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Telco lobby COAI calls for ban on import, online sale of unauthorised mobile signal repeaters

Officials of the government's Wireless Monitoring Organisation with seized repeaters.

The Cellular Operators Association of India, in a letter to the Department of Telecommunications, demanded a ban on importing and e-commerce sale of wireless repeaters, arguing they hinder telcos’ planned coverage and infringe on their spectrum ownership rights. It asked the DoT to work with other parts of the government to accomplish this, and said that although some e-commerce platforms have stopped sale of these devices, others continue to make them available.

Wireless repeaters are a result of the perfect storm of low data prices, jugaad, scanty telco coverage, and dense neighbourhoods. These devices are usually (illegally) installed in neighbourhoods and buildings that lack proper coverage from authorised base stations, by essentially spreading the coverage of a cell tower’s signal into areas that are not planned for coverage. The tower can’t tell the difference — the middleman isn’t easily detectable, and can only be discovered through unusual traffic patterns. Repeaters that amplify spectrum purchased by telcos are illegal, unlike WiFi spectrum used by routers.

The result, telcos complain, is that their authentically installed wireless equipment is being overloaded from traffic by people in places they never intended to cover directly with the given equipment. Repeaters are installed by telcos too. But they insist that they’re a lot more responsible in doing so: “As per established norms, Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) install such repeaters after thorough inspections, only after a request is raised or there is a requirement. The TSPs make sure that installing a repeater doesn’t hamper the network coverage for people outside the distribution area and does not interfere with other TSPs allotted spectrum frequency,” COAI wrote in its letter.

“As per the specifications of boosters and repeaters being sold online, these wide band devices enhance signals across the 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300MHz and 2500 MHz licensed spectrum bands altogether, which are assigned by Department of Telecommunications only to the licensed telecom service providers which have been bought by the TSPs by paying hefty sums,” the letter further argued.

The Department of Telecommunications routinely seizes such repeaters through its Wireless Monitoring Organisation; the COAI has publicised such seizures through press releases over the last year.

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