The wireless research group at Virginia Tech released a paper documenting a portable transmitter that can disable LTE base stations and leave thousands without cellular service.
For the power is possesses, the battery-operated transmitter is fairly cheap at $650. The device can knock out any cellphone grid, including FirstNet, the emergency communications network designed after 9/11.
The paper was submitted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, by Jeff Reed, director of the wireless research group at Virginia Tech, and research assistant Marc Lichtman.
Reed discussed the power of the transmitter in the paper if used by the wrong party:
“Picture a jammer that fits in a small briefcase that takes out miles of LTE signals—whether commercial or public safety.”
The research team was able to identify eight vulnerable points of the LTE signal that would be taken offline when jammed by the transmitter.
Lichtman described what happens when a base station is disabled in the paper:
“Your phone is constantly syncing with the base station. If you can disrupt that synchronization, you will not be able to send or receive data.”
According to Reed, patching the LTE network is not an easy fix. Thankfully the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that advises the White House on telecom policy are aware of the transmitter and will develop countermeasures to protect our communications.