The world’s leading radio spectrum regulator may finally be taking the noise floor seriously.
One way to assess the impact of Radio Frequency Interference is to consider the ambient noise floor affecting spectrum users. According to Wikipedia, “the noise floor is the measure of the signal created from the sum of all the noise sources and unwanted signals within a measurement system, where noise is defined as any signal other than the one being monitored.” The main causes of man made RFI are incidental and unintentional.
Incidental radio noise is generated by devices that were not intended to radiate signals, but do so incidental to their normal operations. Examples are power tools, power lines and some types of lights. Unintended radio noise is generated by devices that use radio energy in their operations, but are not supposed to emit or radiate this energy. Examples include computers, televisions and switch mode power supplies.
Over the past 40-50 years, society has increasingly used electric devices which emit incidental and unintentional RFI. Regulation of these devices has been weak, particularly a lack of enforcement. The first radio users to be significantly effected are ham radio operators, but they have largely been a voice in the wilderness.
I have often said that eventually the cumulative effect of raising the noise floor across a broad spectrum would lead to a larger problem where all these devices begin to seriously interfere with each other. That is now starting to happen. This is no longer just a ham radio problem.
FCC is finally studying the Noise Floor – Maybe
Back in June, the FCC (the world’s leading spectrum regulator, or at least it used to be) announced a comprehensive noise floor study by its Technical Advisory Council. TAC has spent the summer collecting advice about what to study and how to study it. That’s a good start.
But what I find really interesting in the request is the admission that the FCC does not yet have evidence to support or deny the hypothesis that radio noise floor pollution is a problem or if so, how significant it is. Also astounding is the implication that the FCC cannot do proper spectrum management without this type of information. And yet, that is exactly what it has been doing for twenty years.
Essentially, the FCC is admitting that it might have been asleep at the wheel. Sigh.
Let’s not get too hopeful, though. What is happening now is simply a study about doing a study. Don’t you love how government works? Fingers crossed. Maybe this will lead to something useful.