They are everywhere. Just a simple Google search throws up over a dozen choices of mobile signal boosters, including on popular e-commerce websites. Despite regular raids by DoT (Department of Telecommunications) across the country, and strict laws against the use, selling and possession of mobile signal repeaters, the proliferation of such illegal equipment is rampant.
Early this week, Wireless Monitoring Organization, which is part of DoT, and International Monitoring Station along with a joint team of local administration and mobile operators, raided several locations in New Delhi, and took down illegal mobile signal repeaters installed in homes, shops, and other commercial establishments. As part of the recent crackdown, some 70 illegal repeaters were removed and 18 notices were given to remove the identified ones immediately.
"In 2020, we had removed approximately 400 illegal mobile signal boosters. We have started an awareness campaign through which we are making people aware not to use illegal mobile signal boosters. This campaign is against illegal mobile signal boosters which lead to call drops and lowering of mobile network connectivity," said Devendra Kumar Rai, IRRS, Engineering-in-Charge, Wireless Monitoring Organization, DoT, in a statement.
But why do people use such equipment in huge numbers? As per Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 and Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, DoT can impose heavy penalties on owners of such illegal repeaters. Experts say that reasons for their widespread use are four-fold: easy availability, effortless installation, lack of awareness among consumers, and the deteriorating quality of mobile services (both voice and data) in several locations across India.
"The problem with unauthorised boosters is that they deteriorate the quality of service for others which in turn, forces others to put up these boosters as well, and this harms the signal quality in the entire area," says a telecom consultant who didn't wish to be quoted.
The claims of illegal equipment sellers are startling too. Not just do these equipment claim to ensure faster data speeds (uploads and downloads) and less call drops, but also reduce radiation levels and increase battery life. The equipment claims to support multiple users of 2G, 3G, and 4G technologies at the same time, and across devices (smartphones, feature phones) and networks (Airtel, Jio, Vodafone Idea, BSNL) of different kinds.
Despite huge investments by telecom operators in networks and spectrum, the quality of services (QoS) have taken a hit, especially in dense areas. Although the regular audits by TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) show that QoS are satisfactory; users frequently complain about the increasing instances of call drops and poor data speeds.