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RF INTERFERENCE ANALYSIS & INTERMODULATION STUDIES 

 

interference remediation

 

Co-location Site RF Compatibility Analysis

Intermodulation studies by LBA increase the potential of wireless co-location sites to support additional tenants in a compatible, non-interfering manner. These studies predict intermodulation interference and provide important information about the isolation levels required for a compatible co-location site environment.  This will assist in site design and planning when performed in advance of construction. An Intermodulation study may also be a useful tool when investigating and seeking resolution to RF intermodulation interference problems at an existing co-location site.


Why Do an Intermodulation Study?

It is becoming routine for multiple wireless licensees to share communications sites, and cellular towers, even antennas. Shared site operations may cause harmful interference to each other through transmitter and receiver intermodulation, harmonic interference, transmitter noise, receiver desensitization (desense), and spurious interference. Since the interference situation changes whenever a radio system is added to a site, a new intermod interference analysis should be performed to assess the impact of the new system on existing users at the co-location site.


Why Intermodulation Interference Affects Wireless Co-location Sites?

The mixing of transmitter frequencies at a cellular or other wireless site produces intermodulation interference. System nonlinearities in amplifiers, antennas, and even structural components cause these frequencies mix to produce other intermod frequencies that may interfere with receivers at the co-location site. 

Of these mechanisms, two are most significant. Transmitter intermodulation results when signals enter a transmitter final amplifier and mix, with the resulting intermod frequencies reradiated by the transmitter antenna. Receiver intermodulation results when signals enter and mix in a receiver front end, and the resulting intermod products are detected at the receiver's demodulator.

Related to intermodulation are transmitter harmonics which are integer multiples of the transmitter frequency, and spurious emissions, both produced by non-linearity of the transmitting system.

Transmitter noise and receiver desensitization are two other interference mechanisms often studied as part of a co-location interference analysis of a cell site. Transmitter noise is internally generated power radiated outside the assigned transmit bandwidth and causing interference to a nearby receiver assigned channel. Receiver desensitization, often called “desense”, refers to overwhelming power coupled through a receiver's filters from a nearby transmitter and degrading its noise floor.

 

How is an Intermodulation Interference Analysis is Performed?

In preparation for a co-location intermodulation interference analysis, an inventory is performed to identify all frequencies, receive and transmit, in use at a site. These may include cellular, WiMax, Microwave, public safety, and AM, FM, TV broadcast transmitters. A suitable database is prepared which contains detailed parameters of each operation. At complex cell towers or rooftops, the data acquisition phase may be intense, at times requiring field audits. The quality of this step dictates the reliability of the intermodulation study outcome!

The intermodulation analysis is performed through proprietary computer programs that generate the thousands of potential interactions that result from even a modestly congested cell site. An intermod interference analysis generates an infinite number of “orders” of interaction which are limited by the designer to the minimum significant number. Typically, wireless practice is to evaluate five or seven “orders”, beyond which practical intermodulation interference becomes insignificant. 

The intermodulation co-location software then screens the potential intermod interference threats against preset system intermod interference thresholds. Further computer and empirical evaluation of these results identifies predicted co-location intermodulation  interference levels, noise floor degradation, and other data sufficient for the system designer to make frequency allocation and hardware choices.

Whatever your requirements, from an intermod study performed at LBA’s offices based on the data you provide, to an onsite RF interference investigation and resolution project, or some intermediate activity, call on us.  Our expert staff, backed by over 40 years of experience in identifying and resolving co-location, intermodulation, and other RF interference problems, is ready to serve you with detailed and accurately documented reports delivered to you in a timely manner.



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Radio Frequency (RF) Interference FAQs

• Where does RF interference come from?
Radio frequency interference can originate from a wide number of sources—from natural phenomena such as lightning and sun spots to a host of man-made generators. Typically, those trying to guard from interfering signals are concerned more with man-made sources. These sources include high power broadcast systems like AM/FM radio and TV transmitters and a multitude of other communications systems, including 2-way radio, paging, mobile telephone, and emergency and public safety communications systems. There are also unintentional emitters that are sometimes a source of radio frequency interference. Power lines, transformers, medical equipment, electro-mechanical switches and many others—produce RF energy as they perform their functions. Also of note are microwave ovens, cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, wireless video cameras, outdoor microwave links, wireless game controllers, Zigbee devices, fluorescent lights, WiMAX, and so on.

• What problems are caused by RF interference?
The impact of radio frequency interference depends on what you are doing. Radio frequency emissions are very carefully guarded around explosives, for instance, because it can cause detonation! In common communications systems, RF interference degrades or completely disrupts signal quality, overall system performance, connectivity between two or more stations, and system carrying capacity. Simply put, RF interference can make a RF based system totally non-functional, it can cause an intrusion of music, conversation or noise, or it can create problems in system performance that are extremely difficult to trace back to the RF interference source.

• What RF levels will impact equipment operations?
This is truly a case-by-case issue. There are no set regulations defining a single RF level that will cause RF interference. Among other things, it depends on the sensitivity of the equipment under consideration, or how low an interfering signal can be in the presence of the equipment and cause problems. Also, equipment can be particularly sensitive to very low signal levels of one frequency and yet quite immune to high signal levels of another frequency—so frequency is an important factor. Some electronic system components are internally shielded and have a very high immunity to interference. But generally, most equipment has not been so engineered.

Electronic equipment is often tested to RF intference sensitivity by the manufacturer, but the results are not always easily obtainable. At Lawrence Behr Associates, communications facilities are often studied for the potential for RF interference conditions, and unless there are specific threshold limits that are known beforehand, we use 1 Volt/meter as a point of concern. We do realize, however, that some systems are rendered incapacitated by RF interference levels of more than one hundred times smaller values. 

• What is Intermodulation Interference?
There are three basic categories of Intermodulation Interference.  They are receiver produced, transmitter produced, and "other" radiated intermodulation interference.  Transmitter produced intermodulation interference is the result of one or more transmitters impressing a signal in the non-linear final output stage circuitry of another transmitter, usually via antenna coupling.  The intermod product frequency is then re-radiated from the transmitter's antenna.  Receiver produced intermodulation inteference is the result of two or more transmitter signals mixing in a receiver RF amplifier or mixer stage when operating in a non-linear range.

"Other" radiated intermodulation interference is the result of transmitter signals mixing in other non-linear junctions. These junctions are usually metallic, such as rusty bolts on a tower, dissimilar metallic junctions, or other non-linear metallic junctions in the area. Intermod products can also be caused by non-linearity in the transmission system such as antenna, transmission line, or connectors. Intermodulation from high power broadcast transmitters is a special case. Read more about it at Intermodulation at Broadcast Sites.

 • What will LBA's Intermodulation analysis service provide me?
The intermodulation analysis calculates all possible intermod product frequencies that could potentially interfere with receivers at the communications site based on each receiver’s individual bandwidth.  It then predicts each intermodulation interference signal level present at the input of each affected receiver.  For each intermodulation interference frequency, the analysis considers all possible sources of intermodulation intereference generation in the transmitters.  The analysis takes into account the transmitter’s power output, modulation bandwidth, and conversion losses.

The intermod analysis also takes into account the transmitter’s harmonic characteristics and output level, predicts each transmitter’s signal level and each transmitter’s noise signal level present at the input of each receiver.

It also takes into account the transmission line losses, filters, diplexers, transmitter combiners, isolators, multi-couplers and other RF devices that are present in each system.  Additionally, the intermod analysis considers the antenna separation space loss, horizontal and vertical gain components of the antennas as well as how they are mounted on the structure.  The gain components are derived from antenna pattern data published by each manufacturer.

Additionally, the analysis determines how much isolation, if any, is required to prevent receiver performance degradation for each intermodulation interference signal that occurs, any harmonics that fall within a receiver’s passband, receiver desensitization and transmitter noise interference.

• What is Transmitter Harmonic Interference? 
Transmitter harmonic interference is due to non-linear characteristics in a transmitter.  The harmonics are always fundamental frequency multiples and the non-linear design of the final output stage of the transmitter.  If the harmonic signal falls within the passband of a nearby receiver and the signal level is of sufficient amplitude, it can degrade the performance of the receiver. 

• What is Transmitter Spurious Output Interference?
Transmitter spurious output interference can be attributed to many different factors in a transmitter.  The generation of spurious frequencies could be due to non-linear characteristics in a transmitter or possibly the physical placement of components and unwanted coupling. If a spurious signal falls within the passband of a nearby receiver and the signal level is of sufficient amplitude, it can degrade the performance of the receiver.

• What is Receiver Desensitization Interference?
Receiver desensitization interference occurs when an undesired signal from a nearby "off-frequency" transmitter is sufficiently close to a receiver's operating frequency.  The signal may get through the RF selectivity of the receiver.  If this undesired signal is of sufficient amplitude, the receiver's critical voltage and current levels are altered and the performance of the receiver is degraded at its operating frequency.  The gain of the receiver is reduced, thereby reducing the performance of the receiver. A high-power transmitter can be operating several megahertz away from the receiver frequency and/or its antenna can be located several thousand feet from the receiver's antenna and still cause "desense" interference.

• What is Transmitter Noise Interference?
Transmitter noise interference occurs because a transmitter radiates energy on its operating frequency as well as frequencies above and below the assigned frequency. The energy that is radiated above and below the assigned frequency is known as sideband noise energy and extends for several megahertz on either side of the operating frequency. This undesired noise energy can fall within the passband of a nearby receiver even if the receiver's operating frequency is several megahertz away. The transmitter noise appears as "on-channel" noise interference and cannot be filtered out at the receiver. It is on the receiver's operating frequency and competes with the desired signal, which in effect, degrades the operational performance

• What are some typical manifestations of shielding problems in communications systems?
In a wireless system Electromagnetic Interference often does not cause problems in providing quality reception but it does cause problems in providing quality service. Typically a wireless operator will raise or lower tower height, add ratios or change system configurations in an attempt to eliminate service problems. These approaches do not work when electromagnetic interference strikes. Well-designed electromagnetic shielding systems provided the cost-effective and lasting solutions.

• What are the benefits of RF shielding?
When properly designed and installed in accordance with the specific requirement at hand, RF shielding materials can effectively eliminate the impact of RF interference on systems that are contained within the shield. The proper shield serves as an impermeable barrier to the incoming radiated radio frequency that would otherwise create interference. It allows for the safe and proper operation of otherwise sensitive equipment in high RF environments. In some cases, the RF is high enough to be considered a health hazard, in which case a RF shield would not only protect the equipment but also the people required to be at that location, as well.

• How is shielding installed?
The shielding materials and components (a shielding system) must be installed in accordance with the procedures that are particular to the facility being shielded, the degree of shielding effectiveness to be achieved, the special materials being employed, and the environmental conditions in which the system will be operating. In short, the installation should be performed by a competent and experienced shielding professional with the necessary tools and RF measuring equipment available to assure a thorough and long-lasting shield.

 

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About LBA

LBA Group companies serve technical infrastructure needs related to the broadcast, wireless, electromagnetic compatibility and safety sectors worldwide. We provide consulting, training and other telecommunications industry services. We also produce and market hardware for radio transmission, RF shielding, safety and testing.

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