Scrambled signals? Snow problem for Ofcom engineers

20 March 2018

A team of Ofcom’s engineers in Scotland recently did some serious off-roading to solve a tricky interference case.

The snowy adventure started when Spectrum Engineering Officers Ian Bunce and Kenny Wallace were asked to look into interference affecting a mobile phone mast on a hilly site near the town of Duns in the Scottish borders. The interference was affecting customers on the 3 network over much of the town and the surrounding countryside.

When Ian and Kenny reached the access road to the site, there were greeted by snow drifts up to three feet high. But that wasn’t enough to deter them, and they made good use of their 4X4 to continue the hunt despite the challenging conditions.

Having the right wheels – and, crucially, having completed a four-wheel-drive training course - the team were able to take most of the snow-covered track in their stride.

However, as the snow got deeper and the track got steeper, even the Shogun lost traction and our engineers had to walk the rest of the way to the base station to conduct on-site tests.

Once there, they detected a spike-type signal across the affected spectrum and set off back down the hill in hot (or cold) pursuit of the source, conducting tests as they went.

In time, they noted a similar spike on their vehicle-mounted equipment, which they traced to an egg farm located four kilometres from the mobile phone mast.

Once at the farm, the engineers continued their search, eventually tracing the source to a cellular enhancer installed in a large chicken shed. Enhancers are used to boost mobile phone signals but can also interfere with the signals from mobile phone masts.

Once the formalities of statement-taking and seizing of the offending device was concluded, the farm owner surprised Ian and Kenny by giving them a dozen eggs for their trouble.

In their own words, it was an ‘eggcellent’ end to the case and for the people of Duns who now have a working mobile phone network again.