Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
RSGB Spectrum Defence Fundsignal strength
Sunday 31 January, 2010, 09:39 - Amateur Radio
Posted by Administrator
Sometimes Wireless Waffle can be rather frivolous and irreverent but today is not one of those days. On many previous occasions, Wireless Waffle has gone on about the threat to short-wave radio caused by power line telecoms (PLT), power line adaptors (PLA), broadband over power-line (BPL) and blaufunk zür electrische Breitband über bezahlen (BLZEBUB as it is known in the Germany) yet they continue to proliferate. But in the UK at least, it seems that there is going to be a properly monunted challenge to the blatant flouting of the law that these devices do on a daily basis.

Having thought that the UK spectrum regulator, Ofcom, would respond to the concerns of UK radio users, the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB), the body which represents radio amateurs, has played a very professional deck of cards to date; demonstrating that the equipment concerned does not conform to the necessary standards and using existing legislation and regulation to request that Ofcom take action. Ofcom's response, however, has been very disappointing, and seems to be acting on the basis that few complaints equals few problems. Presumably very few people complain when a vehicle knocks them down and kills them, so perhaps we should cease to be concerned about enforcing speed limits?

Ofcom seems to be following a circular argument that, on one hand, radio regulations don't apply because the devices which cause the problem are not intentionally generating radio transmissions; and on the other, that electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) regulations don't apply to the radiation they do cause, as EMC is not about controlling radiation from devices - as any such radiations are meant to be covered by radio regulations. It even turned down a sensible proposal from the German regulator, the Bundes Netz Argentur (BNetzA) for a purpose-designed specification for these types of device to ensure they didn't fall down the tiny pothole that might just exist between the two sets of regulations.

Several petitions have even been raised with Number 10 Downing Street (the Prime Minister's office as opposed to the Farnham Healing Centre) to which Ofcom's response has been equally lacklustre. 'No biggy...' seems to paraphrase their attitude.

rsgbspectrumfundSo kudos then to the RSGB for putting down their playing cards and taking up arms against the problem (whether you class the problem as the devices or as Ofcom) and establishing a Spectrum Defence Fund (SDF). The RSGB claim that to challenge Ofcom through the relevant legal channels will cost in the region of £75,000. The RSGB are asking anyone and everyone who has an interest in short-wave listening, either for pleasure or professionally, to put their hands in their pockets or break open their piggy banks and donate some money to the cause. They point out that if every radio amateur in the UK donated just £5, they would soon reach their target. On the other hand, if only a couple of thousand people donate the same amount, they will miss the target by a large margin.

rsgb in actionSome may question whether or not it is right for the RSGB to become so overtly political in its outlook given the fact that it has only really used its deck of cards to play snap in the past and has never ventured into more risky territory (such as whist for example), let alone expose itself to the dangers of games such as poker. For the past century, or thereabouts, it has been a forum for sharing news and information for the amateur community in the UK and although it has responded to many Ofcom consultations, it has done this in the role of a semi-passive observer: a (card playing) grandfather who passes down occasional nuggets of experience to the go-getting upstart grandchildren who now inhabit the spectrum. And rightly so. The RSGB should be a centre of expertise; a wise old sage to whom its members, and the wider UK radio community can turn to answer those difficult questions. But the threat from PLT/PLA/BPL/BLZEBUB is very real and it's time for granddad to stand up and batter the kids around the ears with a solid oak walking stick until they sit down and stop acting like spoilt brats.

The threat to the radio frequencies used by radio amateurs, however, comes from more than just BLZEBUB. Radio spectrum is becoming a very valuable commodity and amateurs sit on real-estate which in the UK alone would be valued at several million pounds if it were open to the markets to purchase. There is no evidence of an immediate threat in this regard, and no queues have formed to offer granddad an especially large pension in return for his deck, but if the amateur community does not keep its eyes open, someone is likely to creep up on granddad whilst he is out for a walk and take his wallet and keys, and his solid oak walking stick.

So the time has come for radio amateurs and short-wave listeners of all kinds across the United Kingdom to unite and support granddad. Why not have a night listening to the radio and remind yourself of what it's all about. Not Danny DJ spinning the same old tunes on Radio Local FM, but tune around the short-wave bands and see what you can hear. With sunspots beginning to acne the face of the sun again, you might just be surprised at what you can hear. And when you have rekindled your love of radio, pop along to the RSGB web-site and donate a few quid. Imagine what life would be like without your other favourite pass-times, whether beer, wine, fags or whatever. In fact, go without for a week. Then think how it would feel if you couldn't use your short-wave radio again and give the money you saved that week to the RSGB spectrum fund. In return, Wireless Waffle intends to donate all the money made from the various advertisements which are scattered around the site to the RSGB Spectrum Defence Fund. We'll let you know how much this is in a couple of months time...
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Number Station Bingosignal strength
Friday 1 January, 2010, 00:14 - Pirate/Clandestine
Posted by Administrator
Regulars to the pages of Wireless Waffle will realise that we have an inate (or should that be 'inert') fascination with short wave radio. And nothing is more mysterious and intriguing on short wave than the many spy broadcasts which usually take the form of a string of numbers or letters read out in a mechanical fashion by a pre-recorded male or female voice. A bit like the speaking clock for spooks.

mint spies bingoOne of the most famous spy stations, the Lincolnshire Poacher (which was allegedly broadcast from Cyprus), ceased transmissions in 2008 and it rumour has it that its sister station, Cherry Ripe (latterly broadcast from Australia) also ceased transmissions towards the end of 2009. Which leaves fans of these funky but furtive broadcasts with a big hole in their social calendar (not that such fans had much of a social calendar to begin with).

But all is not lost. Thanks to the Conet project and web designer Kevan Davis fans can now enjoy:

* Number Station Bingo

This excellent game will keep you occupied (but not in the same way as the US forces in Iraq) for literally minutes. If you win, it is customary to shout 'Badabingo, green stick in the green hole' though for security reasons we obviously cannot explain why this is so.
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Chill Over and Outsignal strength
Tuesday 1 December, 2009, 01:21 - Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
Some of the biggest brains in Europe, as well as hundreds of millions of Euros of public money are being poured into a concept which has the catchy name of the 'Internet of Things'. The concept in itself is a fairly straightforward one - that as well as people being connected together via the Internet, machines and sensors and all sorts of other electrical and mechanical devices will be connected together as well. So it would be possible for your fridge to talk to your lawnmower, and your kettle to have a chat with your central heating system.

Actually, this is nowhere near as silly as it sounds. From the perspective of saving energy and hence carbon, one of the main problems facing electricity generators is dealing with the peak load. In the USA this occurs on the hottest day of the year when air conditioning units are working overtime, and in the UK typically occurs mid-winter when heating units and lots of TVs are turned on, especially during commercial breaks when everyone gets up to make a cup of tea and turns their kettle on. So at these moments, if the kettle could chat with your freezer, for example, and tell it to stop freezing for a few minutes whilst it boils, no-one would be any the wiser and the net result would be a reduction in peak electricity consumption.

This is all fine and dandy and there are plans for 'smart cities' where lots of devices communicate with each other to the benefit of energy consumption, safety and for lots of other good reasons. But there is a limit to how effective such communication can be. Imagine the following discussion:

Kettle to Fridge Please stop freezing for a bit as I need to boil the water to make a cup of tea.
Fridge to Kettle Sorry, no can do. I've already put freezing on hold for a bit to help the tumble dryer out. Perhaps you could speak with it.
Kettle to Tumble Dryer Please could you stop drying for a bit as I need to boil the water to make a cup of tea?
Tumble Dryer to Kettle You must be joking! I've already had to stop 4 times to let the floodlights come on outside and if I don't get these clothes dry soon, there'll be trouble.
Kettle to TV Hey, TV. Any chance you could turn yourself off for a few minutes whilst I boil some water to make a cup of tea?
TV to Fridge Can you believe it? The Kettle has asked ME, ME the TV to turn off so that it can boil some water, who does it think it is?
Fridge to TV I know. Always trying to steal all the power. Nearly as bad as the iron which is on and off like a faulty switch.
chatty fridgeTV to Fridge You are so right. I just pretend Eastenders is on when the iron asks me to turn of, it knows that I couldn't possibly interrupt that programme.
Microwave oven to Fridge and TV Can you two pipe down a bit, I'm waiting for an important message from the vacuum cleaner about who is sharing the power tomorrow morning.

And so on...

So there you have it. Several billion Euros of investment brought down by a neurotic TV and an overly chatty fridge. Not to mention the fruit bowl and the salt pot who block the airwaves with their inane chatter about whether sweet or savoury is best. And therein lies the problem: all this communication needs bandwidth, and given the nature of the devices, they will need wireless bandwidth. A European Commission white-paper on the subject addresses the issue several times in statements such as:
[the internet of things] requires truly ubiquitous wireless capacity that can handle several magnitudes more data.
Communication infrastructure should provide ubiquitous connectivity in the presence of significantly increased traffic load and should be very efficient so as to reduce the cost per bit... Many of the local connections are naturally wireless.
It goes on to state
Spectrum must be valued: Radio spectrum is one of the most valuable resources of the digital age. As more and more devices and objects become wireless enabled ... spectrum is becoming a key bottleneck. We have to find ways to manage the spectrum more efficiently so as to maximise data throughput and minimise interference.

The report suggests that one possible solution would be to develop a real-time local market in radio spectrum. What does this mean? It means that when you go to make a call from your mobile (or you fridge wants to open a discussion with the vacuum cleaner) it first interrogates the 'spectrum stock market' and chooses the piece of spectrum which offers the right level of connectivity at the appropriate price. Of course the question remains as to how it does this without, in the process, also using a wireless connection.

What is certain, however, is that we have only started to see the beginning of the squeeze on the radio spectrum and that if it seems congested now, compared to the future it is still a wide open space of nothingness. And like oil as it begins to become rare, it is likely we shall see an increase in the value of spectrum too. We here at Wireless Waffle wonder whether there will eventually be unit trusts and other investment wagons on the stock market that invest in spectrum for a profitable return in the same way as they do in gold, silver, oil, crops and other limited resources. If there are, then as prices spiral, it might just shut the fridge up for a bit.
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What are the chances (Part II)?signal strength
Tuesday 20 October, 2009, 14:29 - Pirate/Clandestine
Posted by Administrator
A previous article on Wireless Waffle talked about the chances of a pirate radio station being caught focussing on VHF FM pirates. A later one focussed on short-wave pirates and discussed which frequencies to avoid in order to minimise getting the authorities' collective danders up.

Over the past 12 months, both Premier Radio (who used 6265 kHz) and Laser Hot Hits (who used 4025 kHz) have had their transmitter sites raided. Bringing together the ethos of the two previous articles, it would make sense that in order for a raid to be worthwhile, even at short-wave, there would have likely been a complaint raised against the station concerned.

So we might, therefore, ask, "Who raised these complaints?" It seems unlikely that major international broadcasters such as the BBC World Service or China Radio International would be at all threatened by pirate operators taking their audience away or causing interference, especially as the frequencies being used by the pirates are not ones being used by an international broadcaster at the time, so there must be another source of complaints.

Across Europe (and indeed the world) there are a series of short-wave (HF) monitoring stations operated by the various national regulatory administrations who produce quarterly reports on their monitoring activities. The purpose of the monitoring and the associated reports is, on the one hand, to check on legitimate users of the HF spectrum, and on the other to identify use which is in contravention to the ITU's rules on spectrum usage. Where an administration identifies contravening transmissions, it can flag these in the reports and, according to the ITU document describing the reports, these will then be forwarded to the administration which is the source of the transmission.

Looking through these reports for the past 12 months (eg from October 2008 to September 2009), there are a number which relate to various short wave pirates. Specifically:

Date Time (UTC) Freq (kHz) Monitoring Station Transmitter Location Station* Complaint
24 Oct 08 1700-2359 4024.57 Rambouillet, France UK Laser Hot Hits Illegal use of frequency
25 Oct 08 0000-0600 4024.57 Rambouillet, France UK Laser Hot Hits Illegal use of frequency
11 Nov 08 0000-0645 4024.58 Berlin, Germany UK Laser Hot Hits None
5 Dec 08 0204-0400 4024.60 Tarnok, Hungary Not Identified Laser Hot Hits Broadcast in non broadcast band
4 Apr 09 1715-2400 4025.00 Berlin, Germany UK Laser Hot Hits Broadcast in non broadcast band
7 Nov 08 1837-2359 5800.00 Rambouillet, France 8E54 45N29 (Milan, Italy) PLAYBACK INTL Broadcast in non broadcast band
12 Jul 09 0855-1000 5751.51 Rambouillet, France 1W31 51N15 (Andover, UK) Best of British Radio Illegal use of frequency
8 Nov 08 0000-0200 5800.00 Rambouillet, France 8E49 45N23 (Milan, Italy) PLAYBACK INTL Broadcast in non broadcast band
10 Nov 08 2020-2100 5800.00 Tarnok, Hungary Not Identified Playback International Broadcast in non broadcast band
4 Jan 09 1249-1300 5801.00 Vienna, Austria Italy MILANO (Playback International) Broadcast in non broadcast band
24 Oct 08 2215-0000 5803.00 Baldock, UK 8E7 45N56 (Milan, Italy) Playback International None
12 Oct 08 0700-0830 5805.03 Tarnok, Hungary Not Identified Orion Radio Broadcast in non broadcast band
2 Dec 08 1642 6210.00 Baldock, UK Belgium RADIO BORDERHUNTER SW Pirate
12 Apr 09 1345 6202.00 Baldock, UK 8E48 50N15 (Frankfurt, Germany) Crazy Wave Radio Non-Conformity RR.5
15 Feb 09 0949-1120 6219.99 Vienna, Austria Italy MYSTERY RADIO Broadcast in non broadcast band
15 Feb 09 1356-1429 6219.99 Vienna, Austria Italy PLAYBACK Broadcast in non broadcast band
12 Apr 09 1815 6220.00 Baldock, UK 10E0 43N50 (Italy) MYSTERY RADIO Non-Conformity RR.5
9 May 09 1855-1921 6220.00 Vienna, Austria Italy MYSTERY RADIO Broadcast in non broadcast band
11 Jul 09 1935-2300 6220.00 El Casar, Egypt 11E24 44N27 (Bologna, Italy) Mystery Radio None
31 Jul 09 0000-0030 6220.00 Klagenfurt, Austria Pisa, Italy Mystery Radio Broadcast in non broadcast band
6 Jan 09 0105 6240.00 Baldock, UK Netherlands UNDERGROUND RADIO Illicit
17 Feb 09 1654 6240.00 Baldock, UK Netherlands UNDERGROUND RADIO Illicit
5 Jun 09 2340 6420.25 Baldock, UK 4E46 51N38 (Breda, Netherlands) Casanova or Dutchwing? Pirate Station
7 Feb 09 1657 6870.00 Baldock, UK 12E20 42N41 (Terni, Italy) Playback International Non-Conformity RR.5
30 Apr 09 1639 6870.00 Baldock, UK 12E20 42N41 (Terni, Italy) Playback International Non-Conformity RR.5
8 Feb 09 0857-0933 6870.00 Vienna, Austria 9E38 45N41 (Bergamo, Italy) PLAYBACK Broadcast in non broadcast band
22 Mar 09 0956-1429 6870.00 Vienna, Austria Italy PLAYBACK Broadcast in non broadcast band
3 May 09 0845-0940 6870.00 Vienna, Austria Italy PLAYBACK Broadcast in non broadcast band
4 July 09 2001-2017 6870.00 Vienna, Austria Italy PLAYBACK Broadcast in non broadcast band
12 Jul 09 0430-2200 6870.00 Tarnok, Hungary USA (!) PLAYBACK INT. RADIO Broadcast in non broadcast band
14 Feb 09 1425-1443 6878.00 Vienna, Austria Italy PLAYBACK Broadcast in non broadcast band
21 Feb 09 0700-2040 6880.00 Rambouillet, France 9E54 44N42 (Genova, Italy) Playback International Illegal use of frequency
22 Feb 09 0630-0700 6880.00 Rambouillet, France 11E33 44N21 (Bologna, Italy) Playback International Illegal use of frequency
4 Oct 08 2000-2100 6925.00 Rambouillet, France 20E32 39N4 (Greece) Spider Radio Illegal use of frequency
26 Jul 09 0000-1700 7550.00 Tarnok, Hungary Italy Radio Amica Broadcast in non broadcast band
29 Aug 09 0620-0700 7550.00 El Casar, Egypt Italy Radio Amica None
29 Aug 09 0600-0630 7550.00 Klagenfurt, Austria Italy Radio Amica Broadcast in non broadcast band
18 Feb 09 1218-1220 9385.00 CRMO, South Korea Ireland LASER HOT HITS Illegal use of frequency
19 Feb 09 1606-1607 9385.00 CRMO, South Korea Not Identified Laser Hot Hits Illegal use of frequency
28 Feb 09 1130-1300 9385.00 Tarnok, Hungary Not Identified Laser Hot Hits Broadcast in non broadcast band

* Where the station was identified in the monitoring report, it is shown in CAPITALS.

Where no name was given, it has been identified and added in by searching through various on-line logs from the date concerned.

In addition to the above there are one or two other unidentified broadcasts on typical pirate frequencies (eg 6447 kHz on 21 August 2009) but there does not seem to be any indication of who they might be (nor do logs help with this).

Clearly there has been a lot of monitoring of Laser Hot Hits going on by various administrations (Laser may be impressed that they were heard in South Korea!) Similarly Mystery Radio and Playback International have also been heavily monitored though the grid references given for their locations seems to vary quite a lot. rambouillet monitoring stationThese stations operate over long periods, usually at weekends but outside these times too, so it is perhaps not surprising that they have been 'caught'. A more interesting question might be why other stations have been monitored. Was it a chance happening by the administration concerned, or are the frequencies they are using of particular interest to that country?

There are many more questions that these logs raise: How many 'complaints' are necessary before action is taken? Are the locations produced sufficiently accurate to find the transmitters or are other methods necessary? Do the various monitoring stations co-operate to improve the accuracy of locations? Is there a competition between stations and administrations to show how 'bad' their neighbours are being (eg UK complaining about France and France complaining about UK). And perhaps, most importantly, how come Mystery and Playback are still on air?!
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