Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
What A Waste Of (White) Space!signal strength
Friday 17 October, 2014, 09:14 - Broadcasting, Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
There can be no doubt that there is increasing pressure to find radio spectrum for a growing number of applications and uses. At the same time, there is a diminishing amount of spectrum that can be relatively easily re-purposed. It is against this backdrop that various organisations are seeking to find new ways to access the spectrum for new services without unduly upsetting the existing ones. One of these methods is the use of what has been termed 'white-space' spectrum.

So called white-space is comprised of the little 'off-cuts' that are left lying around after big holes have been punched into the radio spectrum by existing users. television white spaceFor example, high powered television transmitters punch great big holes into the spectrum, occupying big pieces of spectrum over very large areas. But the nature of such high powered broadcast services is that transmitters on the same frequency have to be separated by large physical distances so as to avoid neighbouring transmitters interfering with each other. At points roughly half-way between two such transmitters, neither transmitter will provide a signal that is strong enough to deliver a useful service, but the frequency can not be re-used for more broadcasting as doing so would cause interference to viewers in the coverage area of the two transmitters. But a different service (in particular one with much lower power) could be squeezed in without causing such interference. These small off-cuts can, in theory, be sewn together to form a patchwork quilt of spectrum that might just be useable.

For many years, organisations including Google and Microsoft have poured large amounts of money into finding the right thread to stitch the pieces together to make a piece of spectrum big enough to be useful. Thousands of man-hours of research have been poured into radio spectrum white-space and millions of pounds of investment into technology and standards (including Huawei's recent purchase of white-space gurus Neul) have been made, but so far, other than a few technology trials, no 'killer app' for white-space has been found.

ofcom zoocam 1Kudos then, to Ofcom and Google, who have launched 'ZooCam' in which live pictures of animals at London Zoo are being transmitted from their cages directly to somewhere or other using white-space technology and then streamed onto the internet. When Wireless Waffle popped by to share in the excitement, the Otters were asleep, the Meercats were nowhere to be seen and the Galapagos Tortoise was moving so slowly that a daily photo update would have been just as informative as a live feed.

Philip Marnick, group director of Ofcom's Spectrum Policy Group is quoted as saying:
In a world where consumers' demand for data services¹ is experiencing huge growth, it is essential we find the most efficient ways to share the airwaves. White space technology could be one way of meeting this demand.

¹For 'data services' read 'pictures of furry animals on the internet' (which are known to account for over 85% of all internet traffic).

Might we be so bold as to suggest some other uses for this high-cost, leading-edge technology:wales download
  • 'BergCam' - participate in a thrilling, spill-a-minute live stream of global warming in action as the ice caps slowly melt.
  • 'DecorCam' - in which a group of decorators position a camera somewhere different each day after painting a wall so can you watch it dry.
  • 'HerbiCam' - a live-action feed from Lords Cricket ground focussing on a few blades of grass so that you can watch them grow.
  • 'CymruCam' - share the excitement as someone in rural Wales tries to perform Windows updates using their dial-up internet connection.
Whilst programme makers, machine-to-machine communication proponents, smart-everything activists and public safety organisations the world over are screaming for access to more spectrum, it is clear that Ofcom believe that there are far more economically valuable uses for this colourful patchwork of frequencies. Is it just us, or does this new initiative appear to be a complete waste of (white) space?
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Marri-ot-to know better!signal strength
Wednesday 8 October, 2014, 05:37 - Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
Wireless Waffle last reported on Wi-Fi jamming in the context of 'Wi-Fi free zones' that had been set-up by confectionery company Kit Kat in Amsterdam. At the time we examined whether or not the jamming of Wi-Fi could be done legally and concluded that though it was probably illegal, it was a grey area (the jamming that is, not Amsterdam).

hotel wifi logoIt's one thing to try and provide a Wi-Fi free zone by blocking Wi-Fi signals from entering an area, but a completely different thing to monitor Wi-Fi signals and then send malicious data to hotspots to force them to disconnect users. This is, however, exactly what hotel chain Marriott have been found doing at their Gaylord Opryland hotel in Nashville, TN. The FCC have fined Marriott US$600,000 for:
using the containment features of a Wi-Fi monitoring system ... to prevent individuals connecting to the internet via their own personal Wi-Fi networks

What appears to have happened is that the hotel had installed sophisticated Wi-Fi monitoring equipment which checked to see what networks were available within the hotel. This equipment would be able to detect any networks that were not authorised by the hotel and then send a 'de-authorisation' message to those networks having the effect of throwing off users connected to them.

password hackerThe hotel argues that the reason for having such a system was to stop malicious networks being set-up and to protect their guests. Take the example where a malfeasant wishes to steal passwords and other information from hotel guests. All they would need to do is set-up a 'copycat' Wi-Fi hotspot with the same name (SSID) as those used in the hotel (presumably something like 'Marriott Wi-Fi') in close vicinity to the hotel itself. Hotel guests near the copycat hotspot may inadvertently connect to it instead of the hotel Wi-Fi. In doing so, all of their internet traffic would pass over the copycat network giving the malfeasant the opportunity to skim it for juicy bits of personal data. Presumably hotel guests make a good source of such information compared, for example, to those sitting in a coffee shop.

In the above example, the hotel's Wi-Fi monitoring system would detect the copycat network and send the necessary de-authentication messages. Any hotel guests connected to the copycat network would then be thrown off and, hopefully, would re-connect to the 'safer' hotel run hotspots. In the process, the hotel would argue that it was protecting its guests from the malicious intent of the malfeasant. All perfectly sound thinking?

marriott caught in the actBut that is not what the Gaylord Opryland was doing. It was using the same principles to throw guests off of networks they had set-up themselves using, for example, Wi-Fi tethering on their mobiles or diddy Mi-Fi devices and forcing them to use the hotels own Wi-Fi services. Why? Because it wanted them to pay upwards of US$1000 per day to use the hotel's own Wi-Fi services. In the words once written by a great philosopher, 'naughty, naughty, very very naughty'! Unfortunately for the Marriott, it got caught in the act, hence the nasty fine from the FCC. Of course the reason that guests were using their phones or Mi-Fi devices to connect to the internet was specifically to circumvent the extortionate rates that the hotel wanted to charge for Wi-Fi access.

It is not clear how the guest who reported the hotel to the FCC found out what was happening, or indeed if they discovered anything more than their own Wi-Fi connection dropping out. To detect the de-authentication messages would take as much guile as it does to set up such a facility in the first place. Perhaps in the future, any hotels (Marriott or otherwise) planning on doing the same thing should think twice before holding conferences for ICT professionals, or worse, radio spectrum regulators!
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'Everything's on the up for Egypt', say GSMAsignal strength
Monday 6 October, 2014, 03:52 - Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
plum consultingIn a damning new report written for the GSMA by Plum Consulting, it has become apparent that yet another set of graphs concerning mobile networks, this time with respect to Egypt, mostly point upwards.

The report, entitled, 'The Economic and Social Impact of Mobile Broadband in Egypt', uses terms such as unconstrained, very large, increase and rise significantly as it discusses issues such as the economy, jobs and social and cultural benefits.

However despite the seemingly upbeat message, the report is highly critical of Egypt's current national broadband plan saying that,
The previous national broadband plan must be replaced.

But what is perhaps the most startling outcome of the report is the sheer number of graphs that show the situation in Egypt is positive, as the trends on the graphs point upwards. An analysis conducted at great expense for Wireless Waffle by Damson & Greengauge LLP found that:
  • 12 out of 17 graphs in the report showed a positive, upward, trend;
  • 4 of the 17 graphs had been purposefully reversed and showed a negative, downward trend putting Egypt at the end so as to try and indicate a low status;
  • Only 1 graph had a trend that involved both upward and downward movement.

egypt all good

The Egyptian government have been quick to respond. A spokesperson for the Egyptian Ministry of Happiness and Unity was quoted as saying,
The overwhelming positivity of the graphs in the report contradicts the findings that the broadband plan is in any way inadequate. Instead we find the number of positive, upward trends vindicates the current government's telecommunications policies. The citizens of Egypt should rest assured that the government will do all it can to get the few, and clearly doctored, graphs which show a downward trend of any kind reversed, so that the outcome is even more positive.

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PMSE Industry Calls For More Domed Citiessignal strength
Tuesday 9 September, 2014, 04:36 - Broadcasting, Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
european commission logoThe European Commission has finally made a ruling on harmonising spectrum for programme making and special events (PMSE) use. PMSE includes things such as radiomicrophones and in-ear monitors that allow performers to hear themselves think whilst on a noisy stage.

You would think that the PMSE community would be cock-a-hoop about the fact that their needs had been recognised at a European level and that spectrum had been safeguarded for their specific use, but it appears that many in the industry believe it is too little. A spokesperson for the Association of Learned Engineers of Sound (Asso.LES) told Wireless Waffle:
All video and audio broadcasts use wireless devices in their production. The paltry and squalid spectrum being offered by the Commission will cause many thousands of creative, cultural and media industry workers to suffer harmful interference leading to infection and death. Add to this the many churches, schools and hotels who use wireless microphones and this ruling could cause a catastrophic failure of society. We could see plagues, widespread rioting and a failure of social cohesion resulting in a cataclysmic new world-order, not to mention the need to put up new antennas in some theatres.

No one from the Commission was available to comment, however Jörg Van Beaulieu who has a name that sounds like they could work for the Commission, was heard to comment:
Asso.LES couldn't see a gift horse if it kicked them in the face. The Commission has done its calculations and as far as we can see, the only events that will require more spectrum than we are offering are the Eurovision Song Contest and one or two occasions when sporting events occur on the same date as One Direction concerts - interruptions to which we believe the socio-economic impact would be low.

eurovision logoThe impact on the Eurovision Song Contest will come as a blow to its millions of fans both in Europe and across the world. Next year's organisers, ORF have already been in crisis discussions with the Austrian government and the European Commission and have issued this statement:
On advice of the Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Innvation und Technologie (BMVIT) we have decided to move the location of the competition next year from Vienna to Attnang-Puchheim. The town's railway marshalling yard will be flattened and a metal cage will be erected around the area to seal in the radio spectrum so it can be used for the Contest. We are sure that this will allow this critical European cultural event to go ahead without problems of interference from mobile phones or potentially dangerous inter-galactic laser beam weapons.

dome home cone

Meanwhile it is understood that the Council of Westminster are considering similarly drastic steps and that plans to demolish the majority of the West End to allow a protective metal dome to be built around London's infamous theatre district are well developed. The spokesperson for Asso.LES said that this move was welcome and rightly recognised the economic importance of radio microphone users above all other members of society.
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