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Signal Boosters: The “Robin Hoods of the Industry”

Tue, 02/26/2013 - 10:13am
Ben Munson

Hongtao Zhan seems relieved by the FCC’s recent ruling on wireless signal boosters.

The CEO of Cellphone-Mate, a company manufacturing both commercial and residential models of signal boosters, believes the Commission made the right decision and made it clear that signal boosting is an important part of the U.S.’s wireless infrastructure.

Starting about five years ago, carriers came to the FCC and began complaining about signal boosters. They said the devices should not be legal since they had spent billions of dollars on these networks and that the FCC could not allow companies to continue to sell signal boosters that might interfere with how those networks operate.

“A signal booster does in certain cases cause interference,” Zhan said. “However, FCC is wise enough to look into the whole picture.”

Zhan said that two million signal booster units have been shipped in the U.S. and that the number of cases in which interference occurred was very few. He added that the whole industry is still learning as well.

“Ten years ago, when we first started, there were a lot of things we didn’t know,” Zhan said. “The interference happened more often back then. Nowadays, with the new technology we put in, it becomes safer and safer.”

He likened the bumps in the road along the way to the problems experienced by other industries like automotive and airline, which he said weren’t shut down either despite early, much more serious issues.

“The good thing about our industry is even if interference happens, there’s no property damage and we don’t kill people,” Zhan said. “And yet, for all these years, [the carriers] tried to outlaw us.”

John Crook, vice president of marketing for Cellphone-Mate, doesn’t like the term outlaw. He prefers to think of signal booster manufacturers as the “Robin Hoods of the industry.”

Throughout the Commission’s investigation, Cellphone-Mate helped with a lot of the research, submitted findings, assisted the FCC in understanding the issue and in resolving certain technical concerns. He said it was vital that a resolution be reached between the carriers and manufacturers of signal boosters, like Cellphone-Mate and Wilson Electronics.

“In a sense it’s a live or die issue for the industry,” Zhan said. “Who wants to manufacture if FCC says it’s illegal?”

For now, the FCC has determined what it takes to manufacture a signal booster that can operate legally and has added that all models must be approved by and registered with the carriers.

Zhan admitted that Cellphone-Mate had to sacrifice a lot to get the ruling done but is ultimately happy with the results.

“We as an industry should be happy. We don’t get everything we want,” Zhan said. “But in the end I think it is mostly positive.”

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