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Radio hams unite to fight off new powerline comms standard

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The Radio Society of Great Britain is mobilising Europe's radio hams in protest against the forthcoming standard for powerline networking, predicting dire consequences if existing standards aren't applied.

The society has issued a call to arms (PDF, lots of details) in protest at the new standard for powerline telecommunications (PLT), which seeks to regulate a technology which some argue has fallen between the cracks of existing legislation, but the RSGB has long argued that the more-stringent EN55022 would cover PLT tech perfectly adequately if only it were applied properly.

The new regulation – EN50561 – proposes much higher permitted levels of radio pollution, meaning PLT kit-makers could take advantage of this – thus muddying the spectrum for amateur radio enthusiasts. This is in contrast to the regulation the hams would like to see enforced: EN55022, which is much more stringent about radiated emissions testing.

PLT kit sends signals over domestic mains wiring, but as that wiring is almost entirely unshielded, it acts as an enormous antenna so the networking signal can blanket the neighbourhood with unwanted radio. Existing PLT kit uses a narrow signal band which only really upsets radio hams, but newer devices are pushing up into FM bands and down into those used for ADSL connections.

ADSL operates over copper phone lines, but if those are running alongside mains wiring then cross-interference is very possible.

Ofcom, the UK regulator, argues that it has had almost no complaints from radio users, but that's hardly surprising given that such complaints are handled by the BBC these days, not to mention that most listeners will blame their radio rather than consider their PLT kit might be causing the problem.

Ofcom also argues that it's powerless to do anything, as it only regulates radio transmitters. The regulator has long been pointing to the new standard's status as "in development" (numbered EN50561) as "proof" that regulations don't exist (despite assertions from the European Commission that EN55022 is applicable), and has added that even if EN55022 did apply, it's too vague to be useful.

EN55022 currently requires kit bearing the CE Mark to avoid interfering with existing radio users, but once the new legislation passes the RSGB fears that it "risks manufacturers of virtually any new device or product wanting to use the very high radio pollution levels allowed by prEN 50561-1, claiming it as a precedent", leading to a more-polluted spectrum across the dial.

The RSGB reckons the new regulations were largely drafted by manufacturers of PLT kit, and is calling on hams around the EU to get in touch with their reps who'll be voting on the measure over the summer. ®

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