in synergy with telcos to meet the surging demand for faster and reliable connectivity that the economy needs to sustainably move forward.

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