The legal ways to boost your mobile phone reception
Paul Ockenden explains how to beat a mobile deadspot without breaking the law
What do you do when your home or office is situated in a mobile reception blank spot, or in a place where receiving a signal involves standing on the washing machine with one leg on the fridge and your head pressed against the ceiling?
Either situation is an impossible way to run your business life, and with the advent of mobile clients for social networks, such a lack of signal may adversely affect your social life too. Of course, you could simply change network, selecting the one that offers the best signal for your location, but for people with a company-supplied mobile phone that isn’t even an option, since you usually have to take what you’re given.
Perhaps you live or work in a location where there isn’t the faintest signal from any of the mobile networks: such places do exist, especially in remote coastal valleys. Changing networks wouldn’t make a jot of difference there, so what do you do in a situation like that?
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Actually, there’s a host of things you can try, but the one I urge you not to try is installing a cheap mobile phone booster or repeater. You’ll find several UK companies selling these on eBay or Google, but none of them mention that using such devices is totally illegal. It’s one of those peculiarly British law mess-ups that makes it legal to sell repeaters, legal to own them, but not legal to use them!
Ofcom says “Repeater devices transmit or re-transmit in the cellular frequency bands. Only the mobile network operators are licensed to use equipment that transmits in these bands. Installation or use of repeater devices by anyone without a licence is a criminal offence under Section 8 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006. Any person found guilty of installing or using such devices without a licence would be liable on conviction to a fine of up to £5,000 and/or up to 51 weeks’ imprisonment.”
Given this clear and unambiguous prohibition, I find it amazing that various forums are littered with people discussing their use of repeaters within their homes and small offices, some even posting photos of how they’ve installed the kit. They might as well post a picture of a £5,000 cheque made payable to HM Court Services.
Luckily, you have several legal options, the first being to use Voice over IP (VoIP) to make and receive calls from your black spot, which of course involves having a wireless network, a smartphone with Wi-Fi capability, and some kind of VoIP client software.
Some phones (notably Nokia’s higher-end devices) have VoIP built in and properly integrated into their operating system, but for others you’ll need to download and run a VoIP app. With most of these applications you’ll struggle to seamlessly route calls direct to the phone when you’re within mobile signal range and via VoIP when you’re not, and even if you find a system that does provide this functionality, it will probably involve changing your mobile number to route incoming calls via a third-party.
As an alternative, forget VoIP and use one of the “find me” single-number providers that ring round a programmed sequence of numbers to locate you – mobile, office, home and so on. The problem is that unless you regularly update them to try your current location first, they give a shifty and, frankly, unprofessional impression to callers as they ring around all your different numbers. (Some VoIP providers offer a similar system.)
Not sounding too good so far, is it? Luckily, not all black-spot remedies are clunky or illegal – I’ve recently started testing some better solutions and will report back more fully in a few months’ time. Probably the most mature of these is UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) over Wi-Fi, and the only network that currently offers it in the UK is Orange. It requires a phone that has Wi-Fi and is also UMA-enabled, which to date – considering only mainstream models – restricts you to half-a-dozen BlackBerrys, a few Nokias, and odd models from Samsung, HTC and LG. I’ve been doing my own UMA test using a BlackBerry Bold 9700 and a Nokia 6310.