Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
Ofcom proposes closure of stable doorsignal strength
Monday 19 January, 2015, 16:25 - Radio Randomness, Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
comtrend pltOn several past occasions, dating back to 2008, Wireless Waffle has reported on how several users of the short wave spectrum including radio amateurs, broadcasters, air traffic controllers and NATO, have raised concerns about interference caused by power-line telecommunications (PLT) devices (such as the Comtrend unit pictured on the right). PLT devices allow the use of home electrical wiring to carry computer data by injecting radio signals over the wires. As electrical wiring is designed to carry signals with a frequency of 50 Hz and not 5 MHz, the injected radio signals have a tendency to leak out everywhere and cause radio interference over a wide area.

Groups such as UKQRM and Ban PLT have long campaigned that PLT devices (also known as Power Line Adapters) should be taken off the market as they do not comply with the relevant emissions standards.

Over all of this period, the UK spectrum regulator Ofcom, has staunchly refused to accept that these devices contravene any regulations, though they have taken action in a number of cases where the interference they cause has exceeded even their expectations. Over the same timeframe, a number of other devices have also been found to cause high levels of radio interference, particularly cheap electrical devices, often imported on the grey market from China. These include things such as laptop power supplies, LED lighting and solar panel electrical controllers. Yet Ofcom continued to refuse to accept that anything needed doing.

It is therefore somewhat of a bolt from the blue that on January 15th, Ofcom released a consultation document, entitled 'Notice of proposals to make The Wireless Telegraphy (Control of Interference from Apparatus) Regulations 2015' in which it wishes to implement new controls over these devices by making it a criminal offence to operate them if they are causing interference to wireless telegraphy (e.g. radio services). Part of this seems to be driven by the fact that Ofcom were unable to deal with many interference complaints under existing regulations and that this could be regarded as a potential safety-of-life threat where the interference was caused to, for example, aeronautical services.

According to the consultation paper, there were 114 cases of interference reported in 2014, 'where undue interference was caused ... and capable of resolution'. Of those 114 cases, only 3 could be cured quickly using existing legislation and in the other cases it required voluntary action by the user of the equipment to bring about a solution. Under the proposed changes, all of these cases could be dealt with by law, meaning that instead of volunteering to fix the problem, users could be prosecuted if they didn't.

devil slop 2The big question has to be whether such a change would make any difference. Would those selling the devices stop doing so? Presumably not, as there is no law against selling them, just using them. Would they warn buyers of the new law? Not if it damaged sales. And what will happen if Ofcom threaten prosecution to someone who believes they have been using equipment quite legally, having purchased it legitimately, and having seen the various markings on the box that said it complied with the necessary standards? Will Ofcom then look silly for allowing such devices to have been sold in the first place? Sadly, the UK legislation on such things is still somewhat muddy. It is possible to sell, for example, FM transmitters, mobile signal boosters and even GPS jammers. It is just not legal to plug them in and use them.

ofcom horse boltingBan PLT are recommending that as many people as possible respond to the consultation, encouraging the changes to be implemented. No doubt organisations which manufacture or sell the devices will be arguing against the changes and so it is important that those who use the radio spectrum, especially the short wave spectrum, respond to show the strength of feeling.

There is an old saying in England, 'closing the barn door after the horse has bolted'. Effectively it means trying to solve a problem, after it has happened. The new powers proposed by Ofcom may have some effect in allowing Ofcom to convince users to turn off whichever device it is that is causing the problem, but it is by no means certain that the threat of 'turn it off or we will sue' is going to win anyone any friends, Ofcom, suppliers, BT and radio listeners alike.
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Hotel Wi-Fi in the spotlight againsignal strength
Wednesday 14 January, 2015, 12:52 - Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
Back in October of last year, Wireless Waffle reported that Marriott hotels had been fined by the FCC for deliberately interfereing with Wi-Fi networks in an attempt to try and force guests at their hotels to use the hotel's own extortionately priced WiFi service.

hotel girl laptopEarlier this month, the New York Times reported that several hotel chains have petitioned the FCC for permission to legally undertake such activities. The lengthy petition argues on several points that hotel operators (and other landlords) should be able to manage their networks to the extent that they can identify, and neutralise, anyone trying to offer WiFi services other than themselves, thereby maintaining a quality of service and level of security and safety for their users.

The main tenets of their argumentation seem to be:
  • That the type of sophisticated monitoring and enforcement activities they are proposing do not constitute harmful interference but are good network management practices;
  • That their networks are established using best industry practices to maximuse performance and that non-approved WiFi hotspots mess about with this and degrade their service;
  • That the Part 15 rules that allow users to establish WiFi hotspots require those users to be located on a property where the user has "direct or indirect ownership or leasehold" and that this does not apply to hotel guests.

It then goes on to liken a university applying bandwidth caps to student usage as being a similar network management practice, but one that no-one would argue with and therefore, by implication, the practice of neutralising the threat of miscreant networks should also just be considered best practice.

hotel wifi logoNotwithstanding any of the above, WiFi networks, whether operating under the Part 15 rules in the USA, or in most other countries are permitted access to the radio spectrum on a 'non interference' basis. This means that they are not permitted to interfere with any other users, and that they must accept any interference caused by any other users. In effect, they have no protection from interference at all. What the hotels are trying to do is run a commercial grade wireless internet service in this spectrum. If this were possible, and it were possible to provide the quality of service that users would seek, would it not follow that the big commercial operators would want to do the same thing too. Free WiFi hotspots in a coffee shop is one thing, but trying to provide a guaranteed service is another.

tp link wr702nThe hotel chains argue that when they enter into an agreement to provide services for, for example, a conference, they agree to some quality of service parameters for their WiFi service. This is their own silly fault! It's like guaranteeing your guests that it won't rain this week. It's not something that the hotel has control over. Not least, the WiFi bands are used by a myriad of other, non-WiFi devices, that could equally upset the performance of the hotel's WiFi networks including their very own microwave ovens!

One has to question whether these hotels would be so keen to conduct such complex network management if they offered their WiFi service for free. Hotel visitors should vote with their feet and choose hotels that do offer Free WiFi. Marriott and its friends would soon change their tune, not least as it appears that cheaper hotels have the best WiFi! Oh, and don't forget to take your Wireless Nano Router to set up your own network nice and easily too!

Post Script: It seems that just a day after writing this, the BBC report that Marriott has backed down. Was it something we said...?
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Japan's digital spew-oversignal strength
Tuesday 30 December, 2014, 12:48 - Licensed
Posted by Administrator
Japan. Country of Shinto serenity. Where cherry blossom floats down from tree-strewn parks during Hanami. Where tourists come to enjoy peaceful views of Mount Fuji.

Japan. Country of high-technology. Inventors of the pocket calculator, walkman, compact disc player and PlayStation. The first country to launch 3G mobile services.

Japan. Country of very weird pop videos. Where headless pink maids shimmy and where young girls spew out shadowy birds and multi-coloured eyeballs.

So what has all this got to do with anything radio-related. Well, if you can bear to watch it for that long before your brain turns to blancmange (or alternatively just fast forward to the relevant point), you will find in the video of PonPonPon by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu at approximately 2 minutes 30 seconds in (just after the eyeball spewing incident), a video cassette going into a TV, a TV mast growing and the screen of the TV turning snowy. This, believe it or not, is a tribute to the closure of analogue television in Japan.


Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - PONPONPON on Vimeo

Most countries have celebrated the closure of analogue television with announcements ranging from the upbeat to the sombre, montages of classic TV programmes, countdowns to zero hour, or even just snow replacing the picture mid-programme. As there are still a wide range of countries yet to complete the transition to digital TV (most of Africa, South America and Asia), Wireless Waffle challenges those countries (or their pop stars) to come up with an even weirder tribute than that of Ms Pamyu Pamyu!
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Echos Of Signals Pastsignal strength
Sunday 30 November, 2014, 11:02 - Radio Randomness
Posted by Administrator
It's easy to forget that the radio spectrum has been in use for over 100 years, but that then (as now!) communications has not always been wireless.

During World War I, teams of 'signals' engineers risked life and limb to lay down wires to allow communication between the front line and the headquarters.

"Signals From The Great War" takes the reader back to these times through a series of mémoires written by Archibald Gordon MacGregor RE MC combined to tell the story of a young signals officer's experiences on the front line in Belgium and France from 1917 - 1919.

Though the mémoires were written in 1968, almost 50 years after the events they are describing, the level of detail and clarity are impressive and the book makes for a fascinating read for anyone interested in finding out more about military communications before radio became the default means of information distribution.

It is gratifying to note that Lieutenant MacGregor received the military cross for his bravery.
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