Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
Top 10 European Medium Wave Countriessignal strength
Tuesday 29 November, 2016, 18:27 - Broadcasting, Licensed
Posted by Administrator
laser 558 communicatorAs a child, the medium wave band was a mysterious place replete with strong international broadcasters such as Radio Sweden International, Radio Moscow and the BBC, and who could forget the thrill of tuning into the medium wave pirates of the past, whether it was Radio Caroline in the 1960s, the land based pirates such as Radio Jackie in the 1970s, or Laser 558 in the 1980s. Being something of a radio back-water these days, the medium wave band is not something that Wireless Waffle has paid much attention to. So on a recent night-time road-trip where there was little else to do, the journey was shortened by the unforgiving task of working the way along the medium wave dial to see what was there these days.

flevo mw transmitterIt is evident that the UK still has a prestigious number of medium wave stations, though many are geared towards older listeners (whose hearing is no doubt so frequency constrained that the limited bandwidth of AM sounds just as clear as FM) and whose service area is relatively limited due to the lower powers used (most UK local AM stations have transmitter powers around 500 Watts). At night, however, is when the band comes alive and stations from all over Europe (and even further afield) become audible. Tuning around at night reveals one key fact: Spain appears to be the king of the medium wave band. On almost any clear frequency, it is the Spanish radio stations that seem to dominate. Germany has now ceased medium wave broadcasting, and there are a diminishing number of stations in France and the Netherlands (even stalwart Radio 538 on 891 kHz recently closed down just a couple of weeks ago on 26 October).

Of course, when driving it's difficult to simultaneously look up what stations are on a particular frequency (unless you have a willing passenger) so any interesting stations and frequencies have to be committed to memory for later research. One such station and frequency that sprang up was I Am Radio on 1350 kHz. At the time of listening, it was playing almost non-stop obscure disco tracks with occasional announcements and news (from NPR) in English and the odd announcement in Italian. It is the Italian language announcements that give a clue as to the station's provenance, and a bit of web-searching later revealed that the station is 'semi-pirate'. Exactly what this means is not clear but it seems to suggest that it is not a totally legitimate organisation.

i am radio 1350 amThe signal on 1350 kHz is surprisingly strong, given the stated night-time transmitter power of just 1 kW (though there are rumours of an increase to 50 kW being due). And as the frequency is almost completely clear of interference from any high power transmitters in Europe (if you exclude the 850 kW mammoth or TWR Asia in Armenia), reception is surprisingly good. If obscure disco and news from the USA is your thing, why not give it a try. They claim a contact address of 'info@iamradio.am' though the associated web-address only yields a parking page.

But coming back to the question of which European country rules the medium wave band, Wireless Waffle has conducted an analysis of the stations currently on air to find out which country uses the most frequencies and which country emits the most power into the ether, based on data from MW List.

The answers are maybe not that surprising. The top 10 European medium wave countries in terms of the numbers of frequencies used (out of the 120 possible channels from 531 to 1602 kHz inclusive) are as follows:

PositionCountryFrequencies Used
1Spain69
2United Kingdom68
3Romania26
4Italy21
5The Netherlands10
6Greece9
7=Portugal8
7=Czech Republic8
9Poland7
10=Cyprus6
10=Hungary6

So Spain really are medium wave royalty, if the number of frequencies in use is the measure. But what about if the total amount of power radiated into the ether is taken into account. The results look as follows:

PositionCountryPower Emitted (kW)
1Spain5190
2United Kingdom4130
3Romania3905
4Hungary2510
5Cyprus1910
6Czech Republic1150
7France1010
8Macedonia400
9Italy390
10Belgium310

spain retains crownSpain retains its crown as the top medium wave transmitting country in Europe with over 5 MegaWatts of radiated power, but some surprising new countries appear lower down the top 10. Hungary jumps from joint 10th to 4th. France has only 3 medium wave frequencies in use but as one of these is the behemoth 1000 kW transmitter of TWR Europe on 1467 kHz this dwarfs many of the other countries who have a greater number of transmitters but of much lower power. Belgium has only 2 active medium wave frequencies but at 300 kW, RTBF International on 621 kHz tips the scales in their favour to bring them in at (this week's) number 10.

dab technologyWhat does this tell us? Nothing in particular, and definitely nothing of any use or value, it's just a somewhat pointless academic exercise. But it does suggest that if you are a manufacturer of AM transmitters, you should undoubtedly aim to site your offices in London, Madrid and Bucharest. Or that if you are learning Spanish, you might do well to buy a medium wave radio and tune around the band at night!
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FM Bandscan, Lomé, Togosignal strength
Thursday 30 June, 2016, 12:43 - Broadcasting, Licensed
Posted by Administrator
Information on broadcast radio stations that are actually on-air in various cities around the world is sometimes easy to get hold of, and sometimes very difficult. For many African countries, the situation is quite dynamic as stations come and go, and also many stations have no web presence (whether web-site or streaming) making verifying things very complex.

As occasional readers may be aware, the Wireless Waffle team travel to some pretty out-of-the-way places in pursuit of digging out the most important factlets regarding all matters related to radio spectrum. And with that in mind, we bring you a bandscan of the FM band in Lomé, the capital city of Togo in West Africa.

FrequencyStationNotes
89.9City FMStereo89 9 city fm lome
91 9 sport fm lome
92 3 zephyr fm lome
93 1 taxi fm lome
93 5 kanal fm lome
95 5 nana fm lome
96 3 victoire fm lome
97 9 radio maria lome
99 5 radio lome lome
105 5 radio ephphata lome
91.5RFI 1 AfriqueStereo. RDS: Radio France Internat
91.9Sport FMStereo
92.3ZephyrStereo
93.1Taxi FMStereo
93.5Kanal FMStereo
94.3Radio ZionStereo
95.5Nana FMStereo. RDS: Test 123
96.1Victory FMAflao, Ghana
96.3Victoire FMStereo
97.1Radio Metropolys Lome
97.5BBC World ServiceStereo
97.9Radio Maria Togo
98.7Bonne Nouvelle
99.5Radio LomeStereo
100.7Radio De L'EvangileStereo
101.1Radio Horizon
101.5Radio KaraStereo
102.7KNTB
103.1Radio Carre Jaune
103.9Frequence 1
105.1Radio Ephphata La Voix Du PresbyterienRDS: RADIO | EPHPHATA | LA VOIX | DU | PRESBYTE | RIEN
105.5SinaiStereo. RDS: FM 105.5
106.3Providence
Correct as of 30 June, 2016
For a country where the average annual income is just US$650, there sure are a lot of radio stations on the air!
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Is the UK overpaying for the digital dividend?signal strength
Monday 29 February, 2016, 08:16 - Broadcasting, Licensed
Posted by Administrator
Some time ago, Wireless Waffle discussed the various bidders to provide the television transmitter network for the UK's fledgling local TV stations. As part of this, the company responsible for providing the transmitters and masts for all of the other UK digital terrestrial television stations, tax evading transmitter supremos Arqiva, provided indicative figures for the costs of building the local TV transmitters. Their 'Reference Offer' details, on a site-by-site basis, the costs, as Arqiva saw them, of providing the requisite service together with the cost of providing 'network access' only (e.g. the rental of space on their masts). The figures vary by a factor of about 8 to 1 between different sites. But to what extent are Arqiva beefing up the actual costs to make a profit on their largely monopolistic position?

sheffield tv transmitterMaybe an example would be useful, so let's consider their proposals for the Sheffield transmitter, one of the cheapest in their offer. Their prices are as follows:
  • GBP 147,397 one-off costs, and;
  • an annual fee of GBP 17,783.
The one-off costs include site planning, preparation and installation, antennas, transmitter and multiplexer and the annual fees include rental of the site, a management fee, electricity, rent, light and heating.

According to Ofcom's local TV feasibility study, the technical details for the Sheffield site are:
  • Frequency: Television Channel 55, vertically polarised
  • Transmitter power: 100 Watts e.r.p. requiring a transmitter output power of 28 Watts (taking into account antenna gain and cable loss)
  • Antenna height: 43 metres
  • Antenna type: 2 x log periodic on a bearing of 110 degrees
Let's start with the stuff we have to buy. A 28 Watt DVB-T transmitter costs around GBP 10,000. Antennas can be had for GBP 100 each and we need two. Cable (let's assume 60 metres to allow a few metres at the bottom of the mast to reach the transmitter and a few left spare) of LDF4-50 which gives less than 3dB of loss, is around GBP5 per metre, making a total of GBP 300 for the cable. The mast of the tower is 52 metres high, so let's assume GBP 2500 to make space for the local TV antenna. And to be generous, let's add in another GBP 5000 for sundries such as connections to electricity, rack space and so on. Much of the remaining DTT functions (e.g. multiplexer and encoder) can be done in software, so GBP 2500 for a high-end PC to do some storage, playout, encoding and multiplexing. This makes a total capital spend of GBP 18000. Even accounting for a very healthy profit margin this means that Arqiva are charging well over GBP 100,000 for 'site planning, preparation and installation'. Maybe television engineers are particularly expensive in Sheffield?

working on transmitterAs for the annual costs, let's say it requires a visit every month to check on how it's working and this is one person dedicated for the day (though no doubt they would be checking on all the other transmitters on the site too), at a reasonable estimate of GBP 500 per day, to include the cost of petrol and transport, this equates to GBP 6000 per year. The power required for a 28 Watt transmitter assuming it is 20% efficient, is 140 Watts (equating to 1,227 kWh of electricity per year) which at today's prices would cost around GBP 122 per year. Allowing a further GBP 500 per month towards the maintenance of the buildings, air conditioning, mast and so forth (noting that these will have already been paid for by the existing tennants), the total annual fees would be around GBP 12,122. The annual fee proposed by Arqiva is therefore not as badly over-egged, no doubt the 'management fee' covers a lot of this difference.

So, in conclusion:
  • Arqiva seem to have extensively overpriced the capital work associated with providing and installing the local TV transmitter; but
  • The proposed annual fee seems much more reasonable.
Moving forward to today, the European Commission has just published a report by consultants LS telcom and VVA which, amongst other things, examines the cost of changing the frequency of all the digital television transmitters in Europe to clear the 700 MHz band, whilst at the same time migrating to DVB-T2. The costs detailed in the report, catchily entitled, 'Study on Economic and Social Impact of Repurposing the 700 MHz band for Wireless Broadband Services in the EU', are that to do this mammoth re-engineering task would cost between EUR 456 and EUR 888 million.

The study makes the assumptions that:
  • Existing antennas are broadband and can be re-used;
  • Existing transmitters will be upgraded rather than replaced.
These two assumptions are open to challenge. Whilst most new UHF antennas are broadband and thus in theory would not need changing, there can be instances where antennas have been designed to provide very specific radiation patterns (e.g. to provide nulls in certain directions for co-ordination purposes) and thus a change in frequency would affect their radiation pattern and may require a new antenna. Evidence suggests, however, that the transmitters themselves should be able to be converted from DVB-T to DVB-T2 by only replacing the modulator.

dvb t2 conversion
Source: Assessing the technical requirements and implications of DVB-T transitions

The 'cost per transmitter' given in the report ranges from EUR 20,000 to around EUR 50,000, which seems reasonable given the assumptions made. Arqiva's estimate for re-tuning the UK's transmitter network to clear the 700 MHz band provides values ranging from GBP 310 to GBP 470 million (approximately EUR 400 to EUR 600 million) putting the price for re-farming the 700 MHz band in the UK at approximately the same level as the Commission report identifies for the whole of the EU!

There are approximately 1,200 transmitter sites in the UK, the smaller ones with three multiplexes on them and the larger 90 or so with six, seven or eight, making roughly 4,000 transmitters in the UK. Taking the consultants' report's 'per transmitter' value, the price for re-farming the spectrum in the UK ought to be nearer to EUR 80 to 200 million, a factor of 2 to 8 times removed from the prices quoted by Arqiva, depending on which end of the ranges quoted you take.

So who is right? It seems that the two reports are doing something slightly different:
  • The Commission's report assumes that existing multiplexes and frequencies are converted to DVB-T2 and as such fewer are needed. In only very few cases would there therefore need to be a change in frequency, as the additional capacity of T2 (and MPEG-4) would mean existing frequencies could largely be re-used.
  • The Arqiva report is trying to move all existing multiplexes (whether DVB-T or DVB-T2) to new frequencies, which is (clearly!) a much more expensive undertaking.
arqiva happy moneyPerhaps Ofcom should take a leaf from the Commission's book, and instead of trying to re-engineer the UK's DTT network to be the same, should instead take the opportunity to convert the network to be DVB-T2 only and save a lot of money in the process. Given the timetable for the clearance of the 700 MHz band (e.g. around 2020), and that typical television replacement cycles are 7 years, the average British household would already have a T2 receiver by then... Then again, no doubt Arqiva could find some 'management costs' to soak up any savings!
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Pirate radio to go digitalsignal strength
Saturday 23 January, 2016, 11:49 - Broadcasting, Licensed, Pirate/Clandestine, Radio Randomness, Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
The number of pirate radio stations on-air in London does not appear to have diminished over the past 10 or more years, despite there now being many legal ways in which stations could reach their audiences, most recently though streaming audio on-line.

brighton dab transmitterOfcom has recently proposed that many local radio stations could be accommodated on 'small scale DAB' transmitters which provide a localised service, and it is conducting a number of trials around the UK of such a service. The idea is to use low cost hardware and software to develop the DAB signals, for example using a USRP software radio, and the various software tools provided by the Open Digital Radio project. Using these, it is possible to put a (very) low power DAB station on-air for less than GBP1000 and with a suitable power amplifier (for example a 30 Watt Mitsubishi amplifier module, or how's about a 1.2 kW amplifier module), a DAB transmitter with reasonable coverage can be built for not that much more. Indeed research conducted for Ofcom suggests that a 100 Watt e.r.p. service using such technology could be provided to broadcasters for around GBP1400 per year (at a bit rate of 160 kbps which is far higher quality than most of the existing UK DAB services!)

An article in spectrum newsletter PolicyTracker entitled, 'Can DAB save us from the pirates?' (note - a subscription is required to read the full article), makes the point that the criteria which the UK has set to begin the digital switch-over of radio services (e.g. the turning off of analogue services in favour of digital) is almost upon us. The criteria is that 50% of UK listening should be on a digital platform (whether DAB, on-line, cable, satellite or other) and the latest figures show this is now up to 43%, though as Wireless Waffle has pointed out before, the proportion of digital listening appears to have stagnated. If the UK does set a date for the winding down of FM radio, one of two things could happen:
  1. pirates may move to digital platforms, in order to be found on the same dial as other stations; or
  2. pirates may take the opportunity of an emptier FM band to choose clearer frequencies, increase their power, or just increase the number of services.

The problem is that in either case there is no guarantee that the pirates would do this in a legal fashion. Pirate radio stations are not renowned for co-operating with each other so why would they pay to be on a DAB platform, rather than buy the equipment themselves and set up digital pirate stations? The answer might come in the form of the reduced number of frequencies available. In the FM band, assuming a station every 300 kHz (which is just about OK from an interference perspective), there is room for 68 stations on the dial. Taking into account the 20 or so legal stations already on-air in London (depending on what you count as London), this leaves a potential for 48 pirates. For DAB radio, which requires 1.4 MHz of spectrum to operate, there is room for just 32 transmissions in any one location. In London 4 of these frequency blocks are in use, leaving 28 'available'.

local dab radio"Ah", you say, "but each DAB multiplex can carry 10 or more stations, so really the number is 280". That is true, but this requires the pirates to club together to buy and operate the equipment and, as already stated, they aren't that good at this. Perhaps the business model they employ could change, and a smaller number of illegal transmitter operators could provide services to multiple pirate stations. Or perhaps a small number of legal transmitter operators could provide the same service. The problem here seems to be that in order to legitimise the pirates, they would have to be invited to 'come in from the cold', and Ofcom would have to have a set of licensing policies that were sufficiently lax to permit 24 stations all playing the same kind of electro-shed, play-house or garage-door music onto the dial. It is almost certain that the existing legitimate stations would object to this on the grounds that it would provide unfair competition. But the fact is that such competition already exists on the FM band, and at least if it were done under a licensed framework, there would be some control over what went on, and thus greater protection of the existing 'big boys'.

Maybe Ofcom could take a leaf out of the book of the Lebanese regulator (the TRA) who offered all unlicensed FM operators (which was a large proportion of the country's stations at the time), a licence, if they came forward and provided the necessary details of their transmitting facilities (power, frequency, antenna height and so on). Most stations did this, wishing to gain legitimacy for their service. As soon as they did, however, the TRA could begin to change frequencies, powers and so on to bring the stations in-line, through a proper legal framework that allowed them to inflict penalties if people refused.

pirate surrenderAnother model might be for Ofcom to licence small-scale DAB operators, but not to set any criteria over which stations are carried on the multiplex, other than their normal broadcasting code which is designed, for example, to stop politically motivated stations from using the airwaves in an partial way. Other than a bit of swearing here and there, most pirate stations would probably already meet most of the rules. This is not dissimilar to the way in which Ofcom licenses digital television, with multiplexes being awarded to companies who are then largely at liberty to select which programmes they include.

In either of the above cases, whether the idea that Ofcom could have an 'amnesty' for pirates, if they agreed to go onto small DAB multiplexes, or if the operation of the DAB multiplexes were made flexible enough to accommodate pirate stations being on them, there might be a sufficient increase the listening to DAB services such that the necessary 50% switch-over threshold is reached sooner rather than later. A 'win-win' situation?
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