Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
Bye bye 70cm, hello happiness?signal strength
Saturday 26 February, 2011, 02:18 - Amateur Radio
Posted by Administrator
On a number of previous occasions, Wireless Waffle has commented on actions being taken by various regulatory authorities which seem to be attacking the use of the 70 centimetre band by radio amateurs. But in the USA, things have just gotten a whole lot worse, with the tabling of a bill which suggests that two thirds of the (admittedly large) US 70cm allocation be given over to broadband services for first responders (or the emergency or blue light services as we call them over here).

six million dollar billThe bill, snappily entitled 'A bill to enhance public safety by making more spectrum available to public safety agencies, to facilitate the development of a wireless public safety broadband network, to provide standards for the spectrum needs of public safety agencies, and for other purposes.' or 'Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011' for short (herinafter referred to as 'the six million dollar bill') states, in section 207, subsection (d):
Not later than 10 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the paired electromagnetic spectrum bands of 420–440 megahertz and 450–470 megahertz recovered as a result of the report and order required under subsection (c) shall be auctioned off by the Federal Communications Commission through a system of competitive bidding meeting the requirements of section 309 of the Communications Act of 1934.

The spectrum referred to in the aforementioned subsection (c) and in section 207, subsection (a) appears to refer to that which is freed by the cessation of use by public sector users who should migrate to the 700 and 800 MHz bands in the interim. However, there is little, if any, use of the frequency range 420 to 440 MHz by these users in the first place, as it is part of the amateur band. Indeed, according to the United Stated Frequency Allocations the band is only to be used by either radio amateurs (on a secondary basis), or by Government radiolocation services (eg the PAVE PAWS radar installations at the Clear, Beale and Cape Cod air-force bases). So, if taken literally, the frequencies in the range 420 to 440 MHz which would become available are - none, because none of them are used and thus none have been cleared! However, things are never that straightforward and it could be argued conversely that the fact that the first responders are not using that range of frequencies is a clear indication that they have cleared out of the band!

Either way, this assault on the 70cms band might be time for US amateurs to think carefully and propose something in their mutual interest. North of the border in Canada, the 70cm band stretches only from 430 to 450 MHz and in most of the rest of the world it is only 430 to 440 MHz (and as indicated before, there were moves afoot in Europe to further constrict this to 432 to 438 MHz). It may be, therefore, that agreeing a reduction in the US 70cm band to be in line with Canada at 430 to 450 MHz whilst in return guaranteeing some certainty of tenure would be a good way ahead. In Europe, for example, a reduction to 432 to 438 MHz in return for clearing out all those annoying low power devices around 433 and 434 MHz and also guaranteeing primary status for amateurs in the band would be a fair compromise. Or what about making the 70cm band 430-433 and 435-440 MHz, thereby leaving the low power devices to wallow in their own crapulence, sure this would require the re-tuning of many repeaters in the UK and elsewhere, but this is already having to be done in many cases due to the incoming and outgoing interference problems caused by the self-same low power devices.

amateur harmonisationIn many countries around the world, the frequency range 410 to 430 MHz is used for digital mobile radio systems which support blue-light activities. In the UK some spectrum in this range is available for use by the Ambulance service, for example. This means there is equipment available. Equally the band 450 to 470 MHz is similarly used. Therefore, giving US first responders the ranges 410 to 430 and 450 to 470 MHz makes a lot of sense and for once, means that the US frequency usage would be in harmony with that of most of the rest of the world and harmonisation leads to economies of scale and cost reductions and so forth, as its protagonisist are always keen to argue.

Of course, any change in usage or allocation in a band leads to the need to re-plan, re-tune and re-think, but if the rest of the world's radio amateurs can cope with just 10 MHz of 70cm spectrum, and Canada can cope with 20 MHz, perhaps it is time for American amateurs to relinquish part of the band in the common good and figure out what they would like in return?
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The Vl'hurgs and the G'gugvunttssignal strength
Wednesday 31 March, 2010, 03:11 - Amateur Radio
Posted by Administrator
Having seen this... the following somehow came immediately to mind...
It is of course well known that careless talk costs lives, but the full scale of the problem is not always appreciated.

For instance, at the very moment that it was concluded that 'economically speaking, short-wave listening wins hands down' a freak wormhole opened up in the fabric of the quasi-scientific continuum and carried these words far far across almost infinite reaches of space to a distant office where strange and warlike beings were poised on the brink of a frightful regulatory battle.

The two opposing leaders were meeting for the last time.

vl hurg g gugvunttA dreadful silence fell across the conference table as the commander of the RSGB, resplendent with his black jewelled battle antenna, gazed levelly at the Ofcom leader squatting opposite him in a cloud of sweet-smelling spectrum smog, and, with a million sleek and horribly beweaponed lawyers poised to unleash legal hell at his single word of command, challenged the creature to take back what it had said about his latest report on the applicability of EN55022.

The creature stirred in his sickly broiling vapour, and at that very moment the words, 'economically speaking, short-wave listening wins hands down' drifted across the conference table.

Unfortunately, in the Ofcom tongue this was the most dreadful insult imaginable, and there was nothing for it but to wage terrible war.

Eventually, of course, after the bureaucracy in their swish London offices had been decimated, it was realised that the whole thing had been a ghastly mistake, and so the two opposing battle forces settled their few remaining differences in order to launch a joint attack on Comtrend - now positively identified as the source of the original offence.

For thousands more pounds the mighty forces tore across the empty wastes of the Earth and finally dived screaming on to the first factory in China they came across - where due to a terrible miscalculation of emissions the entire battle force was taken to court for breaching the local EMC regulations and locked up in a prison for the ensuing millennia.

Those who study the complex interplay of cause and effect in the history of the the radio spectrum say that this sort of thing is going on all the time, but that we are powerless to prevent it.

'It's just life,' they say.

With respect to Douglas Adams
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RSGB Spectrum Defence Fundsignal strength
Sunday 31 January, 2010, 09:39 - Amateur Radio
Posted by Administrator
Sometimes Wireless Waffle can be rather frivolous and irreverent but today is not one of those days. On many previous occasions, Wireless Waffle has gone on about the threat to short-wave radio caused by power line telecoms (PLT), power line adaptors (PLA), broadband over power-line (BPL) and blaufunk zür electrische Breitband über bezahlen (BLZEBUB as it is known in the Germany) yet they continue to proliferate. But in the UK at least, it seems that there is going to be a properly monunted challenge to the blatant flouting of the law that these devices do on a daily basis.

Having thought that the UK spectrum regulator, Ofcom, would respond to the concerns of UK radio users, the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB), the body which represents radio amateurs, has played a very professional deck of cards to date; demonstrating that the equipment concerned does not conform to the necessary standards and using existing legislation and regulation to request that Ofcom take action. Ofcom's response, however, has been very disappointing, and seems to be acting on the basis that few complaints equals few problems. Presumably very few people complain when a vehicle knocks them down and kills them, so perhaps we should cease to be concerned about enforcing speed limits?

Ofcom seems to be following a circular argument that, on one hand, radio regulations don't apply because the devices which cause the problem are not intentionally generating radio transmissions; and on the other, that electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) regulations don't apply to the radiation they do cause, as EMC is not about controlling radiation from devices - as any such radiations are meant to be covered by radio regulations. It even turned down a sensible proposal from the German regulator, the Bundes Netz Argentur (BNetzA) for a purpose-designed specification for these types of device to ensure they didn't fall down the tiny pothole that might just exist between the two sets of regulations.

Several petitions have even been raised with Number 10 Downing Street (the Prime Minister's office as opposed to the Farnham Healing Centre) to which Ofcom's response has been equally lacklustre. 'No biggy...' seems to paraphrase their attitude.

rsgbspectrumfundSo kudos then to the RSGB for putting down their playing cards and taking up arms against the problem (whether you class the problem as the devices or as Ofcom) and establishing a Spectrum Defence Fund (SDF). The RSGB claim that to challenge Ofcom through the relevant legal channels will cost in the region of £75,000. The RSGB are asking anyone and everyone who has an interest in short-wave listening, either for pleasure or professionally, to put their hands in their pockets or break open their piggy banks and donate some money to the cause. They point out that if every radio amateur in the UK donated just £5, they would soon reach their target. On the other hand, if only a couple of thousand people donate the same amount, they will miss the target by a large margin.

rsgb in actionSome may question whether or not it is right for the RSGB to become so overtly political in its outlook given the fact that it has only really used its deck of cards to play snap in the past and has never ventured into more risky territory (such as whist for example), let alone expose itself to the dangers of games such as poker. For the past century, or thereabouts, it has been a forum for sharing news and information for the amateur community in the UK and although it has responded to many Ofcom consultations, it has done this in the role of a semi-passive observer: a (card playing) grandfather who passes down occasional nuggets of experience to the go-getting upstart grandchildren who now inhabit the spectrum. And rightly so. The RSGB should be a centre of expertise; a wise old sage to whom its members, and the wider UK radio community can turn to answer those difficult questions. But the threat from PLT/PLA/BPL/BLZEBUB is very real and it's time for granddad to stand up and batter the kids around the ears with a solid oak walking stick until they sit down and stop acting like spoilt brats.

The threat to the radio frequencies used by radio amateurs, however, comes from more than just BLZEBUB. Radio spectrum is becoming a very valuable commodity and amateurs sit on real-estate which in the UK alone would be valued at several million pounds if it were open to the markets to purchase. There is no evidence of an immediate threat in this regard, and no queues have formed to offer granddad an especially large pension in return for his deck, but if the amateur community does not keep its eyes open, someone is likely to creep up on granddad whilst he is out for a walk and take his wallet and keys, and his solid oak walking stick.

So the time has come for radio amateurs and short-wave listeners of all kinds across the United Kingdom to unite and support granddad. Why not have a night listening to the radio and remind yourself of what it's all about. Not Danny DJ spinning the same old tunes on Radio Local FM, but tune around the short-wave bands and see what you can hear. With sunspots beginning to acne the face of the sun again, you might just be surprised at what you can hear. And when you have rekindled your love of radio, pop along to the RSGB web-site and donate a few quid. Imagine what life would be like without your other favourite pass-times, whether beer, wine, fags or whatever. In fact, go without for a week. Then think how it would feel if you couldn't use your short-wave radio again and give the money you saved that week to the RSGB spectrum fund. In return, Wireless Waffle intends to donate all the money made from the various advertisements which are scattered around the site to the RSGB Spectrum Defence Fund. We'll let you know how much this is in a couple of months time...
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Noisy Neighbourssignal strength
Thursday 30 October, 2008, 22:23 - Amateur Radio
Posted by Administrator
It may appear to have been quiet here at Wireless Waffle over the past couple of months, but that's because a number of things have piqued the interest and we've been doing a bit of experimentation and investigation. The first of them is the issue of Power Line Telecommunications (PLT) also known as Broadband over Power Line (BPL) and in particular the problems being experienced by many UK short-wave radio listeners with it. One of these devices could recently be heard, albeit quietly, across the HF spectrum (oddly it has since disappeared) at Waffle HQ but it raised the question as to how many more there were in the area. To find out, I fitted and HF antenna to my car and connected it to an HF receiver and then drove around a nearby housing estate to see what could be heard.

The antenna used resonated in the 18 MHz (17 metre) amateur band but received perfectly well in the 17 MHz (16 metre) broadcast band. Tuned to a clear channel around 17460 kHz, the car was driven around the area under test. Over the area covered by a small local estate, three devices were detected. Two were almost certainly the 'Comtrend' device, sounding just as the ones that UKQRM has demonstrated on YouTube. The third (shown in red on the map) emitted a more continuous tone, interrupted by occasional blips; the range of this device was somewhat less than the other two. Their range at other frequencies was not tested but anecdotal evidence driving round the area using other antennas and the same receiver suggests that the coverage on frequencies around 27 MHz is similar.

plt bpl interference rangeI've plotted the approximate location of the three devices identified together with the area over which they were clearly receiveable on the map on the right (the map covers approximately a 500 metre by 500 metre area). The blue device had the largest interference range and within the areas marked it is unlikely that any short-wave reception would be possible.

The density of these devices means that over the whole estate, short-wave reception would be virtually impossible. A cursory glance around the area indicated no amateur radio antennas so it is likely the devices are going undetected (or just unreported!) Not a positive result and unless the powers that be do something to halt the spread of these devices, it would be easy to foresee a situation where HF reception could be pretty much impossible over whole towns and cities, in residential areas for certain.

One piece of positive news is that Ofcom have set up a special team to deal with PLT interference and appear to have begun taking the problem seriously. Let's hope that this is more than just paying lip service to the problem before the whole HF spectrum is lost to the laziness of those who can't be bothered to use WiFi or put a piece of wire between various bits of equipment in their home. These devices are a disgrace and a menace and before they wipe out all short-wave reception and neighbour-on-neighbour war breaks out, serious action by the authorities is absolutely necessary.
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