Do you need a broadcast license for a cell booster?

Well, kind of. This question comes to us from one of our customers who, as a ham radio operator, asks why you can have a cell phone or cell booster and not need to take the test and get a license like you do with ham radio. The answer all comes down to the nitty-gritty of how broadcasting works in the US.

Broadcasting is pretty much anything that takes place using radio-frequency (RF) waves, from AM radio to satellite to military use. Remote controls, microwaves, everything that generates any sort of RF is considered to be broadcasting. The FCC says that everything that broadcast must be licensed, so cell phones, cell boosters, and even your RF remote have all been licensed by the FCC. The FCC ID sticker, usually found on the back or bottom, actually shows the FCC license number, which is equivalent to a radio station’s call letters.

That’s right, the equipment needs a license, but do you?

You don’t… and it’s because different frequencies require different kinds of licenses in order to use them. Some, like military frequencies, can’t be used by anyone except the government. Some are exclusive, like TV frequencies that can only be used by one broadcaster in a region. Others, like cell phone frequencies, RF remote frequencies and that sort of stuff, are open to anyone who is using licensed equipment. That can be due to the very short range of the equipment (which is the case with cordless phones and RF remotes) or because there is a master carrier that controls how the equipment is used (like cell phones and boosters.) It can also be due to the fact that the frequency is totally public and the FCC doesn’t care if people stomp all over each other, such as CB radios and marine radios.

Your cell booster has a broadcast license, in other words. You don’t need one because your cell company knows how to fit that cell booster into their big pool of broadcast frequencies. It’s a very complex set of negotiations between the cell tower and the booster and the cell phone, and yet it happens so perfectly that you’re not even aware of it .