Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
Hop to it!signal strength
Friday 25 January, 2013, 13:45 - Radio Randomness, Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
Wireless Waffle received an e-mail from Des of Ireland. Des writes:
Since early May I have been noticing many many frequencies being occupied by very short bursts of digital 'noise' which are random in their frequency and time but very recognisable. So far pattern emerged is that they follow an 8 kHz spacing right across the HF bands (from 3.4 MHz to 28.5 MHz), but mainly in 6 to 9 MHz region. Even 6622kHz Shanwick being clobbered ... These noise bursts in the HF bands intrigue me, I wondered if it is a basic military comms set-up in case satellites/internet/microwave/fible-cable are clobbered.

Take a look a the picture below (click on it to open a much larger version). It is a snapshot of the radio spectrum between roughly 6550 and 6950 kHz taken using the University of Twente's on-line receiver in the Netherlands (which is a marvel in itself). The snapshot was taken at about 07:00 GMT. The horizontal axis shows the frequency, the vertical axis is time (in thie case about a minute). Straight vertical lines represent constant transmissions. Dotted ones (such as the broken line just above 6600 kHz) are morse code. Other squiggles that are roughly vertical are all manner of other signals that can be found on the HF bands.

hf frequency hopper

What is of interest here are the horizontal dashes of which there are three at the top left hand corner (just under 6550 kHz), four just below 6950 kHz and various others scattered across the chart, seemingly randomly (see around 6665 kHz and 6555 kHz for two bright ones). These are not bugs in the University's software, nor are they local interference in Twente. What they are are bursts of data from a frequency hopping transmitter. If you tune into one of the frequencies just at the time when the transmission is taking place on that frequency, you will hear a 'chuff' noise which is the quick burst of data that is being sent. If you happen across a frequency that has multiple 'hops' on it, the effect is not totally unlike there being a steam train on the frequency (listen to this actual recording).

At HF, this hopping transmission is almost certainly military in nature. Frequency hopping at HF is not at all uncommon. Even back in the 1980s, Racal's TRA 931XH would happily hop around the HF bands. In the case of the '931XH it did this by changing frequency roughly every second. Transmissions were just SSB (with an initial data burst to synchronise the receiver and transmitter - this is essential so that the two follow the same sequence of frequencies). The Wireless Waffle team had the fun of seeing a demo of the '931XH which was set to hop from frequencies between around 6950 and 7450 kHz, right across the 41m broadcast band. The effect of the hopping was to change the background noise every second or so - sometimes with a loud whistle caused by the carriers of the broadcast signals. The effect to anyone who happened to listen on a frequency that was being used would have been that they would have heard speech for a second which would then disappear.

hop to itThere's nothing unusual about the use of frequency hopping transmitters. Your bluetooth headset does this, and most GSM networks are set up to use frequency hopping too. The reason for using frequency hopping can be many and various, such as:
  • Hopping around makes the transmission much more difficult to detect. Unless you know the sequence of frequencies being used, it's almost impossible to follow the transmission from one frequency to the next.
  • Hopping can overcome some kinds of interference. If one frequency is blocked (from a broadcast transmission for example) the information sent on that frequency is lost, but if most are clear of interference, the error correction schemes can be arranged to deal with missing blocks and the overall communication is unaffected.
  • Hopping can help overcome fading and propagation problems. In a GSM network for example, Rayleigh fading will cause some channels to have deep fades and others not. Hopping around makes sure that these 'dead' channels do not cause a total lack of communication.
It's not surprising then that the military are using hopping on the HF bands (nor anywhere else for that matter). The question that remains unanswered is whether the military still need HF given all their other channels of communication. Patently they do!
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What do coffee, books, fiddles and TV pictures have in common?signal strength
Wednesday 16 January, 2013, 03:58 - Broadcasting
Posted by Administrator
The UK public has been angered recently at the discovery that some high profile companies used various 'fiddles' to avoid paying tax. At a time when UK incomes have been squeezed, the idea that big name companies have not been contributing to the UK tax coffers left them hopping mad. The first company to be outed was Starbucks who, despite generating £400 million in revenues, paid less than three pence and a used muffin wrapper in corporation tax (corporation tax normally represents 20% of a company's profit).

Next up was Amazon whose sales in 2011 generated £3.35 billion yet who paid only £1.8 million in corporation tax. Even internet behemoth Google paid only £6 million in corporation tax against a turnover of £395 million.

These foreign companies largely argue that they pay tax elsewhere (presumably in countries where the tax burden is lower) and would end up being overcharged if they paid more in the UK. It should also not be forgotten that they generate VAT and pay income tax and national insurance for their employees, but nonetheless their tax affairs are more akin to the affairs in a bordello than those of honour.

spectrum pricingBut it seems that such activities are not just connected with foreign companies. Arqiva, the company responsible for transmitting all terrestrial television programmes across the UK (and many of the satellite programmes too) has, according to the Sunday Times, also been using some creative accounting to reduce its tax bill. The 'fiddle' they have employed is to get their parent companies (who are shareholders) to loan them money, but at a high interest rate, far above that which they would need to pay to take a loan at the bank. The repayments for these loans are taken from the accounts before dividends or the profit for tax purposes are calculated thus providing excellent returns to shareholders and also reducing Arqiva's corporation tax liability.

Arqiva's accounts show that shareholders took out £120m in 2012 and £106m in 2011 on loan interest charged at the stratospheric interest rate of 18%. Not quite Wonga.com interest rates but higher even than interest rates charged by car loan companies. As with Starbucks and Google, such fiddles are not illegal, but it could be argued that they are morally suspect, especially in the current financial climate. Arqiva are currently a monopoly provider and as such their fees are regulated. The regulated fees are based on their accounts, but such 'fiddles' would also impact the prices they charge. As their main customers include the BBC, UK citizens' licence fees are ending up in Arqiva's shareholders' pockets.

Arqiva would no doubt argue that as they do not make profits, they would not pay any corporation tax anyway. But they would be much closer to profitability if they weren't paying their owners for a loan at such extreme interest rates. What is certain is that their owners are benefiting from a much higher return on their investment than licence payers are!
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Soldery Songsignal strength
Sunday 23 December, 2012, 23:02 - Radio Randomness, Satellites, Much Ado About Nothing
Posted by Administrator
It seems there are very few songs which touch on the topic of satellite communications unless you count:
  • Sleeping Satellite by Tasmin Archer;
  • Satellite by Lena (Germany's Eurovision winner in 2010); and
  • Satellite by Oceanlab.
But none of those songs are really about satellite technology as such, they just happen to have ‘satellite’ in their title. There are, however, some songs which have lyrics that are actually about satellites. For example:
I'm just talking to a satellite,
Twenty thousand miles up in the sky each night

Taken from Electric Light Orchestra's Calling America.

There’s also:
I saw two shooting stars last night,
I wished on them but they were only satellites,
It's wrong to wish on space hardware.
I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.

Taken from Kirsty Macoll's New England.

So it was nice to be alerted to a piece of work which is not only about satellites, but is very specifically endorsing the use of C-Band satellite services (3400 – 4200 MHz) over and above the use of Ku-Band (10700 – 12500 MHz) in sub-Saharan Africa where C-Band reception is more reliable than Ku-Band due to the fact that it deals with rain fading much better than Ku-Band does.

The song is by Cameroonian artist Wes. In it, he laments the loss of his Ku-band equipment, and the main thrust of the song is that he is short of some solder with which to complete the installation of his new C-Band parts. The video has him stood in front of his non-functional C-Band dish whilst his team try to dance their way into fixing the problem. Eventually they set off on a trek to try and get him some solder as the dancing, no matter how energetic, is clearly not working.

The only odd thing is that there is an Asian lady who, all the way through the song, keeps going on about her blasted spade. Still, it all adds to the ambiance.

The song is called ‘Soldery Song’, and you will need to watch the video whilst at the same time reading the lyrics below as it is quite hard to follow what he is saying due to his strong African English accent (the spade lady's incessant moaning about her spade is shown in brackets)...


Soldery Song – Wes by jibou

(My Spade, where’s my spade?)

Soldery song: me need a solder
Me got me some parts, now it's me too,
Old part me chuck, and new me part, yeh?

Soldery song: me need me a soldery solder
Me got me some parts, now it's me too,
Old part me chuck, and me new part, yeh?

I throw a my Ku away, melt some solder, done my way
I throw a my Ku away, melt some solder, done my way

Bring us C-band way (with a spade?)
One-a-where they can go?
Hey, I meant to check.
(Spade, yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh!) x 2

Soldery song: hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo, me need a solder
Me got me some parts, now it's me too,
Old part me chuck and new me part, yeh?

I throw a my Ku away, melt some solder, done my way
I throw a my Ku away, melt some solder, done my way

Bring us C-band way (with a spade?)
One-a-where they can go?
Hey, I meant to check.
(Spade, yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh!) x 2

No more can I Ku, new me parts C-band
No more can I Ku, new me parts knackered!
No more can I Ku, new me parts C-band
No more can I Ku, new me parts knackered!
No more can I Ku, new me parts C-band
No more can I Ku, new me parts knackered!

I throw a my Ku away, melt some solder, done my way x 4

Bring us C-band way (with a spade?)
One-a-where they can go?
(Spade, yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh!)
Bring us C-band way (with a spade?)
One-a-where they can go?
Hey, I meant to check.

No more can I Ku, new me parts C-band
No more can I Ku, new me parts knackered!
No more can I Ku, new me parts C-band
No more can I Ku...
(Spade, yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh!)

Perhaps some kind Wireless Waffle reader could purchase some solder and send it to Wes to get his C-band equipment up and working. Oh, and whilst you’re at it, give the poor lady a spade too.
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UK Local TV - Learning The Lessons Of The Pastsignal strength
Thursday 29 November, 2012, 04:07 - Licensed
Posted by Administrator
The local TV landscape in the UK is slowly taking shape as the decision on the final, and arguably the most commercially viable/advantageous franchises is delayed to give Ofcom more time to make the right decision. Whilst decisions on which companies will succeed in the lucrative markets of London, Leeds and Liverpool are still outstanding, also still to be announced is who will supply the transmission services for the local TV stations. Four bidders emerged when Ofcom invited tenders to deliver the local TV multiplexes:

avanti communications logoAvanti Local TV (backed by broadband satellite company Avanti Communications – plans to use small transmitters to provide coverage tailored to local TV audiences)

comux logoComux UK (backed by Canis Media who run the local TV multiplex in Manchester – a group of consultants who will provide their expertise to local TV companies to help them get going)

bbc local tv logoLMux Ltd (backed by the BBC – will shepherd the roll-out of the network in good old BBC style, and keep it going with any available funds until such time as those funds run out)

cma logoLocal TV Multiplex Ltd (backed by the Community Media Association – will act as a central procurement facility to try and negotiate down prices of transmitters and other services for local TV companies)

The majority of the bidders will rely on existing television transmitter sites to provide the coverage for the local TV multiplexes. This has a number of advantages, not least that viewers’ TV antennas will be pointing in the right direction and (hopefully) will be of the correct antenna group to receive the transmissions. Historically, however, placing local television transmitters on larger transmitter towers has not necessarily offered an ideal solution.

Lanarkshire TV (LTV, later rebranded as Thistle TV) used the main Black Hill transmitter site situated between Glasgow and Edinburgh, both of which it covers. The old analogue TV transmissions on Black Hill used a power of 500 kW whereas LTV only had around 10kW of power. At 500 kW coverage of the region is excellent, at 10 kW (50 times or 17 dB less), coverage is marginal at best. Even close to the mast where the lower power signal is notionally strong enough to provide good reception, viewers receivers will be set up to receive the stronger signals (ie antennas will be of lower gain, or even indoor) and the large disparity in signal strength will render the lower power station largely unwatchable.

A similar (but worse) situation occurred on the Isle of Wight where not only was the local TV station Solent TV (and its predecessor TV12) using only 2 kW compared to the power of the main station of 250 kW but it was also on an ‘out of group’ channel. solent tv isle of wightThe main transmitter at Rowridge uses channels at the lower end of the UHF TV band (channels 21 to 31 were used for analogue services), whereas Solent TV was on channel 54, meaning that not only was it 21 dB weaker leaving the transmitter due to its lower power (worse even than Lanarkshire TV) but the TV antennas of viewers (which are ‘grouped’ in order to focus their gain on the frequencies being used in the area) would add another 6 to 10 dB differential making the signals from Solent TV around 27-30 dB (500 to 1000 times) weaker than the main TV channels. The Solent TV transmitting aerials were also not as high up the mast as those of the main services, further reducing coverage. It is any wonder they went bust?

Arguably one of the more successful local TV stations (in terms of coverage) was Oxford TV (later known as Six TV). six tv oxfordThe station was transmitted from the Oxford transmitter site which is, you might have guessed, relatively close to Oxford itself. Though the power was lower, it was ‘in-group’ and though the picture was not as good as the main services, most people in Oxford (and the surrounding area) could watch the programmes relatively happily.

Under Ofcom’s proposals, local TV is once again being planned from sites such as Black Hill, this time using digital terrestrial (DTT) multiplexes. One of the advantages of DTT is that the modulation and error correction can be varied in order to allow weaker signals to have coverage that is on a par with stronger ones, at the expense of the amount of data they carry. It is proposed that the local TV multiplexes will use QPSK and 2/3 rate FEC giving a capacity of around 8 Mbit/s, enough for 3 standard definition (SD) pictures. Current multiplexes (ignoring the DVB-T2 multiplex used for HD services) use 64QAM and either 2/3 or 3/4 FEC and provide up to 24 Mbit/s. The difference in signal strength needed to receive a QPSK signal compared to a 64 QAM signal is around 11dB, meaning that if the local TV transmitter power is 11 dB (about a factor of 12 times) or so less than the main station, coverage parity is maintained. This was not the case for analogue broadcasts of local TV, and makes the case for local TV using DTT much improved. It still requires sensible transmitter powers from stations to provide coverage and not the 20dB or less that the original analogue local TV stations enjoyed (if enjoyed is the right word).

There are, however, two distinct problems with using main stations for local TV:
  1. The main stations are often well outside the areas where the audiences are located (you wouldn’t put a 300 metre tall mast in the middle of a housing estate). The strongest coverage area of such towers is therefore outside of the area where the audience is located thus exacerbating the lower power, lower height, out of group issues that the old analogue local TV stations faced. Fundamentally they don’t put the signal where it is needed if all you’re interested in doing is serving a local community. You almost never see local radio stations on the same masts as the main national services for exactly this reason. Even in London, local (capital wide!) services were transmitted on FM from Crystal Palace whereas the national services were transmitted from Wrotham which is around 20 miles south east of London in the county of Kent. Only in relatively recent years (compared to the age of the FM network) did the BBC add the national stations to the Crystal Palace site as (guess what...) the coverage of Wrotham in central London was not ideal.
  2. Secondly, the main station masts are expensive to use both because higher power transmitters are needed to reach the desired service areas, but also because the masts themselves are expensive to operate and maintain and this has to be passed on to any organisations using the sites. Similarly, given their relatively remote location, power, access and other services can be difficult to provide increasing the cost of using the site.
Contrast the situation of Solent TV to the way in which analogue transmissions for Channel 5 were dealt with in the same area of the country. No high power frequencies were available from Rowridge due to its location being virtually line-of-sight to France and thus the need to share frequencies with the UK’s Gallic neighbours. Instead, a transmitter was added to a chimney at the Fawley power station, providing 10kW on channel 34 (an in-band frequency for Rowridge). Being closer to the target area the lower power was less of a problem, and being in-band meant that TV signals were not further attenuated by viewers’ TV antennas. Fawley is also roughly in the same direction as Rowridge if you live in the Southampton area and as such there was no need to re-point antennas or install additional ones even though the signals were coming from different sites.

rowridge fawley southampton

Although the coverage of the Fawley transmitter was not as widespread as that from Rowridge, in Southampton (the area of greatest economic interest) the Channel 5 analogue signal was good enough for most people to watch. Local TV channel Six TV also had a transmitter on the Fawley mast on channel 29 (also in-group) but with the slightly lower 4kW.

As with Six TV above, not all of the original analogue local TV stations used the main station masts. channel m manchesterFor example, Channel M in Manchester used a site on a water tower in Bolton. Like the Fawley solution for Southampton, this put the transmitter in roughly the right direction for viewers in Manchester whose antennas were pointed at the main station at Winter Hill. The frequency (channel 39) was, however, out of group and the transmitter pattern severely restricted to avoid interference with other transmitters and with the radioastronomy users at Jodrell Bank who used channel 38. rsl 39 manchesterThe upshot was that Channel M's signal was strong enough for good reception to a large number of viewers who were nearest to the water tower, but, conversely, coverage of Channel M in downtown Manchester was relatively poor (click on the map on the left to see it in full). Despite that, the station did better than many local TV companies and lasted for the best part of 12 years before finally closing down just before analogue services ended in the UK.

What would have been great would to have been able to put more than one site on-air to provide additional coverage to fill-in coverage not-spots. In analogue terms this is difficult to do but for digital services such a solution is inherent to DTT in the form of a single frequency network (SFN). In an SFN multiple transmitters are put on the same frequency and as long as certain technical criteria are maintained (eg the distance between sites is small enough, ensuring that the transmitters are time and frequency synchronised, and that they carry the same content), they do not cause each other interference. In fact, the signals from multiple sites can even add together to improve coverage. If this sounds too good to be true, it is exactly how the digital audio broadcasting (DAB) multiplexes work.

So... Wouldn’t it be great if local TV in the digital age could take advantage of the use of SFNs to put a number of lower power (and thus much cheaper) transmitters right where their audiences are located, in line with existing masts (so that antennas don’t need re-pointing) and providing good coverage where the viewers are, but not wasting power or money on areas where few viewers are located? That is just the solution that Avanti’s bid to run the local TV multiplexes proposes. Whilst it might appear to be a ‘whacky, out-of-the-box’ type of solution, on the contrary it does what needs to be done in an efficient and effective way that has been proven to work well for local TV, even in the days of analogue transmission.

The jury (Ofcom) is still out on which of the bids to operate the multiplexes will succeed, but it is to be hoped that those making the decision are aware of the chequered history of local TV in the UK and don’t fall into the same traps that led to the commercial failure of the original analogue services in the 1990s and 2000s.

ltv lanarkshire
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