Govern­ment in­ves­ti­gates mys­te­ri­ous dead zone


A dead zone in Amher­st­burg where key­less ig­ni­tion ve­hi­cles some­times won’t start is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by fed­eral of­fi­cials and a lo­cal ra­dio fre­quency en­thu­si­ast who thinks he may know the cause.

“These oc­cur­rences are rel­a­tively rare,” said Hans Par­mar, a spokesman with In­no­va­tion, Science and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Canada.

Un­der the Ra­dio­com­mu­ni­ca­tion Act, the fed­eral govern­ment has the au­thor­ity to de­ter­mine if there’s harm­ful in­ter­fer­ence, in­clud­ing in­ter­fer­ence af­fect­ing ve­hi­cles and other de­vices that use ra­dio fre­quen­cies and to “take nec­es­sary ac­tion to re­solve such cases,” he said Mon­day.

Par­mar con­firmed Tues­day that spec­trum man­age­ment of­fi­cers have been dis­patched to the area to de­ter­mine the source of in­ter­fer­ence.

The Star’s story on Satur­day about the mys­te­ri­ous dead zone in­trigued Lu­cas Jones, a Wind­sor fi­nan­cial ad­viser, who has a keen in­ter­est in ra­dio fre­quen­cies.

So with two an­ten­nas on the hood of his car and spe­cial soft­ware de­fined ra­dio (SDR) equip­ment hooked to his lap­top com­puter, he drove to the Sand­wich Street dead zone res­i­dents said was in a plaza with the Cana­dian Tire gas pumps and across the street where there’s a Wal­mart and a Cana­dian Tire store. He said he got “quite a few strange looks” Mon­day night.

“I thought it would be a fun ex­per­i­ment to see if I could fig­ure it out,” Jones said Tues­day.

He thinks it’s re­lated to a Detroit ra­dio sta­tion but not one that is ac­tu­ally broad­cast­ing at the 315 me­ga­hertz fre­quency that many car key fobs would use. Us­ing his equip­ment, he could some­times hear the ra­dio sta­tion and see spikes on that fre­quency Tues­day.

He thinks some­thing called har­mon­ics, think of rip­ples of un­in­tended copies of the orig­i­nal broad­cast, are caus­ing the in­ter­fer­ence. It’s a byprod­uct of a strong sig­nal, and in his hobby he of­ten has to fil­ter out FM sig­nals to fo­cus on a par­tic­u­lar fre­quency, he said.

He fig­ures he might be on to some­thing be­cause he heard sev­eral car alarms go off Tues­day in the plaza.

One of those was Laura Piper’s Chrysler Town and Coun­try van. Her fob wouldn’t open her van door, which she thought was a bat­tery is­sue so she used the key in­side the fob. That set off her alarm.

With a Star re­porter’s help, Piper was able to stop the alarm and start her van only by touch­ing the front tip of the fob to the start but­ton. “It’s so weird,” Piper said.

The Amher­st­burg res­i­dent said she reg­u­larly shops in that area and has never had it hap­pen. She said it’s em­bar­rass­ing and she wouldn’t have thought to point the key fob at her start but­ton.

Jones said if he can come up with a the­ory for the in­ter­fer­ence, he’s sure in­ves­ti­ga­tors with bet­ter equip­ment will be able to fig­ure it out. He found stronger in­ter­fer­ence across the street at the Wal­mart park­ing lot, even though more peo­ple have re­ported is­sues in the plaza with the gas pumps. He had no prob­lems with a key­less ig­ni­tion Nis­san Al­tima he was us­ing Tues­day in front of the Cana­dian Tire gas pumps.

He said the in­ter­fer­ence would de­pend on the lo­ca­tion, the weather and the strength of the key fob’s bat­tery. It may be that the in­ter­fer­ence is stronger else­where but if there isn’t a park­ing lot there, peo­ple wouldn’t no­tice.

“In­ter­fer­ence like this is very un­usual,” Jones said.

Amher­st­burg Coun. Don Mcarthur re­ported the is­sue Fri­day to the spec­trum man­age­ment and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions divi­sion of In­no­va­tion, Science and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Canada. He said he got a call from an in­ves­ti­ga­tor Mon­day morn­ing. “We have the right peo­ple look­ing into it,” Mcarthur said Mon­day.

Mcarthur parked his key­less ig­ni­tion Jeep Chero­kee at the Sand­wich Street plaza Sun­day night as a test and didn’t have any is­sues.

The Spec­trum and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Sec­tor is re­spon­si­ble for re­search­ing and reg­u­lat­ing spec­trum, which in­cludes in­ves­ti­gat­ing in­ter­fer­ence. It also reg­u­lates telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment and works with other or­ga­ni­za­tions on the safety and se­cu­rity of ex­ist­ing and fu­ture telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in­fra­struc­ture.

In an email Mon­day, Par­mar said “it could be a range of po­ten­tial is­sues, in­clud­ing de­fec­tive de­vices that have gone off-fre­quency or de­vices in close prox­im­ity to other trans­mit­ting de­vices that over­load its cir­cuitry.”


Lu­cas Jones uses his lap­top and soft­ware to mon­i­tor raw ra­dio fre­quency data to try to ex­plain strange in­ter­fer­ence at an Amher­st­burg plaza Tues­day. Sev­eral mo­torists com­plained that the fobs of their ve­hi­cles were dis­abled.


Lu­cas Jones used his lap­top and soft­ware to mon­i­tor raw ra­dio-fre­quency data on Tues­day to try to ex­plain a strange in­ter­fer­ence in Amher­st­burg that is af­fect­ing key­less ve­hi­cle starters.

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