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Spooks: powerline networking disrupts our work

Power lines

By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 17 May 2011 at 09:12

The future of powerline networking is due to be discussed in Parliament after the Government's snooping agency and the Civil Aviation Authority warned it interferes with their work.

GCHQ is home to the UK's snooping services and relies upon sensitive aerials to pick up signals from the airwaves, with listening stations dotted around the country. Noise from powerline networks could block out weak signals arriving from overseas, the Government's signal intelligence body claims.

In an unusually candid statement, which has since been retracted, the eavesdropping agency said powerline networking “is likely to cause a detrimental affect to part of the core business of this Department”, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph.

The concern follows criticism from the Civil Aviation Authority, which is worried that the interference could affect landing and navigation equipment.

At issue is the fact that network signals being passed across powerlines can leak from the cables, which effectively act as an antenna.

“The CAA is considering how practical testing could be undertaken to confirm the potential likelihood and extent of interference,” the authority said at a meeting earlier this year. “We are also actively working with Ofcom and the UK Government to address the regulatory and legal position around this issue.”

Radio reception

The technology has also been under investigation by the BBC, which in March blamed powerline networking for interference that affected radio reception in homes.

“Operation of the PowerLine Adapters (PLAs) caused interference to indoor-portable reception of both FM and DAB broadcasts, in varying degrees from no effect to total disruption,” the corporation said in a report. “The PLAs were also found to disturb reception of FM using an external antenna at one of the homes.”

The issues is due to be debated in Parliament tomorrow after Conservative MP Mark Lancaster reuqested a session to discuss “Government policy on the use of powerline technology devices”.

Industry defence

Ofcom, which said it had received more than 290 complains about interference from the technology, has so far said it does not believe the powerline networks are a serious problem.

But radio experts remain unconvinced, with several campaigners posting Freedom of Information requests seeking more details on Ofcom's position and how it was reached.

The largest supplier of powerine technology in the UK, Comtrend, said it was confident in its equipment and was bullish about the future. “The technology is not going to go away and consumers have a right to use it,” Jonathan Lishawa, managing director of Comtrend, told the Telegraph, adding that his company had supplied equipment to 1.5 million homes via its links with BT.

Lishawa said his company would work with the industry to allay their fears and claimed the company's equipment wasn't a threat to communications because it used a relatively low frequency.

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User comments

The fact that it operates at a low frequency, if anything, surely worsens the device. Low frequencies tend to have a higher range than high frequencies and any electromagnetic wave can interfere with others. Also, many communication devices operate on low frequencies due to the high range/low bandwidth requirements that these frequencies are ideally suited for.

By palorx on 17 May 2011

Glad to see its being taken further

There is no question on the "regulatory and legal position around this issue" - the devices are not compliant to the EMC regulations and Ofcom knows that. Power line interference is the top problem for their investigations team. Their excuse is to wait and see how many complaints arise, but the EMC directive does not require complaints before action can be taken. The question is about enforcement of the rules. Is BT being held to the same standard as any other company which places on the market devices which exceed the regulatory limits by a factor of one thousand? See
http://www.ban-plt.co.uk/legislation.php

By martincowen100 on 17 May 2011

Not Lowe Frequency

I am pleased to see a well balanced article on the subject. However it contains a significant error.

Mr Lishawa claims that the company's equipment wasn't a threat to communications because it uses a relatively low frequency.

His statement is misleading. His company's equipment transmits a number of radio frequency signals up to 30MHz. This is internationally defined as the HF (High frequency.

In the frequency range up to 30MHz are many services which are regularly interfered with by PLT devices such as those manufactured by his company.

By stewart_bakeruk on 18 May 2011

Homeplug and Short Wave

There is no way this can work if we
want to use the 2 to 30Mhz bands..
It may kill the DAB and FM bands and
even air bands if near a airport...Who
gave the Ok on a not so green system.
Its a to late house has bolted story....

By G3YBO on 18 May 2011

About time

Finally, a government agency has joined the fray. For the past few years, the rest of the affected radio users have suffered for the fast buck being made out of this ill-conceived, dreadful power line networking/homeplug/Comtrend debacle.

Now GCHQ are confirming what a lot of people have said all along, perhaps the so-called 'regulator' will listen, and make sure in future that the EMC limits are not breached and ignored at will just for any 'convenience' items like home plugs to proliferate.

Power line adapters typically fail legal emissions limits by over 1000 times, so the manufacturers have been trying to get the laws changed so they can carry on selling, talking tripe about 'harmonised standards' being needed just purely for them, so they can have special treatment and just carry on preventing radio equipment from working, shoving in to the radio spectrum like an aggressive drunk at a party, and throwing up over all the invited guests.

Speaking as someone who's now had a few years of regular interference to radio reception frfom home plugs.power line adapters, both DAB and short wave, I hope this firmly nails the coffin for that.

By Siver_Surfer on 18 May 2011

About time

Finally, a government agency has joined the fray. For the past few years, the rest of the affected radio users have suffered for the fast buck being made out of this ill-conceived, dreadful power line networking/homeplug/Comtrend debacle.

Now GCHQ are confirming what a lot of people have said all along, perhaps the so-called 'regulator' will listen, and make sure in future that the EMC limits are not breached and ignored at will just for any 'convenience' items like home plugs to proliferate.

Power line adapters typically fail legal emissions limits by over 1000 times, so the manufacturers have been trying to get the laws changed so they can carry on selling, talking tripe about 'harmonised standards' being needed just purely for them, so they can have special treatment and just carry on preventing radio equipment from working, shoving in to the radio spectrum like an aggressive drunk at a party, and throwing up over all the invited guests.

Speaking as someone who's now had a few years of regular interference to radio reception frfom home plugs.power line adapters, both DAB and short wave, I hope this firmly nails the coffin for that.

By Siver_Surfer on 18 May 2011

Smart Meters

Is the roll-out of smart meters and smart power transmission network going to have an effect?

By DrDon1 on 19 May 2011

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