Everyone’s experienced radio frequency interference (RFI) at one point in their lives, and some of us experience it regularly. Whether from radio static or mobile network, home WiFi, or other radio-controlled devices, it can be disruptive to your work and home life, especially if you’re receiving important information.
What Is Radio Frequency(RF) Interference?
By definition, RF interference refers to interference created by an external source that’s producing an unwanted effect on your signal. This could mean static noises or even a service interruption.
Although RFI and electromagnetic interference (EMI) are similar, it is essential to distinguish both terms. EMI is a broader term that describes all electrical disturbances that cause performance failure. In contrast, RF interference refers to the disruption that happens in a specific radio frequency spectrum, typically between 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz.
Since many gadgets and consumer electronics operate within this spectrum, they often compete with each other to provide better services to the end user. Not only that, but every device – from smartwatches to microwave ovens – emits electromagnetic radiation, which creates a lot of traffic on the already-congested channels. As a result, your device might accidentally pick up frequencies from other devices.
What Causes RFI?
It is almost impossible to avoid RF interference since we are surrounded by devices and gadgets in the modern world. You might think that interference is caused by poor or weak signals, but it can also be influenced by other factors like:
- A lot of devices transmitting in the same range around you
- Several devices are connected to each other.
- You’re too far away from the transmitter
- Primary signals get canceled by multipath signals
- Low absorption loss due to poor design on your devices
- Your device is overwhelmed by powerful nearby radio transmitters
Types of Interference
If you’re more tech-savvy, you can locate the interference source to minimize RFI. Not only is this more efficient, but you might save money in the long run since you don’t need to troubleshoot with expensive equipment that doesn’t solve your problem.
Co-Channel Interference (CCI)
CCI happens when more than one radio transmitter is using the same frequency channel or band. For example, you might experience this phenomenon in a hotel that has many 2.4GHz WiFi access points (the routers or devices that provide WLAN connection) as they compete with each other in the same band. CCI can also be influenced by other factors, such as weather conditions, product design, and administrative errors from the provider.
The most common solution for this type of interference is to vary your access point channels. For example, if your 2.5GHz WiFi channels are competing with each other, you can change a few to 5.0GHz to avoid CCI.
Adjacent-Channel Interference (ACI)
ACI is another common interference in wireless networks. It is similar to CCI but is related to the proximity of the WiFi routers to each other instead of the frequency used. Thankfully, this is an easy fix – all you need is to use some strategic planning and move the routers away from each other.
Power Line Noise (PLN)
Power Line Noise (PLN) Interference is broadband interference caused by arcing on electric power lines. This interference lies in a wide range of frequencies ranging from AM broadcast band (low Hz) to higher frequencies.
Intermodulation Interference (IMI)
IMI is due to two or more transmitters when their energy mixes through antenna coupling. It leads to erroneous frequencies landing on the intended receiving channel from re-radiation from the antenna.
Fundamental Receiver Overload
Fundamental Receiver Overload Interference in a receiver is because of powerful signals received by the antenna. These signals induce currents on the components of the receiver and overload them. As a result, the receiver fails to interpret weak signals.
Switch-Mode Power Supplies
Switch-Mode Power Supplies are the common causative factor of broadband interference. The sources which cause this interference include consumer products such as lighting devices (LEDs). They produce radio interference switching of higher frequencies.
Wireless Network Interference
The most common interference is Wireless Network Interference in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or other wireless devices. This interference in wireless devices produces from the interaction of its signals with electromagnetic radiations emitting from other devices.
Categories of Interference
There are two general categories of interference—narrowband and broadband.
The Narrowband includes Continuous Wave (CW) and Modulated Continuous Wave (MCW) signals. It appears as narrow or slightly wider modulated vertical lines, each with a specific frequency. We can analyze these signals on a spectrum analyzer.
Many digital devices use narrowband transmissions, both the co-channel and adjacent-channel transmissions, and intermodulation products.
Broadband is the most common category we encounter. It includes a switch-mode power supply, digitally-modulated systems, and arcing in power lines. They appear as broad frequency ranges.
Examples of Broadband include the devices we frequently use in daily life, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Fiber, etc. On a short note, all the high-transmission or fastest technologies fall into this category.
How Do I Reduce or Stop Radio Frequency Interference?
Unfortunately, RF interference is unavoidable, especially in an urban or highly-populated area. That said, you can reduce it to a greater extent to minimize its effects.
Find And Eliminate Source Issues
RF interference can originate from many sources, the most common of which is power line noise. Such sources result in generating radiated and conducted RF interference. The majority of the time, this occurs due to power line sources. Such sources result in causing radiated and conducted RF Interference. Find and locate the problem in the power line and repair or replace it with another line. To eliminate future issues, try using short cables connecting the source and receiver. But if you have extra cable left after completing the connection, don’t coil the remaining cable. It’ll make your cable a better antenna, increasing your receiver efficiency.
Cables With Heavy Gauge Shields Work
As per the use, there is an adverse effect of RF interference on causing signal interference. This interference cannot be countered by insulation alone. So, shielding with heavy gauge shields is one of the best ways to prevent interference.
For shielding, you can go with braided copper shields to protect the incoming signals from RFI. When buying cables, look at the coverage percentage for the braided shield labeled on it. Cables with more coverage will provide more protection against interference.
Keep Good Connections
If you don’t change your connectors for a long time, they develop high contact resistance and act as HF detectors. Wiggle the connector if you want to know that the connector has lost its ability against interference.
For complete prevention of RFI, replace connectors with gold-plated ones. However, if your connectors are not too old, you can use commercial contact fluid to repair them. It might help in reducing interference problems, if not eliminating them.
Avoid Unnecessary Grounding
Grounding provides a low resistance path to ground all the radio frequency noises in the system. As a result, any noise generated is conducted away from the antenna to the ground and not radiated.
However, you should perform grounding within limits as it’ll result in increasing ground noise. Heavy ground wires are often ineffective for removing RFI, so it is suggested to use a No.8 copper wire conductor which should be a flat strap.
Buy Good Equipment
Whether buying a television, sound or audio systems, phone, or other electronic equipment, it is paramount to consider the quality, longevity, and performance degradation factors. Quality devices tend to cost more, due to higher-grade engineering and better-quality components. This, in turn, results in a better ability to contain radio interference and not become a frequency noise source in your home.
How To Check For RFI?
For checking RF Interference with hands-on experience, the standard practice is using a real-time spectrum analyzer. Today, the market is full of the best analyzers, and you have to do some research to get the right one. Some tools can capture even brief signals, which is extremely useful.
There is a need for in-depth knowledge to use a spectrum analyzer properly. You must know the frequencies of the EM range, especially the radio range. At times, the signals become available for a short time; you must use a robust detector.
If you don’t know which analyzer you should buy for quality performance, you can go with the following suggestions.
- Aaronia – Spectran V5 Handheld Spectrum Analyzer
- Narda – IDA2 Spectrum Analyzer
- Rohde & Schwarz Spectrum Analyzer
- Tektronix – DSA-series Spectrum Analyzers
Conclusion: Radio Frequency Interference (RFI)
Well! That was all about Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) so far. Due to an increase in wireless devices and consumer-based products, there is competition for the radio spectrum. As a result, the chances of interference are increasing accordingly.
So, there is a need to tackle these phenomena, which we have covered today in this article. If you have had enough of the interruption caused due to interference, perform the actions mentioned above.