Friday 1 January, 2010, 00:14 - Pirate/ClandestineRegulars 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.
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One 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.
Tuesday 1 December, 2009, 01:21 - Spectrum ManagementSome 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.
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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.
TV 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.
Tuesday 20 October, 2009, 14:29 - Pirate/ClandestineA 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.
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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. These 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?!
Thursday 24 September, 2009, 14:12 - Spectrum ManagementWell who would have thought it! According to many pages on the subject across the internet, hang gliders have a special arrangement with Ofcom to allow them easy access to various radio frequencies without needing a licence! Yes, apparently a chap called Rod Buck, the then radio officer of the British Hang Gliding and Parachute Association (BHPA) reached an 'agreement' with the Radiocommunications Agency some years ago (must have been quite some years as the Agency was disbanded in 2003) that they could use a set of radio frequencies for air to air and air to ground communications and as long as they stuck to them the Agency would 'turn a blind eye'.
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What are these frequencies? 143.750 to 143.950 MHz in 25 kHz steps. If you don't believe me, take a look here. The top of this frequency range, 143.950 MHz, is the unofficial calling channel and from the Wireless Waffle HQ it is alive most days with chitter chatter from enthusiasts dodging in and out of planes, talking about the weather and checking out possible landing sites.
Now it's true to say that the use of radio when airborne presents lots of safety benefits, and it's clear from much of the communication that goes on that the guys dipping and diving around are helping each other out. But there are official frequencies for this purpose. The problem with these official frequencies is that the equipment required to use them is expensive and a licence must be obtained (albeit at just £75 per year), whereas the unofficial frequencies come at no charge and equipment can be had from certain on-line auction sites for less than £50 all sold.
Notwithstanding the safety benefits though, the use of these frequencies is, to all intents and purposes, illegal. There is plenty of illegal frequency usage around, from pirate broadcasters to Brazilian satellite hijackers but in all these cases, if the user suffers from interference due to a legitimate user then there is really no harm done as the user's use of radio is not in any way safety related (this is not to say that the legitimate user does not suffer, just that the suffering of the illegitimate user is largely inconsequential). In the case of hang gliders, however, the situation is very different. If they suffer from interference then the implication is that air safety (and possibly even safety of life) is compromised which is quite a big deal when you think about it.
One forum post states:
These frequencies are not currently used or allocated elsewhere, so you won't interfere with anyone else.
That's not strictly true. The frequencies are actually allocated, in the UK, for 'Land Mobile' services, though at an international (ITU) level they are allocated for Off-Route (eg Military) Aeronautical Mobile use. According to the UK frequency allocation table (FAT) the band 143 to 144 MHz is set-aside for emergency service use. In terms of actual frequencies assignments, it is fair to say that they do seem to be few and far between in this frequency range though there is some evidence to suggest that the US Air Force as well as the Metropolitan Police in London use the frequencies, and that they may well be some of the emptier frequencies being considered to alleviate demand for spectrum during the 2012 London Olympics.
Anyway, given the agreement that these users are supposed to have have reached with the regulatory authorities, we here at Wireless Waffle feel that there is plenty of scope to apply the same approach to some other areas of regulation too.
* Allow electric cars to use either side of the road, as long as they keep their lights turned off and aren't painted a bright colour.
* Let children cross railway lines (including level crossings) at any time if they are standing near nettles, or being chased by bees, wasps or other stingy things.
* Permit short people to set fire to whatever they like but only if the device used to start the fire can be hidden if anyone approaches.
* Encourage demolition crews to trigger explosions more straightforwardly by simply shining a green torch at the detonator.
* Allow mains wiring in all new houses to be any colour the electricial likes, as long as it fits with the painter's colour scheme.
* Make sure that all knives sold to people weighing under 154 lb (70 kg), of whatever age, are longer than 18 inches and lethally sharp.
* Inform aircraft to keep from crashing into each other by communicating using semaphore and old tin-cans.
Oh, hang on, apparently the Radiocommunications Agency have secretly agreed the last of these with the Civil Aviation Authority. We await the small print of the manifestos of the various political parties at the next election with great interest to see if any other of our other ideas come to fruition or what else the good folk of the UK will be allowed to get away with. Actually, it's pretty clear why aircraft and hang gliders are allowed to act illegaly and not get prosecuted: they are above the law!