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Wireless Networking United States Hardware

Air Force Jams Garage Doors 335

SonicSpike points us to a Chicago Tribune article reporting that in Colorado the Air Force is jamming garage doors. In a joint U.S.-Canadian operation, they were testing communications on a frequency that would be used by first responders in the event of a threat to homeland security. From the article: "But the frequency also controls an estimated 50 million garage door openers, and hundreds of residents in the area found that theirs had suddenly stopped working... Technically, the Air Force has the right to the frequency, which it began using nearly three years ago at some bases. Signals have previously interfered with garage doors near bases in Florida, Maryland, and Pennsylvania."
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Air Force Jams Garage Doors

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  • Re:Technically??? (Score:2, Informative)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @08:22PM (#17084796) Homepage Journal
    The government retains 'right of way' access for most everything when its 'for the public good'.

    Be glad they are not taking the entire house to put in a super highway and its just your door that isnt working.
  • by Sloan47 ( 977340 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @08:25PM (#17084824)
    Yeah, I live in Colorado Springs and they started to test the system as it was snowing. What really was awful was that the lock on our screen door jammed the day previous so I was locked out of my house!
  • by ForestGrump ( 644805 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @08:29PM (#17084878) Homepage Journal
    Nah, its not $10,000, just 250 for each garage door affected.

    David McGuire, whose Overhead Door Co. received more than 400 calls for help, said the Air Force may be able to slightly adjust the transmission frequency to solve the problem. If not, it will cost homeowners about $250 to have new units installed.
  • Re:Technically??? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hunter-Killer ( 144296 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @08:37PM (#17084970)
    TFA was short on details. This article 613 [] says disruptions were affecting devices in the 390 MHz spectrum range.

    According to the US Department of Commerce, [], the 335.4 to 399.9 MHz band is licensed exclusively to the government.

    Sorry for the lack of HTML skills.
  • Re:Technically??? (Score:5, Informative)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Saturday December 02, 2006 @09:00PM (#17085140) Homepage
    Technically, the Air Force has the right to the frequency, which it began using nearly three years ago at some bases.

    what about all those people who have probably owned garage door openers for much longer than 3 years ago. Oh thats right they are just citizens and have as much right as dogs in the eyes of the government.

    Ah yes - the immediate assumption that the citizens are in the right, and the goverment in the wrong. Only in this case, that assumption is wrong.
    Garage door openers are what are called class 'B' devices - devices that transmit using extremely low power and are unlicensed and unregulated. Because they are extremely low power, they can pretty much use any band they want. In exchange for this freedom from licensing and regulation however, theres a catch - owners of class 'B' devices may not interfere with legal and/or licensed users of the band in question, and must accept any interference from said legal and/or licensed users of the band in question. This is usually spelled out in tiny, tiny print in the users manual.
    That being said - you'd be surprised how much class 'B' (sometimes called 'part 15') devices you have in your house. I bet if you check the manuals for your computer (or motherboard), your stereo, your TV, any radios, etc... I bet they all carry the appropriate disclaimers.
  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Saturday December 02, 2006 @09:05PM (#17085176) Homepage
    So the test was a total success. Because it proved, in undeniable public, that in the event of an emergency, the first responders around essential Air Force bases would be getting jammed by people opening their garage doors.

    Nope. Garage door openers are Class B (or Part 15) devices - which mean they are extremely low power. The first responders would only be jammed if someone pointed a garage door opener right at them from less than 30-40 feet away.
    These tests are important. That's why I was stunned when I realized (3 years later) that on September 11, 2001, I didn't hear a single transmission of the Emergency Broadcast System. If ever there were an emergency during my lifetime that the public needed broadcasts to know what what was happening and what to do, it was multiple aerial bombings of NYC and the Pentagon. But there was nothing.

    Unless you lived in NYC or DC - I'm hardly surpised you didn't hear EPS broadcasts. The EPS is for local use - and thus would not have been activated unless the attacks were local to you.
  • Canadian instance (Score:4, Informative)

    by The Hobo ( 783784 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @09:09PM (#17085206)
    This also happened in Ottawa in 2005. This [] story and this [] story sum up the incident. I was in Ottawa at the time, and I keenly remember the US Embassy lying to our face about using this signal. "Oddly" enough, the problem stopped once the CBC contacted the Embassy and asked them about it. Too bad those engineers didn't get to trace the signal back. What also got to me while trying to get through downtown is how the embassy is allowed to eat up [] a lane of traffic for their precious concrete walls, as if there was ever a real danger in Canada. I heard that those walls were tested in Canada because of the low risk, I guess it's convenient to test concrete walls and signal jamming here.
  • Re:Technically??? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 02, 2006 @09:17PM (#17085270)
    How about looking at from a different perspective. Quit being so damned cheap!!!

    Garage door openers, RFID tags, baby monitors, cordless phones, wireless microphones, wireless routers and many other devces are unlicensed devices. They are permitted to operate only when they do not cause interferance to licensed service. They are not garanteed to operate if a licensed service is operating near by.

    Radio spectrum is scarce. The Air Force has had a license to those frequencies since 1934. RTFM that came with the garage door opener. The manufacturer clearly states a garage door opener is an unlicensed device and as such a licensed operator can have the unlicensed device shut down if interference occurs. Further the FCC can fine an operator of an unlicensed device $10,000 if he continue to use it to cause interfere with a licensed service. On the other hand, a licensed user has no responsibility to protect the unlicensed user from interferance.

    If you want garanteed operation, purchase a device with a licensed central dispatch, obtain a license to use that frequency and pay the monthly dispatch fee for the licensed service. Otherwise, don't complain when you get something (like the use of radio spectrum) for free. Especially when someone else owns the rights to that spectrum.
  • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @09:30PM (#17085378) Homepage

    So the test was a total success. Because it proved, in undeniable public, that in the event of an emergency, the first responders around essential Air Force bases would be getting jammed by people opening their garage doors.

    Yeah, a system operating out of Cheyenne mountain with an antenna on the peak and a range of miles is going to be affected by a bunch of milliwatt transmitters with an effective range of about 100 feet. Time for you to go back to Radio Theory 101.

    These tests are important. That's why I was stunned when I realized (3 years later) that on September 11, 2001, I didn't hear a single transmission of the Emergency Broadcast System. If ever there were an emergency during my lifetime that the public needed broadcasts to know what what was happening and what to do, it was multiple aerial bombings of NYC and the Pentagon. But there was nothing.

    Though we'd all been taught since childhood to be always at least a little bit subconsciously afraid, but trusting the government had a system to handle even the ultimate emergency: nuclear war. And endured countless nerve-rattling drills, usually interrupting the most otherwise "relaxing" TV and radio (PBS, mostly).

    The Emergency Broadcast System was retired in 1994. The current system is teh Emergency Alert System. This name more accurately describes its purpose. It's not meant to be a news channel. On 9-11 we had plenty of those already. The purpose of the EBS is to inform people that they may need to take action, and take it quickly. Things like wildfires, flash floods, or tsunamis--- those are what you use the EBS for. Since the appropriate action in the aftermath of a plane hitting a building is to essentially stay calm, stay put, and let emergency crews do their job, the EBS was not needed. I've heard the EBS used for real locally. The message is usually terse, prerecorded, and informative only in a very limited way, briefly outlining the danger, its location, and what to do. You know, something along the lines of "Flash flood warning for the eastern county, stay out of the lower canyons area, highways A, B, and C are closed". This weird fantasy you have in your head where Walter Cronkite is supposed to come on the air over EBS and give us the low-down on what's up is laughable in the extreme.

    I guess those weren't "tests" at all. They were the real thing: steady fear/trust propaganda.

    Yeah, OK. I don't trust the government either, but I haven't let paranoia turn me into a freak about it. The EAS works fine. You just don't know what it's for. You've apparently formulated an expectation based not upon the stated purpose of the system, but upon armchair speculation after having the EAS/EBS tone interrupt your viewing of National Geographic Explorer a few too many times.

    Never really expected to do anything in any kind of emergency, even survivable ones like 9/11/2001. Because they all delivered the desired result.

    I'd still love to hear what you think the EAS should have broadcast on 9-11.

    So maybe these Air Force tests are really failures. Because instead of keeping people irrationally afraid, yet trusting the government, they've actually woken people up.

    Yeah.... sure. You know conspiracy nuts like you are all the same. You're all secretly (or not secretly!) obsessive/compulsive control freaks. You all believe there's some sort of sinister puppet master behind the scenes, twisting the government to their will. You can't bear to consider the real truth, that for the most part the bad things that happen are completely unpredictable and mostly unavoidable. Stupid things the government does or fails to do are not part of some grand plan by a criminal mastermind, but simply a byproduct of the sheer size of government. Its very size creates an incredible amount of inertia, and when it does manage to move, it's either too much or too little, and often in the wrong direction. In short nobody is in contr

  • Frequency Usage (Score:5, Informative)

    by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @09:36PM (#17085422) Homepage
    According to this article [], most door openers use 390 MHz, with some using 315 MHz and 372 MHz. All of these frequencies are in a band that is reserved for the federal government. For example, military aeronautical radio systems, including the backup communications system on the Space Shuttle, use the 225-400 MHz band. Any unlicensed users of this band do so at their own risk. The manufacturers of garage door openers have only themselves to blame. It's like building a house in that nice, empty artillery practice range.
  • by OmniGeek ( 72743 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @09:50PM (#17085498)
    Unlicensed radio systems (like the garage door openers, ALL your WiFi gear, your car keyfob, etc etc, but NOT, IIRC, cell phones) operate under "FCC Part 15," widely mentioned elsewhere in this discussion. The important point in this regard is that ALL Part 15 devices operate subject to two inflexible rules: 1) you can't interfere with licensed users, and 2) it's your bad luck if licensed users interfere with you.

    Unless a manufacturer of wireless gadgets wants to require every user to get a license (not an option for most gear), there is basically NO way to avoid the Part 15 restrictions; licensed users (emergency services, licensed commercial radio systems, and militery users) will always trump nonlicensed users. It won't happen often, but when it does, ya just gotta live with it.
  • Re:Technically??? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Hunter-Killer ( 144296 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @10:03PM (#17085554)

    That aside, a "wireless door opener" is designed for wireless transmission, yes. This does not however preclude it from classifying as a digital device. Computing devices and "unintentional radiators" are merely examples of some class B devices.
    Not quite. The FCC was nice enough to host the Part 15 regulations:

    (i) Class B digital device. A digital device that is marketed for use in a residential environment
    notwithstanding use in commercial, business and industrial environments.
    What is a digital device?

    (k) Digital device. (Previously defined as a computing device). An unintentional radiator
    (device or system) that generates and uses timing signals or pulses at a rate in excess of 9,000 pulses
    (cycles) per second and uses digital techniques; inclusive of telephone equipment that uses digital
    techniques or any device or system that generates and uses radio frequency energy for the purpose of
    performing data processing functions, such as electronic computations, operations, transformations,
    recording, filing, sorting, storage, retrieval, or transfer. A radio frequency device that is specifically
    subject to an emanation requirement in any other FCC Rule Part or an intentional radiator subject to
    Subpart C of this Part that contains a digital device is not subject to the standards for digital devices,
    provided the digital device is used only to enable operation of the radio frequency device and the digital
    device does not control additional functions or capabilities. Note: Computer terminals and peripherals
    that are intended to be connected to a computer are digital devices.
    Since a digital device is clearly defined as an "unintentional radiator", wireless door openers are not considered Class B devices.

    If anyone is interested, the Part 15 regulations can be found here: 14-06.pdf []
  • Re:Canadian instance (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 02, 2006 @10:48PM (#17085826)
    Real danger? You mean like these fine Canadian Al Qaeda supporters? I doubt they will be the only ones to pop up given Al Qaeda's recent warnings and references to Canada. Al Qaeda underestimates Canada ... assuming the Canadian people are committed to arms and action. The Germans of yesteryear would not make that mistake.
    I don't know if you've ever been in downtown Ottawa.

    Let me describe to you the US Embassy in Ottawa: The embassy is protected by panes of bomb-proof glass. Then there is a 10 foot buffer zone. Circling the buffer zone is a 10 foot tall steel gate. Then there is another 2 feet buffer zone on the street level. Finally, surrounding that, are concrete pillars.

    But that's not all. Post-9/11, the US embassy cut off the high-traffic road that's around the building (remember: the embassy is in downtown Ottawa.) So outside of those concrete pillars, which is itself outside a buffer, steel shield, another buffer, and bomb-proof glass, is yet another 5 foot buffer zone, followed by a 4 foot tall concrete wall.

    It's overkill. It's costing the city in aesthetics and practicality (lane reduction.) So whilst I agree with you that there is a real danger in Canada, the removal of that concrete would not place the US embassy itself in danger. I know this is beside your point, I just wanted to point that out for anyone not familiar with the brute of a building.
  • Re:Technically??? (Score:2, Informative)

    by smarkham01 ( 896668 ) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @10:51PM (#17085846)
    Correct, these are Part 15 devices, wrong on Class B. Class B devices are digital devices that make use of a signal of 9khz (or is that 90khz) that are NOT suppose to radiate RF.
  • by EvanED ( 569694 ) <> on Saturday December 02, 2006 @11:57PM (#17086206)
    I would suspect that making a device which intereferes with first responders (or any gov't) frequency would count as harmful interference and be illegal under most coutnries laws.

    Who said they did?

    "Interference" is not a reflexive relation. If you put a WAP next to six microwaves, you're going to have problems with your wi-fi network []. But your WAP isn't going to overcook your food.

    This story is about the USAF's use blocking garage door openers, not the other way around.

    The questions is *when* did the US gov't acquire this frequency?

    Another poster [] says 1934.
  • Re:Technically??? (Score:5, Informative)

    by HazE_nMe ( 793041 ) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @12:01AM (#17086228) Homepage
    You can get a logic board for most newer Chamberlain openers that works on the 420MHz frequency. When I was working there, we had the ability to send one out for free at our discretion if a customer was having interference issues. I live near Davis Monthan AFB, and phantom door operation is a common thing if you live near the base when using the older 390MHz boards. (insurance claim anyone?)

    I don't have any problems with my 420MHz board, in fact I get a better range with my remotes on 420MHz. If you are having problems with an opener made by Chamberlain (LiftMaster, Craftsman, etc) give them a call at (800) 528-5880 and explain the problems you are having and mention that you live near an Air Force Base, and they will likely send out a replacement board free of cost.

    If you do have to pay, it is ~$60USD for a new logic board. They are very easy to replace.
  • by LM741N ( 258038 ) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @12:58AM (#17086520)
    "However, the spectrum is licensed by the FCC as part of the public airwaves." The FCC has no jurisdiction over government (eg military) radio/spectrum use. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration does.
  • by Nethead ( 1563 ) <> on Sunday December 03, 2006 @01:10AM (#17086574) Homepage Journal
    And the NTIA trumps the FCC. The NTIA assigns frequency blocks to the FCC.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 03, 2006 @10:03AM (#17088822)
    These frequencies have been allocated to the military for a long time AND the military has been using them throughout. What has changed is the system. In the past these frequencies were used by radio systems that only broadcast when someone actually was talking on them. They are gradually being replaced by digital radio systems that are constantly communicating between the handheld units and the towers. Noone noticed the interference on the old systems because it would only occur when someone was actually communicating on the system, but these newer systems, making much greater, constant use of the frequency, are constantly blocking use of the low-powered and un-licensed devices.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle