Second-Hand Television SHINEs, Takes Down Entire Village’s Internet

We occasionally get stories on the tips line that just make us want to know more. This is especially true with tech stories covered by the mass media, which usually leave out the juicy tidbits that would just clutter up the story for the majority of non-technical readers. That leaves us to dig a little deeper for the satisfying details.

The latest one of these gems to hit the tips line is the tale of a regular broadband outage in a Welsh village. As in, really regular — at 7:00 AM every day, the internet customers of Aberhosan suffered a loss of their internet service. Customers of Openreach, the connectivity arm of the British telco BT, complained about the interruptions as customers do, and technicians responded to investigate the issue. Nobody was able to find the root cause, and despite replacing nearly all the cables in the system, the daily outages persisted for 18 months.

In the end, Openreach brought in a crack team from their Chief Engineer’s office to investigate. Working against COVID-19 restrictions, the team set up a spectrum analyzer in the early morning hours, to capture any evidence of whatever was causing the problem. At the appointed hour they saw a smear of radio frequency interference appear, a high-intensity pulse of noise at just the right frequency to interfere with the village’s asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) broadband service.

A little sleuthing led to the home of a villager and a second-hand TV, which was switched on every day at 7:00 AM. The TV was found to be emitting a strong RF impulse when it was powered up, strong enough to knock out the ADSL service to the entire village. Openreach categorized this as SHINE, or single high-level impulse noise. We’d never heard of this, but apparently it’s common enough that BT warns customers about it and provides helpful instructions for locating sources with an AM radio.

We’ll say one thing for the good people of Aberhosan: they must be patient in the extreme to put up with daily internet outages for 18 months. And it’s funny how there was no apparent notice paid by the offending television’s owner that his or her steady habit caused the outage. Perhaps they don’t have a broadband connection, and so wouldn’t have noticed the borking.

In any case, the owner was reportedly “mortified” by the news and hasn’t turned the TV on since learning of the issue. This generally seems to be the reaction when someone gets caught inadvertently messing up the spectrum — remember the Great Ohio Key Fob Mystery?

Thanks to [Kieran Donnelly] for spotting this for us.

52 thoughts on “Second-Hand Television SHINEs, Takes Down Entire Village’s Internet

  1. I’m an ISP engineer and we’ve replaced multiple non-customer CRT TV sets with modern flatscreens for free, as they messed with our actual customers DSL connection . Also lawnmower robots come to mind.
    The shielding is quite bad with these old telephone lines being used for 1,1mhz, nevermind vdsl 17-35mhz

    1. I hope they also offer alternative CRT for people who likes to play older video games (Atari, 8 bit NES) as those tended to look awful on modern TV plus 80s era light guns and Sega 3D glasses don’t work on LCD.

      It’d suck if they had to confiscate my 27″ WEGA TV because 100 local people lost internet whenever I played 3D Missile Defense.

  2. I thought the U.K. had radio detection vans prowling around the country to catch people who don’t pay their Tele Licence, does this mean that the government is spending millions of pounds on trying to catch people with perfectly working TVs but doesn’t give a damn when busted old TVs are blacking out thousands of peoples internet which they willing pay for?

  3. Given that this “second hand TV” had a strong enough RF emissions to block their ADSL service, it is possible that this set had something defective in it. Had the owner continued to use it, it could have failed eventually.
    Based on personal experience, ADSL causes lots of EMI on its own .

  4. I got one better. 121.5 MHZ is the emergency radio channel. Make noise AM/FM doesn’t matter. Land/Sea/Air rescue will come to your location by radio direction location if need be. This is also the stand-by channel that all commercial pilots must monitor for distress calls.

    Let’s just say an electric typewriter was causing some problems. Just long enough for RDF, not getting a good fix.

    1. I’m surprised that transmitters and satellite messengers aren’t considered a required piece of emergency equipment like first aid kits and flashlights for anyone going out of cell range.

      It seems like radio beacons would make a bigger difference in a survival situation than just about all the usual essentials.

      1. “for anyone going out of cell range”

        What do you think we did before we all had cellphones?
        Be sabre toothed tiger food?
        I got by just fine.

        Do you know of a good deal somewhere for a satellite messenger and whatever subscription it requires?
        Let’s not make camping into a pastime that only the richest people can afford please.

        1. There’s actually a relatively cheap satellite messenger called the Garmin inReach Mini that you can get for 350 dollars. They have a plan for 12 dollars a month that allows 10 text messages a month (.50 cents per each after) or a plan for 50 dollars a month that includes unlimited messages, as well as other plans. It also has global GPS location tracking, weather, and an GEOS SOS feature (for extra). It runs on the Iridium network, so it works anywhere with a relatively clear view of the sky.

    2. I used to be a radio inspector… FCC equivalent of a Field Engineer. Got called out to an area of a city due to satellite picking up a signal on 121.5 MHz. Drove up and down streets in the suspected area until I found something… using an IFR1200 (spectrum display, and receiver all in one… OK.. this was 30+ years ago) I saw an unmodulated carrier within 25 kHz of 121.5MHz and drifting… not XTAL controlled it seemed in my opinion. Had my doubts but the military wanted answers. It was 2AM (isn’t it always!). Banged on the door and got a reception with a machette behind their back. Not a pilot and doesn’t own a boat… turned off every circuit breaker until I found the culprit… an old AM/FM clock radio with an analog tuner dial. The “needle” was past 107 MHz… around 110 MHz. Yup… Local Oscillator high side injection… ADD 10.7 MHz… I found the local oscillator from this clock radio. Told them about the satellite and why I was there. Politely asked them not to use that radio. Of course, this was NOT what the satellite picked up, but at 2AM, I wasn’t going to state that.

      All sorts of stories like this… heart patients at a hospital wearing UHF monitoring transmitters that are picked up by land mobile 2-way radio repeaters… Mexican touch lamps knocking out garage door openers… spooks with clandestine equipment causing interference, Asian DECT phones knocking down cell phone service in North America, and US presidential convoys knocking down everything along their route.

      Solving and understanding these spectrum relationships is an art, and being aware of a lot of general spectrum activity… Hams are keen for this sort of thing, and those with a good education, technical experience and interest to solve puzzles do very well.

      1. Well not me. The FCC field engineer and Coast Guard radio engineer found that one. Ended up being in a coastal town business office. Took triangulation and stake out between the services to locate. If not for it being close to a Coast Guard station it would have taken longer.

        Everyone was surprised by the source.

      2. Kristin, your comment shows how imprecise English is and how my own mind presented the matter, perhaps inadequately, and how yours interpreted it…we are far apart!. Satellites used to monitor 121.5 MHz (that frequency is no longer used for ELT’s today). If unrelated to safety, then local hounds like me were sent to find the source. I was under orders from the Military to find “an ELT on 121.5MHz”. After driving the area in question, I found a clock radio in a private residence. The resident was very, very surprised. It was 2AM. An AM/FM radio was the unintentional emitter due to a local oscillator tuned very close to 121.5.

  5. Not that surprised the owner of said TV never noticed. Even if they have and use the internet often not everyone watches TV with the laptop/phone etc in use at the same time.. Suggests they only watch BBC though as Adverts take so damn long if you have a smartphone/laptop your bound to have it in reach for the breaks, and the BBC is about the only thing without excessive adverts… Could be a DVD or VHS player I suppose, but daily? Most any other box plugged into a TV these days would moan without the internet…

    Can’t really blame the old stuff, not like that level of shielding requirement or super high speed was a thing when they were put in. No reason to really worry about a little extra noise that doesn’t harm anything at the time..

  6. Had to of been a CRT TV. With that said it must of been an old person around late 60’s early 70’s. This explains the false awareness of the lack of internet and the TV being used at 7:00am every morning. I see this all the time when I go install Audio, CCTV and Alarm Systems in a Household that has people over the age of 55.

    OR

    Someones Kid or Kids watching a little TV before School and they didn’t have ADSL but some other Broadband connection. Depending how old the story is maybe they even had Dial-Up. Here in the States ADSL is around but typically in rural areas that doesn’t have Fiber or Coaxial.

    1. “Old person”? If someone was 15 in 1975, the Altair 8800, they’d be sixty now. Almost a lifetime of computers.

      Someone 20 then would be 65. Someone 30 then would be 75 now. The older you were then, the more likely you could afford a small computer in 1975.

      People aren’t magically activated at iold age. They gave lived a life, and for many that meant contact with computers along the way.

      1. I started programming on the HP2000 in 1974, was aware of and could have bought an Altair or Apple, but that would have used up all my lawn mowing money. I’m sure stories like this are not uncommon and I’m definitely not supersmart. So when someone says “old people” I say “Pshaw!”

    2. A CRT with a digital tuner? There’s no analogue TV in the UK anymore.
      What’s this SHINE thing?
      Openreach categorized this as SHINE, or single high-level impulse noise.
      I categorised this as BO… er… Big Old Lie Leave Out Xylophone
      ADSL, VDSL creates massive interference to anyone trying to use radio for anything, just goes to show how wide open to creating and receiving interference broadband over old nearly-twisted pairs really is.

        1. Funnily enough, my first job was working on the software for the TV part of the UKs first integrated digital television set. The range came out somewhere late 1998/early 1999. I started early 1999.

          And I knew a couple of people who bought CRTs with, I think, HDMI connectors on them. I think there was only the one model and it was at the tail end of CRTs. That was maybe 2007? 2008?

    1. Wish they took longer. Hell, we need to find more models of that TV stat and pepper them all over the world. Anything to get rid of this awful, poisonous curse.

      An orbital EMP is the only thing that can save us now. I can’t believe the bastards really did it, damn them all to hell.

    2. Exactly! I worked as a Tier II tech for Time-Warner Cable Houston (now it’s ComCastic) and this was so not unheard of. I would get calls from customers that their internet would slow or stop at a specific time every day, or on a certain day or time. Unfortunately, I only got the inbound complaints- I rarely got to find out how these things were analyzed for fixed. I had gone out in the field, but these type of fixes were out of my pay scale.

  7. he should sell that TV for a good price… I think a lot would like to buy it.

    On another note… 18 months, that’s nothing. In my area ADSL goes down every day multiple times. The company does NOTHING and does not care. We just gave up on the service after 8 years. Now we have 3G that goes down at least 3 times a month…. And guess what, the company does not care.

    Congrats on this company that actually cares about their costumers. That would be nice to have.

  8. Even here an important thing was left out. When did the TV RFI stop? At the end of 18 months? It is assumed to be daily. When? Brunch, tea time or evening. After a nightcap of news?

    This much RFI happens every time a sodium streetlight keeps restarting and makes a lot of noise blanketing the AM band, every few minutes. I would imagine that DSL might take a few minutes down time as dusk comes on due to streetlights starting at random.

    I am hopeful that LED streetlights will be quieter, but they have switching supplies and are on wires strung up allover the place.

  9. I used to work for an ISP here in the states, granted, not DSL, cable… the infrastructure is a bit different I know. The fact that it took that long to isolate the issue is a bit disturbing.

    Lets consider if its only 15 people with service in that village, if those people called the ISP even once a week to complain about the service, I would hope that someone would pop out and see what’s going on.

    And if one tech was there early enough in the day to see the SHINE, why did it take 18 MONTHS to figure out… oh… maybe there’s something or someone causing this issue pretty much every day @ 0700, lets get some antennas and figure out whats going on.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that they figured it out… and chasing noise is never easy, there are many times where its taken a few weeks to a couple months to figure out where the problem was… but 18 months seems a bit crazy.

    1. “there are many times where its taken a few weeks to a couple months to figure out where the problem was… but 18 months seems a bit crazy.”

      It was 18 months where the company didn’t bother even starting to look into it.
      Once they started to look into it, it sounds like it was found in very short order, implying only hours between arriving on scene to setup (“early morning”) and waiting for 7 am (Which to me is also “early morning” ;P )

  10. When I was a kid delivering newspapers in the mid 80s, I could always tell when someone had a CRT TV on in the house. I could sense/hear this high pitch sound from at least 100 feet from the house. Everyone I’ve told this to thinks I’m crazy.

  11. Regarding being able to hear the CRT tv sets?
    Walking down the Television isle in the retail stores used to be almost painful for me at times.
    Not every brand emitted it but it seemed that the more “whiz-bang” brand/build the TV was, then the more noisy they were.
    And like Khack75 mentioned, it seemed to be the worst, starting in the early to mid 1980’s.

    And as for the mentions of crappy internet service from the providers?
    Just the joys of our regulators (FTC here) allowing the telecoms to buy up all of their competition. In my area the (landline) phone co was allowed to buy the mobile phone co and the Cable TV co.
    As for the “benefits to the consumers” that they touted to the public, during the FED revue of the merger?
    I guess it’s that you no longer any point to waste your time, sitting on hold, trying to complain about slow speed or service dropouts. Because they don’t even try to fix it anymore.

  12. What I’d like to see explained is how the RF directly affected the internet signal, which is not RF (it wasn’t knocking out people’s WiFi). Was it a case of the strong radio signal being picked up by cabling in peoples homes/the ground/the signal box which were acting like antennas?

    1. The internet signal *is* RF. ADSL is a signal of a few megahertz. It runs over a cable, but it’s in the RF frequency range.
      A burst of RF noise can swamp out the ADSL signal.

      Wifi is also RF, but a much higher frequency. Noise bursts from noisy switches rarely ‘reach’ into such high frequencies.

    2. @Ollie Wifi is 2.4GHz (UHF is 300MHz to 3GHz) or 5GHz (is that SHF? anyway 3GHz to 30GHz range)
      @Laurens has it correct, ADSL/VDSL is still radio over old moderately balanced twisted pair conductors, hence why it flattens huge parts of the short wave, or HF spectrum, that’s 3-30MHz. Radio frequency bands are classified as 3-30-300-3000 and so on.
      The Internet service providers who are providing VDSL are supposed to avoid ‘transmitting’ (because that in essence is what they are doing) in certain frequency bands to avoid jamming those signals, but they almost always ignore that rule because it’s too hard.

  13. I had a TEAC set top digital TV receiver which was an amazing RF comb generator that generated spectral spikes through much of the HF band that radiated back up the wiring and out to the street power pole, which were readily seen on the SDR-1000 waterfall. There was minimal filtering of the harmonics on the circuit board.

    Plasma TVs are also notorious for generating RF noise, as are cheap and nasty switch mode power supplies for LED lighting and mobile devices generally.

    I had a pickaxe board driving a piezo and I could hear clicks coming through,. Checked the code… nope… turned out it was noise from the cheap mains powered SMPS provding the low voltage DC.

    Of course, don’t tell the smart meter or 5G concerned types any of this…

  14. Locally here in Somerset, UK, there is are a few strange intermittent AM signals, they pop up in some locations and not others, then disappear for weeks before coming back. Steady one second pulses at 666khz, what sound like digital data [ probobly just hams ] and even what appear to be number stations, sadly too weak and scrambled to accurately obtain the entire data set, litterlly someone reading out strings of numbers for hours in end, but it drifts in and out from bouncing. They have proven pretty tricky to localise. I’ve been tempted to map them out but I’ve not had the time or inclination thus far.
    We get a lot of aircraft flying over, at least a few each day are certainly military. Most are far too low not to cause disturbance.

  15. So that we know it was actually ADSL knocked out rather than Wi-Fi like some media tell, but can Wi-Fi actually be affected by TVs?

    I have a CRT TV with an Android set top box plugged in. The box is only about 2 meters far from the router, behind 2 walls though (an adobe one and a claybrick one). The router itself is repeating (via WDS) a 4G phone hotspot that’s 4 meters away.

    Sometimes, especially at evenings, the network speed on the box drops to 2–3 Mbps or even less, though it’s an order of magnitude higher on the phone itself.

    The ether is otherwise clean there; it’s a rural area and I barely can reach a foreign nearby hotspot or two. It drove me so crazy that I’m already thinking about connecting the box and the router with a cable o.O Can the TV be the source of the problem, huh? I have no idea how can it jam such a high frequency.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.