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Gadget lovers clashing with radio spectrum

Published:Sunday | December 13, 2015 | 12:00 AMNeville Graham
Audio and video jacks
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The proliferation of nifty home and security gadgets has begun to infringe on bandwidth, and in some cases, their signals conflict with more powerful transmission networks, rendering the consumer devices redundant.

The result is that many of the devices that use radio signals cannot function, leading to rising complaints.

Now the Spectrum Management Authority (SMA), which says persons have been turning up at its doorsteps more frequently to vent their frustrations, is trying to alert consumers to the real impact on the spectrum of the wireless devices they buy online or while overseas, and is now trying to police the activity to safeguard the integrity of the bandwidth it manages and sells.

Last week, the SMA published a press notice as a warning to consumers that it is in their interest to first seek clearance from the agency on devices they plan to import, otherwise they could be confiscated by the Jamaica Customs Agency pending approval of the SMA.

The agency cited garage door openers, keyless entry devices, vehicle immobilisers, vehicle trackers, RFID tags, cellular radios as examples in its advertisement. They also include Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-enabled devices.

At the same time, Ida-Gaye Warburton, the director of legal affairs at the SMA, says the agency has no plan for deep policing of the activity.

"This is not about imposing some sort of bureaucratic governmental process to stop people from purchasing what they want," Warburton told Sunday Business.

"What we are saying is that there are things that will work and there are things that won't work and the undue interference is what we are trying to prevent so that everyone can enjoy the use of the spectrum, and the use of these new technologies without any hindrance," she said.

SMA is the agency that regulates the radio frequency spectrum on behalf of the Government of Jamaica in line with the requirement of the Telecommunications Act. Among other things, the SMA is responsible for certifying devices that transmit or receive radio signals for operation in Jamaica.

Warburton says the SMA found it necessary to put out the notice since more frequently, in recent times, persons have been left out of pocket because the items were so easy to get and they were not prepared for the outcome of receiving dud goods.

INCOMPATIBLEDEVICES

Consumers often believe that the devices are faulty, but in some cases they are just not compatible with Jamaica's systems.

"We noticed that a lot of people were coming in very frustrated, saying they didn't even know, and there is a cost if it has to be re-exported, because we can't permit entry into Jamaica," Warburton said.

She gave one recent example of the driver of a well appointed vehicle who could not re-enter their car because the keyless remote entry signal was being blocked by a nearby radio station transmitter.

The legal officer argues that checking with the SMA through the available list on their website or just an email or call is the sensible thing to do.

"You are bringing in a keyless device, but it uses the spectrum; if it is not a device that is configured to work on the frequency range that we have here in Jamaica for that device, when you try to use it, you may experience interference from something else that is authorised to work in that band. It may work in China, but China uses a different plan than in Jamaica," Warburton explained.

Customs may seize any device that is not on the SMA approved list.

"Customs has always been detaining items of this nature if it is that they are not already authorised by the SMA. So it is not new," Warburton said of the press notice. "It is simply alerting the public to the fact that this is what will occur if it is that they bring in an item that's not already preapproved," she said.

The SMA regulates the importation of devices primarily through its Type Approval process, under which it verifies that equipment entering Jamaica conforms to both national and international standards. The process verifies that a product meets "the minimum set of regulatory, technical and safety requirements deemed acceptable for operation in Jamaica".

The Spectrum Management Authority says its intent is to ensure that, once imported, the device will be able to work without experiencing or causing interference.

Jamaica is not unique - all countries have a Type Approval process so that the use of the radio frequency spectrum can be efficiently managed.

Persons wishing to run a quick check on the 'List of Approved Devices' can log on to www.sma.gov.jm or otherwise contact the agency via phone or email.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com