Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
Radio Caroline 648 kHzsignal strength
Wednesday 22 November, 2017, 15:31 - Broadcasting, Licensed, Pirate/Clandestine
Posted by Administrator
radio caroline 648 khzWireless Waffle previously sang the praises of the boat trips to visit the Ross Revenge, the home of former radio pirate, Radio Caroline. We also noted that they had been awarded a licence to operate a 1 kiloWatt transmitter on 648 kHz in the Suffolk and north Essex area.

Well, it seems the engineering bods on the east coast have managed to get it together, and recently test transmissions on 648 kHz were spotted by a number of listeners, such as a DXer in Humberside who posted the video below on YouTube.



Though you may not be able to interpret the waterfall display shown on the video, what you see is the Radio Caroline signal in the middle. The two bright lines either side represent radio stations on the adjacent frequencies (639 and 657 kHz respectively). Normally, for AM broadcasting, each station would be allowed to occupy half of the bandwidth between its assigned frequency and the adjacent channels, meaining that it would extend +/- 4.5 kHz either side of its centre frequency. It is this limitation they gives medium and long wave broadcasting their characteristic 'muddy' sound, as the limitation in spectrum also restricts the amount of audio bandwidth that can be transmitted.

It's therefore notable that the Radio Caroline transmission on 648 kHz extends far closer to the adjacent frequencies than 4.5 kHz. It appears closer to +/- 6.5 kHz wide (or maybe even more). This would allow the station to transmit a wider audio bandwidth and thus sound a little 'brighter' on-air. Such derogations from the norm are not unusual as the medium wave band has become emptier, as there is more space for stations to spread out and sound better.

As an example, the three audio clips below have been filtered with different bandwidths. Just click on the relevant button to hear the difference (note that this doesn't work in all browsers.

Audio BandwidthPlay
15 kHz, stereo (FM Stereo)FM Stereo
6.5 kHz, mono (extended bandwidth AM)AM 6.5 kHz
4.5 kHz, mono (standard bandwidth AM)AM 4.5 kHz

trevor radio carolineGiven that of the neighbouring frequencies, the nearest stations on 639 kHz are in the Czech Republic and Spain (previously crowned the queen of medium-wave broadcasting) and on 657 kHz in Spain (again) and North Wales, it seems unlikely that the additional bandwidth being used by Radio Caroline will give any problems and we are sure that listeners will enjoy the cleaner, brighter sound that they will have on-air.
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Digital UK Magic Spectrum from Nowheresignal strength
Tuesday 21 November, 2017, 10:27 - Broadcasting, Licensed, Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
digital uk nov 2017Digital UK, the organisation responsible for promoting digital terrestrial television in the UK, has recently published a white paper it commissioned from consultants Aetha and Webb Search entitled 'The defragmentation dividend: A more efficient use of the UHF band'. The paper hypothesises that by re-organising the UHF (e.g. sub 1 GHz) spectrum available to mobile operators, it would be possible to use it more efficiently and deliver more service from the same amount of spectrum.

The paper identifies the fact that, at present, the 'digital dividend' spectrum (e.g. that which has been released from television broadcasting due to the increased efficiency of digital transmission over its old analogue counterpart), is broken up into a number of fragmented pieces whose usage is not optimum. This is certainly true: the figure below shows the current set of allocations within the frequency range 694 - 960 MHz.

694 960 mhz plan

The mobile allocations at present are as follows:

BandUplink (MHz)Downlink (MHz)Amount (MHz)Notes
900 MHz876-915921-96078Including GSM-R
800 MHz832-862791-82160
700 MHz (a)703-733758-78860FDD
700 MHz (b)738-75315TDD or Downlink
TOTAL213

In addition there is approximately 29 MHz set-aside for short-range devices. Thus, of the total of 266 MHz of spectrum between 694 and 960 MHz, 213 MHz (80%) is allocated to mobile services, 29 MHz (11%) for short-range devices leaving 24 MHz (9%) 'empty' (mostly for guard-bands to protect services on adjacent frequencies from interfering with each other). The theory is that by re-arranging the band, it is possible to use all of the small gaps that currently exist between the various mobile allocations (e.g. the 9% that is empty) for more mobile services.

One of the problems of the plans proposed in the report is that although they increase the amount of spectrum for mobile services to up to 250 MHz in their most extreme case, they also reduce the amount available for short-range devices from 29 MHz to just 16 MHz. Whilst you may be thinking, "isn't mobile a better use of spectrum than short-range devices", the fact is that an increasingly wide ecosystem of devices is supported in this spectrum. It includes radiomicrophones and wireless headphones but perhaps even more critically, a growing number of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies that are seen by many as being at the centre of the next stages in the development of the Internet. This includes sensors (e.g. thermostats, light sensors), smart meters (electricity, gas and water) and a wide range of smart-city applications such as transport management. Digital UK's proposed plans involve changing the frequencies used by these devices, which is notoriously difficult. How long, for example, do the keyfobs that unlock your car door last - as long as the vehicle itself in most cases. So clearing a short-range device frequency won't be completed until every device in a band has been replaced by a new one.

The report only pays passing comment to the new 600 MHz mobile band that is being implemented in the USA. In fact, the report seems to suggest that even its most conservative re-organisation option would release so much capacity that there would be no need for the 600 MHz band:
...even the more modest increase of 25% in Option 1 would be similar to the capacity that could be provided by repurposing the 600MHz band...

mobile uplink downlinkIt makes this claim as a result of an oddity of current mobile technology, in which the amount of spectrum (and capacity) that is available to a mobile user is roughly equally split in the uplink and downlink directions (e.g. to the network from the user, and from the network to the user respectively). If the band was re-purposed as Time Division Duplex (TDD), the share of uplink and downlink capacity can be changed, and the report assumes that 80% of overall capacity would be made available for downlink and 20% for uplink (this is in fact in line with current estimates of the real split of usage). If this is the crux of the argument, then doing nothing at all to actually change the overall amount of mobile capacity available, but changing all of the existing allocations to TDD would approximately yield a 60% 'improvement' in downlink capacity, but this would be to the loss of uplink capacity which would fall by 250%! There is no gain without pain. In addition, TDD operators in adjacent mobile spectrum need to fully synchronise their networks otherwise there needs to be a guard-band between them, reducing the overall efficiency of use and opening up new gaps.

Whilst the report makes a valid argument about whether the future of mobile should be TDD or FDD, it is perhaps no surprise that it chooses this solution to theorise about an improvement in the efficiency of use of UHF spectrum, over and above the use of the new 600 MHz band, whose use would obviously entail the loss of (yet) more spectrum for digital terrestrial television. Sadly for Digital UK, the required pain, in terms of re-organising existing mobile networks, and replacing all short-range devices is sadly never going to counterbalance the gain of a few extra MHz of UHF spectrum.
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Ross Revenge Boat Tripssignal strength
Thursday 31 August, 2017, 14:06 - Broadcasting, Licensed, Pirate/Clandestine
Posted by Administrator
Wireless Waffle recently spotted that boat trips to see Radio Caroline's ship, the Ross Revenge, were available to book from their web-site (follow the link) and so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to don an anorak and set sail. On the day of the visit, the weather was beautiful, sunny, 26C and the sea was calm, but it isn't always like that. Boarding the Razorbill 3 , the tender which takes you from the jetty at West Mersea out to the Ross Revenge, it was a pleasure to see so many families taking advantage of the weather to go crabbing. The ride out took about 25 minutes and was a delight in itself with the cool sea air rushing past.

caroline ross revenge 1Pulling alongside the boat, it looked exactly as it does in all the postcards, though the current mast is a lot smaller than the 100 metre mast that was in use for transmission during Radio Caroline's heyday. Arrival onto the boat was greeted by a cup of tea and a fig roll in the mess and a description of the history of the boat, which turns out to have been a prize Grimsby-based fishing boat originally made as an Icelandic ice-breaker. Much of the tour of the boat is about the Ross Revenge itself, as well as the catastrophic events of October 1987 which saw the original mast collapse in a storm.

caroline ampliphase 50kw transmitterOf course no tour of such an historic ship would be complete without a visit to the studios and the technical facilities such as the engine room, generator room and of course the transmitter room. The 50 kW 'Ampliphase' transmitter consumed nearly 1 tonne of fuel per day to operate so it's no wonder that getting supplies to the boat, including diesel and fresh water, were so critical.

Though the notion of being a pirate at sea may seem romantic, it is clear that the lives of the DJs and other staff must, at times, have been pretty miserable. The cabins below the deck are relatively spartan and if it was blowing a gale, there couldn't have been much to do if you weren't on air.

caroline ross revenge mastThe return from the ship to the shore was equally exhilarating and you left with a lot of respect for those who took to the seas to try and deliver a radio service that filled the gap left by the legal, land-based services.

The tour comes with the Wireless Waffle 'big thumbs up' seal of approval, and is highly recommended. Obviously the weather can not be guaranteed, but an interesting and enlightening day-out is assured.

Recently, Radio Caroline has been awarded a licence by Ofcom to operate a 1 kW medium wave service on the old BBC World Service channel of 648 kHz. Whether the station can hold its own in today's crowded, on-line, market remains to be seen, but there will no doubt be a few anoraks tuning in for old time's sake. And maybe they can re-capture the spirit of those halcyon days without needing sea sick buckets.
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We're Jammin' (Part V)signal strength
Monday 19 December, 2016, 13:59 - Amateur Radio, Broadcasting, Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
keyfob womanWireless Waffle last discussed the issue of interference to and from wireless car keys and other similar devices back in 2013, but the topic has cropped up here almost since time immemorial. The original articles discussed the fact that the frequency band used for these devices (around 433.925 MHz) was shared with radio amateurs and that not only were the radio amateurs suffering from interference but that there were cases of car users getting stuck either unable to lock or unlock their cars due to nearby amateur radio transmissions.

But it seems that the situation has changed and that criminals have cottoned on to the fact that it's possible to jam the transmissions between cars and their keys to their benefit. The BBC reports that thieves in a car park in Berkshire had been 'using car key jammers' and also provides useful advice on the impact and implications of car key jammers.

Now far be it for Wireless Waffle to condone such activities, but it is so brain-achingly simple, and mind-bogglingly cheap, to jam these signals, that it's a surprise that it has taken criminals so long to figure out how to do it.

pofung 40w uhfTransmissions from car key fobs normally use either amplitude modulation or fairly crude frequency modulation and the transmitters have a power level of no more than 10 milliWatts. The receivers in the vehicles are manufactured to a price point of around 50 pence and are woefully inadequate at protecting against interference. Thus, a strong enough signal on the same frequency as the car key transmitter (or indeed on a neighbouring one) will overwhealm the low power transmission from the keys. A 40 Watt transmitter (4000 times stronger than the signal from the keys) operating in the same band can be purchased on-line for little more than GBP100.

Such a transmitter would be a brute force way to stop the receiver in the car from being able to hear the signal from the key. This would stop the key from being able to lock the car, meaning that an unsuspecting driver could get out of the car and casually press the button on their key and walk away without listening for the corresponding 'clunk' of the car locking, not realising that the car has not locked. This would clearly leave the car unlocked and easy pickings for a thief.

In principal it would be easy to go one stage further. With a simple receiver it would be possible to record the transmission from the key, and using a low power transmitter, it would be feasible to re-create the signal. In this case, it would be possible for a criminal to unlock a car after it had been safely locked by the driver. Don't say we didn't warn you.

car thiefThis is not just possible for car keys, but for any devices which operate in a similar manner. The 433 MHz band used for these devices is replete with a variety of signals from wireless devices such as garage doors, parking barriers and devices for which an attack would be less significant such as weather stations and doorbells. The chart below (known as a waterfall chart) shows, from top to bottom, around 2 minutes of time, and from left to right, the middle portion of the 433 MHz band. A wide range of different transmissions are shown as bars or dots and it is clear there's plenty afoot here despite the transmission area of the devices being very small and thus the limited number of devices in range of the receiver used to perform this scan.

433 mhz band scan

As the number and variety of wireless devices increases, in particular as we progress to the world of the 'Internet of Things' in which there will be sensors and actuators everywhere, it is clear that the security of wireless connections needs beefing up. If you are concerned about your car being 'hacked' by criminals, the best way is to disable the convenience of the wireless key locks and return to the old-fashioned technique of putting the key for your car into the door. Sadly, some modern cars don't actually have this feature any more!
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