Here's why telcos and DoT want you to stop using illegal signal boosters and repeaters

Here's why telcos and DoT want you to stop using illegal signal boosters and repeaters
BCCL

  • Telecom advocacy group Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has reiterated the concern regarding illegal import, sale and use of signal boosters.
  • The Department of Telecom has released several warnings in the matter between 2016 and 2019.
  • Signal boosters and repeaters are associated with the degradation of mobile signals and a decrease in overall service quality.
The telecom advocacy group, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has written to the Department of Telecom (DoT) reminding them to act on the concern around the illegal sale of mobile signal boosters. These signal boosters and repeaters are said to cause interference with signals from towers impacting the overall cellular network quality.

A signal booster is essentially a device that amplifies the mobile phone signal strength within its vicinity. It is used in areas where there is weak or inconsistent signal strength.

DoT has released multiple warnings to e-commerce sellers to stop the sale of said items. In a letter to all e-commerce companies on May 1, 2019, DoT had said that e-commerce firms are facilitating and acting as a party to the illegal sale of unauthorised mobile signal boosters. This letter was addressed to Amazon, Flipkart, Indiamart, Alibaba, Aliexpress, eBay, Snapdeal, Shopclues and Rediff. Similar warnings were issued in 2016 as well.
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What makes signal boosters illegal?

These signal boosters, which are not registered, are categorised as illegal because they use a spectrum they haven't paid for. It interferes with the airwaves making it capable of distorting mobile signal for other customers in the vicinity of the booster. These devices are the main reasons for network issues like call drops and low data speeds. They also make mobile handsets transmit higher power, to manage connectivity with the site leading to even higher battery consumption and poor network.

The illegal use of such devices leads to the degradation of telecom services instead of solving signal issues. In simple words, using mobile signal boosters is like having illegal electricity or water supply connection from the main supply, which leads to improper distribution for others who are paying for the service.

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What does the law say?

The DoT has been saying that the seller for the wireless equipment needed to have a Dealer Possession License (DPL) under the provisions of the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act 1933. According to the Act, no person shall possess wireless telegraphy apparatus except under and in accordance with a licence issued under the Act.

In case someone wants to purchase such a device, the customer needs to get a ‘frequency authorisation/agreement in principle letter’ from DoT and then get the wireless operating licence for the same after submitting required papers and spectrum charges.

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Additionally, in case a wireless device is needed to be imported to India, the importer needs an import licence as per customs rules from regional licensing offices of the telecom ministry after completing the initial process of submitting documents and fees.

Apart from putting a regulation in place, the crackdown on such devices will improve the quality of the services and also allow the telcos to obtain a fee against the spectrum charges they pay to the DoT. The concerned authorities like DoT and the telecom ministry will also make their share of the revenue from the registration and licence fee.

Biggest e-commerce players not complying

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The scuffle between DoT and e-commerce companies has been going on for a while. Soon after the first letter was written to the e-commerce companies in 2019, Flipkart and Snapdeal accepted the request to remove the signal booster devices from their platforms. However, Amazon says it's a marketplace and shouldn't be held responsible to comply with laws applicable to products.

Amazon said that it was not clear on the legal basis of the request to take down these products. “Amazon operates an online marketplace in India. Sellers selling their products through amazon.in marketplace are solely responsible for all necessary product compliance and are required to sell products, which are legally allowed to be sold in India. Whenever concerns about the listed products get raised, we review the case with the sellers," Amazon told Mint. As of today, Amazon still has similar products listed for sale on its website.

Telcos ask for stricter action

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To crackdown on the illicit use of signal boosters, COAI has asked the DoT to ensure a complete ban on sale both offline and online. It has also asked to raise the issue with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to prevent the import of these devices.

The DoT has also been asked to request India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to issue appropriate directions to state police chiefs and chief secretaries to take action under law against the sellers.

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