You really can find anything in a stock image library: "Antennas of mobile cellular systems with Wi-Fi hot spot repeater and blue sky."

Enlarge / You really can find anything in a stock image library: "Antennas of mobile cellular systems with Wi-Fi hot spot repeater and blue sky." (credit: Just_One_Pic / Getty Images)

Cell phone signal boosters are powerful devices. Installed in a home or office, they can potentially amplify one signal bar into five. In rural areas with poor cell coverage, or in buildings where signals have trouble penetrating, they can be lifesavers, providing reliable access to communication networks and emergency services.

But boosters also have a dark side: If misconfigured or poorly manufactured, they can knock out service for everyone who happens to be nearby. That’s why the Federal Communications Commission began regulating the devices five years ago. Today, all consumer signal boosters sold and marketed in the United States must meet the agency’s strict technical standards. Doing so can get expensive, and many FCC-authorized boosters cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Ecommerce sites like Amazon offer cheaper options. The only problem is, they’re not always compliant.

The FCC requires booster manufacturers to get their products certified as safe, and it publishes each valid certification on its website. WIRED found a number of sellers offering boosters on Amazon that are not listed as certified by the FCC. Their models often cost less than $200, compared to $300 or more for FCC-certified versions. A number of them have been top sellers in the signal booster category, and some are promoted with a badge reading “Amazon’s Choice.”

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