Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
Arqiva win UK Local TV multiplex licencesignal strength
Monday 28 January, 2013, 12:22 - Licensed
Posted by Administrator
In a shock decision, Ofcom today announced that Arqiva are to run the UK's local television multiplex. The winning company, called 'Comux' has won the licence to operate the transmission network that will support local television services. Not speaking to Wireless Waffle, a spokesperson for Ofcom was overheard to think,
"We like Arqiva, oops, we mean Comux's proposal. After all, Arqiva transmit 'X-Factor' which brings us a lot of business in dealing with complaints: without Arqiva a lot of us would be out of a job. We also like the idea of supporting monopolistic companies that pay no corporation tax in the UK. We are hoping that Starbucks will bid in the 4G auction we are running at the moment and that Network Rail will bid to run a mobile network for trains (What? They already do? Since when?)"

jack hargreavesBut wait, in their public justification for the award, Ofcom state (page 6 of the account of decision),
Arqiva is not an applicant for the licence...

So is Comux really Arqiva, that is the question. Well they certainly share the same postal address: Arqiva/Comux, Chalfont Grove, Chalfont St. Peter, Gerrards Cross SL9 8TW.

OK, it's not exactly conclusive but the fact that they share an office surely means there are opportunities for them to share a lot more too! Collusion is a very dirty word, almost as dirty as tax avoidance.

Either way, here's raising a glass at local television in the UK. Let's just hope they bring back Old Country with Jack Hargreaves. What? You mean he's already dead? Since when?
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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


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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