Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
Let's sheikh on it!signal strength
Thursday 14 July, 2011, 10:39 - Amateur Radio, Pirate/Clandestine
Posted by Administrator
Around the short-wave world, mention of 'PsyOps' has recently had reason to reappear. It refers to psychological warfare being conducted by NATO forces to 'scare' Colonel Gadaffi's forces into remission through a variety of activities. One of these activities is the broadcast of semi-threatening, warning messages to troops loyal to Libya's erstwhile leader.

commander soloThese messages have apparently been broadcast from a Lockheed Martin EC-130 aircraft known as Commander Solo overflying the region and are using the frequencies which belong to the 'Great Man Made River Authority' (GMMRA) which is Libya's authority responsible for artificially transporting water from wells in the Sahara desert via a big pipe to population centres in the North. Why NATO would have chosen these frequencies is not known, however there is (or was) apparently an ALE network on these channels that was presumably in regular use and hence there would be several receivers across the country in 'important offices' which would hear the PsyOps transmissions.

Frequencies reported in use by the GMMRA in recent times include 4200, 5037, 5047, 5300, 5368, 5768, 6884, 7000, 8161, 8200, 8800, 9218, 9250, 9375, 10125, 10375, 10404 and 11100 kHz. Previous reported frequencies also include 3000, 3900, 4050, 6800, 7805, 7900, 10215 and 10250 kHz (thanks to Btown Monitoring Post).

Of the above, NATO PsyOps transmissions have so far been heard on: 6877, 9376, 10125, 10404 kHz. Note that the 10125 kHz frequency is slap bang in the middle of the 30 metre amateur band but as this is a shared frequency with other services the transmission by the military does not contravene the ITU frequency allocation tables and is therefore, effectively legal. The use of 7000 kHz by the GMMRA is not, however, legal as this is an exclusive amateur allocation. Initially, many of the PsyOps transmissions were jammed (presumably by the Gadaffi regime) however they no longer appear to be so.

Here's the Wireless Waffle recording of Commander Solo on 10404 kHz made at 14:00 GMT on 12 July 2011. The transmission ceased at 14:20 GMT. The noise underneath the transmission also ceased around the same time, however whether the two are connected (ie the noise is an attempt at jamming) can not be confirmed. Given that this recording was made in the UK, it is clear that the power of the transmitter used by Commander Solo and his ilk must be reasonbly high. Judging by the signal strength and general propagation conditions at the time of the recording, a radiated power of at least 1 kiloWatt would seem about right. As normal HF aircraft radios have powers of at least 200 Watts, this seems quite feasible.

uk libya tradeOf course, all that the Colonel has to do to stop the NATO transmissions becoming a nuisance, is hand out free power line adaptors to at least one house on every street and all short-wave frequencies would be instantly jammed. Perhaps Colonel Gadaffi is an investor the Comtrend PLT devices that do all the damage and the reluctance of Ofcom to do anything about them is part of some previous UK-Libya trade agreement on arms sales. Surely now that the UK is part of a force against Gadaffi, Ofcom can now breach the terms of this agreement with the Libyan government to pollute short-wave and finally get rid of the menace of PLT?
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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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