Thursday May 26, 2022

Illegal signal boosters – a constant public nuisance

June 27, 2021

Technology and its advances have taken a new meaning in everyday life, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 era, which triggered a global shift towards the digital side of things. While innovation in this unfavorable situation has been key to ensuring the continuation of regular functioning of businesses, it also uncovered new challenges that require attention.

As a majority of the population gets more dependent on digital connectivity provided by cellphone operators, a menace in the form of signal boosting devices has also risen.

Many shops around Hall Road in Lahore, as well as certain e-commerce stores continue to be seen selling these devices to users, regardless of the fact that signal boosters, amplifiers, and repeaters have repeatedly been declared illegal by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA).

Signal boosting devices are deployed by individual users at a location to receive strengthened mobile phone signals in order to get better network quality. While this improves the signal quality in one particular area, the use of these sub-standard GSM boosters installed by individuals causes interference in the Cellular Mobile Operators’ frequency bands and deteriorates the quality of mobile services, causing inconvenience to thousands.

They use mobile spectrum for free through illegal equipment, which hinders communication services, including emergency calls. In addition, while lowering the quality of service, they also pose a risk to health and security due to high radiofrequency usage. This was also pointed out by the PTA in an official tweet, to bring awareness to the potential health risks involved.

It is imperative to emphasize that the import, sale and use of GSM boosters is strictly prohibited, and legal action can be taken against the violators by the PTA.

Specifically, as per Section-31, Sub-Section (2) of the Act passed by PTA: ‘the unauthorized use of the radio frequency spectrum shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to [three] years, or with fine which may extend to ten million rupees, or with both.’ The same law applies to sellers and buyers of the boosters as well.

Many attempts have been made by the regulatory authorities to make people aware of this issue, and it is laudable that it has at least been recognized as a real problem that requires attention. Earlier this year, the Chairman PTA Maj-Gen Amir Azeem Bajwa also raised this concern with the President of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI), stressing upon the need to control the use of unauthorized mobile boosters. There still, however, is much more that needs to be done to curb the disruption caused by the illegal use of these devices.

It is necessary to mention that many other countries in the past have faced similar issues with signal boosters, which have been dealt with accordingly.

In the United Kingdom, the communications services regulator Ofcom put together an investigative team of specialists that work around the clock to monitor and deal with wireless interference problems.

In Malaysia, the use of boosters leads to a fine of up to RM 500,000 or imprisonment of up to 5 years. The Department of Telecom in India regularly conducts raids in urban centers to remove boosters and also enforces e-commerce websites to remove the listing of illegal repeaters.

Lahore is a business hub with a population of over 13 million. At a time when a huge proportion of businesses, offices, schools, banks, and so on have shifted functions online and the citizens depend on good mobile connectivity to be able to carry out their everyday work, illegal business activity like the buying, usage, and selling of GSM boosters is a crucial problem.

Apart from hefty fines on these devices’ users and sellers, there is a need for a public awareness campaign to address the situation. The supply of these devices needs to be cut from the root and the authorities have to work in tandem with the mobile operators and other stakeholders to take a more proactive approach towards this, ensuring reliable, consistent mobile network coverage for millions.