Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
Wireless Networking Communications Hardware

Mixed Conclusions About Powerline Networking vs. Ham Radio 343

Barence writes "Since writing about the success he's had with powerline networking, a number of readers emailed PC Pro's Paul Ockendon to castigate him for recommending these products, such as HomePlug. They were all amateur radio enthusiasts, claiming the products affect their hobby in much the same way that urban lighting affects amateur astronomers, but rather than causing light pollution they claim powerline networking causes radio pollution in the HF band (otherwise known as shortwave). Paul's follow-up feature, 'Does powerline networking nuke radio hams?' documents his investigation into these claims, which found evidence to support both sides of an intriguing debate."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Mixed Conclusions About Powerline Networking vs. Ham Radio

Comments Filter:
  • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @06:54PM (#29059305) Journal
    It's a volunteer emergency communications organisation.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      This is just about the most ignorant, one-sided article I've ever read. It amounts to "Maybe it causes, problems, but HAM guys can cause problems, and oh yeah, they're dinosaurs, so fuck 'em."

      I wonder what this worthless piece of shit will be saying when some natural disaster hits, all the lines are out, but because he and other shitheads basically wiped out the HAM community to get their pr0n, instead of dedicated volunteers firing up their diesel generators to help co-ordinate rescue and relief efforts,

      • Big Props (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 13, 2009 @07:20PM (#29059599)

        Props to the egghead who called me after Katrina with a message from my sister saying she was okay.

      • by PotatoFarmer ( 1250696 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @07:36PM (#29059813)
        Did you read the part of the article where the author advocates checking with neighbors before using the Powerline stuff to make sure there are no interference problems? That doesn't strike me as particularly one-sided.
        • by Lehk228 ( 705449 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @07:52PM (#29059959) Journal
          yes it is, because the author knows damned well that nobody will actually do this.
      • by UnrealisticWhample ( 972663 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @09:03PM (#29060565)

        1. Guy writes an article about a product.
        2. Guy gets feedback, some of it far less than civil, stating that he was being irresponsible in his product recommendations.
        3. Guy, rather than dismissing the issue as no doubt many would, actually does some research and writes a follow up.

        I hardly think that this qualifies as "just about the most ignorant, one-sided article" on this topic, at least among those that you've read. This guy isn't a government agency or an academic group tasked with doing research into public safety concerns so it isn't his job to launch a comprehensive study into the issue.

        I get that there seem to be some credible concerns, but you aren't going to win anyone over by making hyperbolic claims about anyone that fails to agree with you. Posting "ignorant, one-sided" insult laden posts on Slashdot isn't exactly helping your cause.

  • Sheesh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @06:54PM (#29059311) Journal

    It's not a debate. Doing this turns those power lines into big antennas. You can't debate the laws of physics.

    • Re:Sheesh (Score:4, Funny)

      by Cid Highwind ( 9258 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @07:43PM (#29059885) Homepage
      Samir, this is America. You can debate anything.

      Point out that electromagnetism is "only a theory", get Rush and Bill O'RLY to talk up ionospheric HF propagation being "a bunch of liberal mumbo-jumbo", and sprinkle the internet with scary chain emails about how radio was "cooked up by some European egghead". In a year or two, congress will be terrified to legislate against broadband over power lines because their constituents are gibbering incomprehensibly at them about illegal Mexican radio immigration, how we need to teach the controversy about "Intelligent Electrons" and the creeping socialist death panels that are coming to euthanize their satellite dish!
      • Had you posted this on a more proper forum (say freerepublic), you would have been moderated "+5 insightful" for telling the "truth". It is a scary world when instead of people laughing at what you wrote, they say "right on" or "preach it brother!". And trust me, they exist. I've meet people in real life who if you spoke this with the right tone would have taken you 100% serious.

        Scary scary world. No wonder Obama keeps hiding the documents proving the "Moon Landing" was a hoax because 1) the "moon" is r

      • Re:Sheesh (Score:5, Funny)

        by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @10:13PM (#29061067)
        Better yet, just start a rumor that Republicans are using Ham radio to organize opposition to nationalized health care and the Democrats will do everything they can to get rid of it. Of course, in that case they will claim that any debate is "un-American".
    • Isn't that more a result of poor wiring, and less about the technology itself ? Seems to me, if we stopped hiring grade-9 dropouts to build our houses, maybe the wiring wouldn't suck so bad and powerline networking wouldn't be such a big deal.

      In my apartment, I have four separate circuits, but they all bleed into each other at the fusebox, so when the freezer's compressor kicks in, I get pops in my speakers, and the bedroom TV spazzes for a moment as the flyback settles back to resonance. If I installed p

    • It's not a debate. Doing this turns those power lines into big antennas. You can't debate the laws of physics.

      Note that the article specifically mentions that it's not about broadband-over-power-lines (BPL). The author is restricting himself to discussing home replacements for Ethernet, which are blocked at the meter and cannot leave the house. Yes, the wires inside the house become antennae, but it doesn't cause the widespread disruption that BPL would.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Muad'Dave ( 255648 )
        That's curious. My meter will not block anything. The TRANSFORMER provides some isolation, but for many of us in the US, that's on a utility pole up to 100' from the house. Since the lines from the transformer to the house are usually strung overhead, they make very effective radiators.
  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <> on Thursday August 13, 2009 @07:05PM (#29059445) Homepage Journal
    There are two different things that can be considered power-line networking. One is the kind where the powerline is used to provide internet to many homes all the way from a central location through intermediate power transformers. This, fortunately, is already obsolete, because it could not provide good enough bandwidth to pay for itself. It did interfere with many radio users, not just hams.

    The other is within-home networking like Homeplug. ARRL dealt with early interference issues and has not reported any recent ones as far as I'm aware. But the very earliest models allowed us to hear your phone call on shortwave! Fortunately, people who owned those were found and warned, for the most part.


  • by randy of the redwood ( 1565519 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @07:22PM (#29059645)
    I prefer my hams honey glazed and baked rather than microwaved anyway.
  • by mpoulton ( 689851 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @07:29PM (#29059715)
    "keeping the HF bands clear for low signal communication is a bit like keeping the rail tracks clear of fast express trains so that nostalgists can run steam trains over them."

    The author's analogy belies the fatal flaw in his though process: HF communications may be older and slower than the internet, but the internet is highly unreliable and fails when communications are most critical. HF always works. HF is the ONLY completely reliable means of long-distance communication that humans have. To destroy mankind's sole means of completely reliable communication in favor of a system which fails when needed most is simply foolish. This isn't about amateur radio. It's merely incidental that most HF communications these days are by hams, and that hams handle disaster comms when the networks go down. These communications could be handled by any group of people, and the result would be the same: without a reliable HF infrastructure, humans screw themselves doubly when nature screws us.
    • Also, HF is something individuals can do between each other, point to point, on their own resources and initiative. Internet, outside of a few specialty wifi kludges, pretty much makes you an appendage of $LOCAL_MONOPOLY_TELCO. This can be an issue if they go down, or start doing things you don't fancy...
      • Internet relies on multiple other entities pretty much by definition - otherwise it would just be a LAN. The high reliability of radio is due mostly to the lack of reliance on any entity or infrastructure other than the parties at each end. There's no way around this. As you work to progressively increase the reliability of a communications system by changing its design, it starts to look more and more like... 2-way radio.
      • Also, HF is something individuals can do between each other, point to point, on their own resources and initiative. Internet, outside of a few specialty wifi kludges, pretty much makes you an appendage of $LOCAL_MONOPOLY_TELCO. This can be an issue if they go down, or start doing things you don't fancy...

        Being a person who uses, appreciates but fundamentally doesn't trust the government - certainly not to choose how I ultimately wish to carry out my life, I find it useful to stash a few things that help me get in touch with people without the government or government-backed communications media. In my case this includes a few coils of wire, a few tools and an ARRL handbook.

        And I keep a few good reference texts in hardbound, in case the Wikipedia volunteer editorial board decides all the articles should b

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by morari ( 1080535 )

          My point is that no matter what happens to a country, the survivors should be able to fend for themselves in an emergency. That means grouping up, and that requires communications.

          Grouping up is the very last thing you'd want to do in order to survive. People are not to be trusted, especially not in an end-time scenario.

    • If we get to the point where we NEED HF communications, the interfering devices wouldn't be working and wouldn't interfere. Of course, in that scenario, nuclear radiation might be interfering with HF communications but that's a separate issue.

      • by PinkyGigglebrain ( 730753 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @08:30PM (#29060273)
        Heres another scenario for you:

        Massive Earthquake hits Southern California. All communication, power, water infrastructure destroyed or damaged.

        As you point out all the interference caused by the power lines would be gone, in that area.

        What about the areas outside the zone that are the ones the people in the zone will be trying to talk to?

        Every year a bunch of Ham radio people set up in a park in Berkeley, CA, and for three days they are off the grid running their equipment on solar panels, batteries, gas generator, exercise bikes with generators, whatever. The point is for them to show that they can maintain contact with the rest of the world without the infrastructure that will be knocked out in a disaster. And teach people about Ham radio to drum up new recruits.

        After the tsunami in Indian ocean one of the only sources of news and communication was Ham operators in the area.

        We need to keep those frequencies clear.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by sexconker ( 1179573 )

      People are morons.
      They bitch about infrastructure yet they move to VoIP and rip out the copper land lines.

      We push hybrid cars that cost more to produce (in terms of money and environmental impact) than old regular cars, and the difference will never be made up during the life of the car.

      We want plugin electrics despite the fact that they'll put a huge strain on the already-fucked electrical grid, and will be ultimately be supplied by burning coal.

      We have rebate programs to replace your fridge that's been wo

      • by negRo_slim ( 636783 ) <> on Thursday August 13, 2009 @08:16PM (#29060159) Homepage

        We push shitty shitty light bulbs down your throat when there's not a damned thing wrong with the current ones.

        I think my power bill disagrees with you on that point.

      • VoIP is a big improvement. The call quality is as good or better than the old land lines 99% of the time. Yes, the internet isn't as reliable as the old land lines were...but it's still good enough. If an emergency happens, that what what a cell phone is for : VoIP isn't meant to be your only phone, it's a significantly cheaper supplement to a cell phone. Also, you can make long distance calls via VoIP far more cheaply than any other method.

        Hybrid cars are still an experimental technology. They aren't

    • Your statement doesn't seem completely incompatible with his analogy.

      Steam powered trains work even if society collapses, but are inefficient. Maglev trains are very efficient, but but would not work if society collapses.

      In that sense, it is a little like if we kept rail tracks traditional so that we maintained backwards compatibility with steam trains.

      In the end, it comes down to deciding the expectation value of the improvement of efficiency versus the loss of a last ditch safety net.

    • "completely reliable" Gee man, I designed and built HF radios for about 10 years. Completely reliable HF sure isn't, but it is a nice toy to play with...
    • by Tisha_AH ( 600987 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @10:13PM (#29061073) Journal

      There are other services in the HF band between 1.8 MHz and 50 MHz than just Ham operators and shortwave radio stations.

      The spectrum is also used for aviation, particularly when commercial aircraft are over the ocean and out of line-of-sight to a shore station. Most ships at sea use HF radio for communications from ship to ship and for ship to shore communications. The military still uses HF communications for a great many systems, including the broadcast of EAM (emergency action messages).

      Someone will say "so what, they are way up in the air or in the middle of the ocean" but they fail to realize that the shore based stations are subject to interference while trying to receive signals from aircraft and ships.

      There are still radio navigation systems that operate in the HF bands, weather bouys in the ocean sending back data by HF and many other overlooked systems of lesser renown.

      Having spent a significant amount of my professional life hunting down interference sources to communications systems I can say it is NOT a good idea to put a thousand low powerline network extenders across a city. There WILL be harmonic interference, intermodulation and an overall decrease in performance. Look at how badly screwed up the 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth and ZigBee are? The 2.4 and 5.8 GHz devices at least have the decency of being line-of-sight and range is limited by buildings. As soon as you attach something to the wiring system of your home you create something that is impossible to manage (resolving interference issues).

      Give this one to the Hams and to those of us who still own and use shortwave radios.

  • by davygrvy ( 868500 ) <> on Thursday August 13, 2009 @07:36PM (#29059811)

    Power lines were never meant to carry RF energy. When they are, they radiate. Cable TV doesn't radiate. It doesn't radiate because it uses a proper transmission medium (Coax). If the power line folks want to distribute DATA, they should string the poles with fiber optic. Better yet, we the people should string it, and sell access to the content providers.. ala municipal fiber networks. They can work folks!

  • by speedlaw ( 878924 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @08:18PM (#29060177) Homepage
    Here in Westchester, NY one of our local utilites tried a system in Briarcliff Manor, NY. It totally wiped out any HF reception within 3 tenths of a mile. Your normal background static was replaced by a 30/+9 digital hash. (For you non radio folks, and wi-fi does NOT count, that means the meter is pinned and you can't hear sh#&.) A broad rollout of BPL would mean that for the vast majority of radio amateurs, model railroading would be a better idea-sell you equipment to the illegal CB ops. The systems cannot coexist. I'd be very afraid of BPL when the sunspot numbers are high, as you'd then get interference from BPL somewhere in the world-making all of HF useless. While HF is not where your magik cell phone or Blackberry live, and it is not currently in style, does not mean that it is the toxic waste dump of the RF spectrum. Wi-Max, if the intere$ted partie$ involved could ever get their act together, would be a much better idea. BPL also wipes out CB, which is meaningless unless you are a trucker...or use anything trucks deliver.
    • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
      would it be economical to build special purpose devices that transmit bursts at power lines to crap all over BPL connections? if the lines are radiating interference they should be vulnerable to it as well.

      not that i would advocate anything illegal.
  • I would make the arguement that homeplug intereference is a bad thing, not becuse of EMCOM, but because people should be able to enjoy a hobby without intereference from their neighbor.

  • Not just Ham Radio (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ozoner ( 1406169 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @09:40PM (#29060843)

    It is appalling to see the dishonest arguments used by the proponents of BPL.

    Sure Hams would be affected, but what about the hundreds of other essential services which cram into the H.F. bands?

    Everything from Military, to Ambulance, Fire, Police, Aircraft, Marine, etc. rely on H.F. for reliable remote communications.

    Ham Radio is an easy target ("just a bunch of nerds, who needs them?"), but whenever the spin is limited to Ham Radio, you know you are listening to a bunch of lying scumbags.

    As a professional Communications Engineer, I can tell you that we must kill BPL!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by EricJ2190 ( 1016652 )
      I am not sure how much a neighbor's power line network would affect my ham radio operation, but I had to stop using the devices in my home because the radio noise was awful. The problem is that the power grid wiring was not designed to carry RF, and very effectively radiates it across the line to any receiver nearby. In fact, some low power unlicensed broadcasters actually take advantage of this in what is called "carrier current" broadcasting where a signal is put into the electrical wiring of a building s

The moon is a planet just like the Earth, only it is even deader.