Saturday, August 27, 2016

Mobile fun

Interesting conversation with an induhvidual at my sports club this afternoon.  The topic of the conversation was crap mobile reception.

Induhvidual:  I fixed my problem, I have a mobile repeater.

Me:  Really?  So do I.  Where did you get yours?

Induhvidual:  eBay.

Me:  Ah, so an illegal one then.

Induhvidual:  No!

Me:  Really.  What did you pay for it?

Induhvidual:  About $100.

Me:  Wow, nice buy.  And definitely totally illegal.  My repeater is legal.  They go for about $800 the last time I looked.

Induhvidual:  Who cares?

Me:  Mobile carriers care.  A lot.  By operating a transmitter in their frequency spectrum that’s not synced with their network, you’re creating a high powered source of interference that knocks out reception for everyone else in the area around you.  In effect, you’re a one-man black spot.  Legal repeaters work by acting as a mobile handset themselves so they sync with the network base station which deconflicts their signal with every other handset in the coverage footprint.  They then rebroadcast on a different frequency again, which they agree with the base station not to use, so they boost your signal without killing anyone else's.

Induhvidual:  So?

Me:  So mobile carriers get pissed about that sort of thing, because their customers complain, and that’s poking the carrier right in their most sensitive area – their revenue stream.

Induhvidual:  They can’t catch me.

Me:  Really?  They can triangulate the source of the interfering signal from their towers quite well, probably plot it down to something about the size of the room you have the thing installed in without too much trouble.  After all, it’s not moving, so all they have to do is take a bunch of measurements and take the average, that’s going to give them your house.  Think how good the GPS signal is in your mobile phone, that’s AGPS that uses mobile tower triangulation to boost the satellite signal.  Does your mobile phone GPS still work indoors?  So does the reverse.

Induhvidual:  Oh.  But they won’t care.

Me:  Let’s think that one through, shall we?  As I said, it’s a revenue stream for the carrier.  Complaints from your neighbours about their services being crap are going to get investigated.  The carrier can measure the interference levels off the base station from a computer terminal on the other side of the world just fine, and pull up reporting of stuff like the noise levels coming and going, dropped call rates off the cell et cetera.  If they see a problem, what they see is complaints or customers leaving for another carrier that uses a frequency spectrum that some dumbarse *isn’t* operating an unlicensed illegal transmitter in, so either way it costs them.  Those customers then go and tell ten of their friends and neighbours not to use that crappy carrier X, they switched to carrier Y and it’s sooo much better.

So what’s going to happen is that one day you’re going to get a knock on the door.  When you answer it, the caller will announce themselves as being a field technical investigator for the carrier, and he’s here to conduct a check for any unlicensed transmitter equipment operating in his carrier’s spectrum, and that he’ll be seizing it under the Telecommunications Act 1997 if he finds it.  Don’t worry, he’ll find it.  The radio analysis gear he has in his van costs more than your house does.

The bloke standing behind him will be a nice police officer.  He’ll be accompanying the carrier technician to make sure your attitude falls within the range deemed acceptable and compliant with the aforementioned Act, and he’ll have been well briefed beforehand so he knows exactly what they can do.  That covers stuff like entry to the premises regardless of your assent, seizing anything they deem suspicious for further analysis, and generally doing pretty much what they want to.

The next character behind him is an investigating engineer from the ACMA.  He’s the one going to be actually prosecuting you for violating the Telecommunications Act.  He cares because the ACMA sells spectrum to the carriers, and it’s pretty scarce, so they charge heaps for it, and in return the carriers expect their licence rights to be fiercely protected.  The fine for individuals for this stuff is currently up to 2 years gaol and fines of up to $175,000.

The bloke behind him in the nice suit is the legal counsel for the ACMA assigned to the investigation.  He’s not going to say much, his job is just to observe and ensure the two engineers document everything well enough that the magistrate doesn’t need to waste too much time on agreeing that you’re well fucked, and that everyone else can move on to lunch.

But hey, use the thing if you like, no skin off my nose.

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