back to article GCHQ man: Powerline networks do interfere with radio

A document prepared by the spectrum manager of secret UK listening agency GCHQ, though disavowed by the organisation, has drawn more attention to the interference kicked out by powerline networking kit. The letter was prepared by [a government employee we have been asked not to name], of government-spy outfit GCHQ, and …


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  1. Liam Johnson

    just buy a bigger aerial

    Won’t that just pick up more interference too?

  2. My Alter Ego

    Number stations

    "Numbers Stations are mysterious radio broadcasts that have been around since the 1950s. They transmit what appear to be random numbers, spoken aloud, and are assumed to be broadcast instructions for operating spies."

    Are you saying Hurley won the lottery after using numbers broadcast by secret squirrel?

    1. Marvin the Martian
      Paris Hilton

      Around since the 50s

      Numbers Stations appeared around the same time as their brothers, the TV Detector Vans.

      Both are crucial to the functioning of society, although both (alledgedly) exist only in the UK.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Since when did numbers stations exist only in the UK? Indeed it would be an low power SW signal that didn't reach across borders.

  3. Sonny Jim

    Yay for Number Stations

    Before any one says "Why don't they just use the internet" I'll explain:

    1. Radio doesn't have a definitive 'end point', you can find out where it's being transmitted but you can't find out who is receiving it or where they are (only make an educated guess). With the internet they'll be logs and an IP it needs to be sent to.

    2. Radios are cheap and ubiquitous, if you were an operative working in the middle east and you were carrying around some kind of uber smart phone to do your decrypting, you'll stand out like a sore thumb. A shortwave receiver and a pen and pencil can be found almost anywhere on the planet.

    Most governments don't really use Number Stations any more, the UK one shut down a long time ago (google Lincolnshire Poacher) although the Chinese still use them quite a bit.

    Mines the one with the Degen 1103 in the pocket.

  4. Alan 6 Bronze badge

    Time Lord?

    "The letter was prepared in May, leaked in March, and the pdf is now available on the Ban PLT web site."

    Leaked two months before it was written - or is there a year missed off the months...

  5. Matt 21

    "If power line networking is causing headaches for our spies then that's a serious issue"

    Only serious if they are doing anything useful.........

  6. Anonymous Coward

    any spooks reading this....

    ..I challenge you to send me an email to my personal address with my middle name in the subject title....

    You never know.

    Mine is the one with the S350 that doesn't fit in the pocket but the batteries really do lat months...

  7. Anonymous Coward

    What an amazing co-incidence.

    (1) "Mark Lancaster, MP for Milton Keynes North, has raised it as an adjournment debate (a 30-minute conversation) following a request from one of his (radio ham) constituents."

    (2) MK North Constituency: Bradwell, Campbell Park, Hanslope Park, Linford North, Linford South, Middleton, Newport Pagnell North, Newport Pagnell South, Olney, Sherington, Stantonbury, Wolverton.

    (3) Hanslope Park: Once the manorial estate of the village, it is now owned by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and home to HMGCC (Her Majesty's Government Communications Centre). This researches, designs, develops and produces communications systems, equipment and related hardware and software.

    So to summarise.. he just happens to have Bletchley Park 2.0 in his constituency.


  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Numbers Stations

    *If* the spooks are having trouble listening on numbers stations because of PLT generated interference, then Shirley the intended recipients of the numbers are also having trouble. That being the case GCHQ should actually consider PLTs a good thing.

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      yes, but

      how do we know that communists in Northern Italy (say) have neighbours with PLT?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    About time too

    Look if you had a constant bass beat reverberating around your house whenever you were home and it was your neighbours then you'd do something - yes?

    In this day and age these PLTs are EXACTLY that, except only the most techie of you will ever work that out.

    The rest of you will just accept that "things happen" - well yes they do when the "regulator" is totally incompetent. The only other alternative to incompetent is "corrupt".

    You choose which one it is.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge


      Wake me when someone other than be beardie weirdie radio brigade give a damn. There are so many other sources of RF interference in the home that PLT barely registers to most. Deal with wireless router channel saturation, video senders and badly shielded microwaves then wake me up. Till then nobody cares.

      Now to get that backup script looping over my PLT network 24/7 just in case one of the gammons is about.

      1. Brian Morrison
        Thumb Down

        Well no actually....

        ..there are quite few sources of severe wideband interference other than those created:

        a) deliberately by people injecting high HF signal levels into mains wiring a.k.a PLT

        b) deliberately by people who type approve their switch mode power supplies with RF filtering components fitted and then remove them in production to save money.

        Oddly both of these problems affect people that use the radio spectrum in a domestic environments, some of them are just listening to medium wave or band II.

        I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that 400W transmitted near your PLT devices is likely to make them fall over perfectly legally too.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          (c) people who install variable speed drives for lathes and drilling machines without any rfi precautions at all.

      2. Steve X

        Nobody cares about your services...

        > Deal with wireless router channel saturation, video senders and badly shielded microwaves

        Those all operate in the ISM band, which is unlicensed and has no guaranteed level of service. If quality of service matters to you, get your AmEx card out and buy a license for some spectrum where you can reasonably expect QoS. Then you can complain. Like the beardie weirdies you are so dismissive of do.

        Otherwise you're just a whinging freetard cheapskate who's getting exactly the level of service you're paying for. Anything above zero is a bonus.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        No problem. I'll take the earth connection off the ground spike, and connect it directly onto the outer of the electricity cable.

        A few hundred watts of 80 metre ssb should solve the problem.....or maybe I'll just use packet on 80....hmmm...hard choice. I get no problems with microwave ovens....nor routers.....but BT internet systems cause me a certain amount of grief.....fortunately, powerline is not a protected system....they have to tolerate interference......that's the price of being free.....and low power...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Oh good.

    If this means less of GCHQ listening in on perfectly innocent civvies - yes, they do - then I for one will go install some Powerline kit in my house.

  11. s. pam

    21 H6 77 34 Wot?

    I can't hear you GCHQ, warble warble my one-time pad is being computed.....44.753Mhz......looks like you've just given a serious clue to organised crime guys!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I want to know what Bill Ray's callsign is.

  13. Ted Treen

    As the man said...

    Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.

    Claud Cockburn (1904 - 1981)

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Enforcement ?

    Be really interested how they are going to enforce a ban if they have to....There have been literally millions sold...

    That is the the one question nobody seem to be willing to answer

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Black Helicopters

        Re: You are emitting radio waves from your property.

        Never said findind em' was a problem.....The so called compaints point to that

        However with millions sold you'd need to set up a network of vans/people to find them all. I suspect this was part of OFCOMs benefit/cost analysis and conclusion.

        This is especially so as they are CE Euro certified. You gonna ban them coming across the EU border..?

        'Excuse me Sir are you smuggling cigs,alcohol,drugs or HomePlug Adaptors ?

    2. Brian Morrison

      The way it would work... that the devices on sale would be removed from the shelves. Then in cases where interference came to light, the PLT devices causing the problem could then be removed from use and be destroyed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        both OFCOM and the EU are institutionally corrupt.

        No doubt someone in OFCOM will end-up on some company board or other....likewise the EU always talks louder than morality

      2. Alex 14

        Just a few questions

        After they've been taken off shelves, who would be responsible for detecting the interference from millions of devices in circulation? Who would track down their location? Would there be any compensation for people who legitimately purchased a legal device? Who would destroy them? How much would the de-PLT UK Team cost and who would pay for it?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          In The Not So Old Days....

          Not so long ago I read a story (possibly on El Reg) about some kid who had some kit in his bedroom that was causing RF interference. Ofcom tracked down the source of the interference and sent somebody round to have words. No fines just a few words of advice on what to do to stop the interference. Oh and probably the threat of a hefty fine in future if they didn't stop.

          These days it seems Ofcom (and/or the BBC) would rather stick their collective heads up their collective arses rather than take some sort of enforcing action.

          However the issue with something like a PLT causing RF interference is not just that it's illegal to use such devices, but it's also illegal to sell them. So if they wanted to enforce it they could actually start by enforcing refunds or fining retailers who fail to offer them.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Only the dodgy ones

            "Ofcom can take out adverts in the national press informing people of their (Ofcom's) mistake and telling people to return their PLT units to the place of purchase. "

            Only the dodgy ones, mind. Not all PLTs cause such interference.

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Yeah, sucks, but...

    Solves my patchy wi-fi problems :)

    Anon in anticipation of the downvotes.

  16. Frederic Bloggs

    Who are you calling Bearded?

    I resent being called bearded, or the owner of other types of facial hair. It is a slur and a vile calumny. At least 80% of my fellow radio amateurs are beard free, in fact several are hair free.

    So there!

  17. Nebulo

    Stereotype obsolescence alert

    I am a radio amateur.

    I object to PLT (& it's good to have GCHQ onside!).

    My chin is quite, quite glabrous.

    I rest my case.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother


    err, yes, PLT does cause noise. its been studied and known for quite some time.

    number-stations moved to other media - internet sites and embedded into several music

    sites . random accounts on youtube also contain number messages within their videos

    and several accounts on Picassa have numbers in their EXIF data. its all there - you just have to know where to look

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What Size... your tinfoil hat?

  19. Christian Berger

    Not just number stations

    Shortwave is the only part of the radio spectrum usable for broadcasting as you have ionospheric propagation. It's the only way to cover a larger area without setting up hundreds of transmitters.

  20. Jeremy 2


    It's a bit late to start playing the DA-Notice card (presumably invoking No.5?) when the document in question is already out on the internet, isn't it? Especially considering it's marked as unclassified in bold letters at the top along with the wording "This statement has been released by [name], [position]".

    Perhaps if they wanted the identities of that guy and the guy whose name is at the bottom of it to remain secret, they shouldn't have included them in the document in the first place? Just sayin'

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    At last...

    ... a reason to use powerline networking.

  22. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    If GCHQ have trouble receiving these stations

    Given (presumably) some *huge* aerials they have.

    Why should they be worried about some illegal spook holed up in a bed sit with a marginal quality transistor radio (bought down the local market to avoid a customs search turning up any "special" equipment) 3/4 of the way through its batteries?

    It's got to be doubtful said spook would hear *anything* through the mush.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    When the storms hit The Gap (Brisbane) back in 2007... only regret was not having a battery rigged up to run my HF transceiver.

    I just had my 2m/70cm handheld (which was my *only* means of contact when I was out of the house, the mobile phones were out). With the power out to the entire neighbourhood, 2m sounded *heavenly*. No plasma TVs, no noisy insulators on the overhead lines, no PLT... propagation was unbelievable.

    And of course this was before the Solar electricity craze... so no noisy cheap inverters either. (Some of them can also make a lot of noise.)

    I'm not against things being power efficient, using their house wiring for Ethernet or enjoying high definition television, but sadly a lot of companies in their quest for lower manufacturing costs, start with an EMC-friendly design, then gradually take pieces out until it stops working, then put the last piece back in.

    End result being a product that's vastly different to the one they sent in for testing... and the likes of the ACMA, Ofcom, FCC, etc are left to chase them up on it. That, or the manufacturer just doesn't care.

    And of course the average public person has no idea that their device can be making this racket.

    It's not just the spooks and radio amateurs that use HF... there's HF CB (27MHz), HF marine, here in Australia there's Outpost radio service (RFDS, VKS-737, etc)... some of the long-distance aircraft also use HF for communications. So you're not just interfering with that house down the road that resembles an echidna, but likely also air traffic control or coast guard.

    Bear this in mind next time you're on a boat or plane. :-)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Can't get my dates straight... 2008... November 2008...

  24. Anonymous Coward

    I'm impressed about the D-Notice

    I suppose as **** are required to lie about everything , then we can start to guess their comments on PLT being a pain are true, what if the opponents of sigint/elint realise this and start buying thousands of Netgear XAV5001 500Mb/s powerline Ethernet adapters (before the firmware is modified to leak entropic data as opposed to mush) Possibly the main frequencies listened to by the BN2T CC Mk2(*) could be at risk? I think a D-notice on the use of PLT adapters in city centres would be useful.


    Does another of yesterdays' articles need a D-notice too? it mentions how key **** employees shockingly read the DailyTelegraph 'free'! <>

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    I am a radio ham hihi and with all the M3s on HF I dont know whats worse hihi Youll mostly find me on 4 metres hihi 73s QSL 59+

    1. Slim Chance

      Be quiet Jim

      Go back to your NG and talk about cambelts.

  26. jgb

    Smog in Channel - World isolated


    buy a license for some spectrum where you can reasonably expect QoS. Then you can complain. ......Otherwise you're just a whinging freetard cheapskate who's getting exactly the level of service you're paying for. Anything above zero is a bonus.


    Given the existing (and rising) level of RF smog, especially in urban areas everywhere, this Not My Problem attitude won't work! PLT USED to be standardised so that it couldn't create much smog, however many devices were used. Then the regulatory mechanisms fell apart and we're now in a mess.

    If you transmit at broadband speeds in any unconstrained medium (radio itself, unshielded cables that act as antennas, ...) you WILL almost inevitably create possibly-unexpected crosstalk and interference. There MAY also be risks to health from the general RF Smog level and / or specific sources (mobile phones, WiFi, possibly PLT - see latest Sunday Telegraph front page!). Personally, I doubt there is much real risk (inverse-square law etc.) EXCEPT from high-power point sources such as mobiles close to sensitive areas such as your head - but clearly others do. Add on some unexpected sources (combi boilers - see Ban PLT website, very fast PC processor chips in VAST numbers, ...) to the Usual Suspects, and we're looking at a future where permanent, quite dense RF smog will be a GENERAL phenomenon.

    Two choices: Get over it. Or fix it before it gets really bad.

    Given our startlingly unsuccessful attempts to even agree that human impact on the environment (Global Warming, ...) is even A Problem, I'm not optimistic!

  27. Brian Morrison

    PLT used to be standardised?

    It did? When?

  28. Telecide
    Big Brother

    wi-fi v PLT health issues

    Someone I know (a conspiracy nut) switched from wi-fi to PLT because they believed that wireless carries with it long-term exposure health issues, whereas PLT apparently doesn't. Presumably if a PLT-user is inadvertantly turning their house into a massive VHF transmitter, that carries potential health issues too?

    Don't mind me, I always wear a tinfoil hat regardless ;)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A Little Knowledge

      The trouble with idiots like that is that they don't think about other sources of localized RF. Not just the likes of PLT and wireless doorbells and baby monitors. I've come across RF interference being caused by all sorts of things although my personal favourite is the dodgy PC PSU.

      Had a friend once who got some interesting TV inteference and realised it was only happening when he used his PC. So he spent some considerable time running an ethernet cable from his router to his PC. Being a conscientious sort of bloke he did the job properly, it even involved some plastering. When he'd finished he chucked the wi-fi card in the bin. But when he switched on the PC it happened again. So he switched off wireless on the router. Still he got the interference. Of course it turned out to be the PSU in his PC.

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