Spectrum battle puts 4G, cable in conflict

Posted December 3, 2013

— Cable customers who see a jerky television picture may call the TV station or even their cable provider to report the problem. What they might not expect is that other electronics are creating the interference that results in a pixelated picture.

Time Warner Cable in the Triangle recently placed some channels, including WRAL, on the same spot in the broadband spectrum that serves Verizon's 4G LTE data service. Those with phones on the Verizon network are most likely to see the interference.

In June, Verizon finished the rollout of 4G LTE in the 700 MHz band of spectrum. It is the only wireless carrier using that part of the spectrum. Time Warner uses that same spectrum for some channels in the Triangle, so when a 4G device and a cable box are in the same room, they can come into conflict.

"Every time my wife comes home from work and we watch TV, that's when the problem happens," said Jeff Lipack of Raleigh, noting that he doesn't have 4G LTE service but his wife does.

Cable boxes lack the kind of shielding to block interference from other devices, and the LTE phones create the interference inside the set-top boxes whenever the user checks email, sends a text or a tweet, posts a Facebook update or surfs the Internet. It can even happen when no one is using the phone, officials said, as the phone is often doing background communications over the LTE network.

Check out this video to see it in action:

"We apologize for the inconvenience and are working on a solution that will resolve this problem definitively in the coming weeks," Time Warner said in a statement.

Sam Matheny, vice president of policy and innovation at Capitol Broadcasting Co., WRAL's parent company, said Time Warner plans to shift the station and FOX 50 off the 700 MHz band.

Garbled TV screen Some smartphones interfering with cable reception

"It's going to take time," Matheny added.

The issue will become more acute for the cable industry as the number of LTE devices grows. Already, more than one-third of Verizon's 101 million customers have such phones, and IPG Media Lab reports 60 percent of people use a smartphone or tablet while watching TV.

Time Warner officials said such "hyper-local interference" might be resolved simply by taking the phone to another room.

People also can put their phones on airplane mode. That solves the interference with TV, but they won't be able to use their phones until switching back.

Another solution involves turning off the 4G service and using Wi-Fi to access the Internet.

Lipack said a new cable box solved the problem at his home, but it hasn't worked for others.

"I still have some friends on Facebook who are complaining about the problem," he said.


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  • raleighwakenative Dec 5, 2013

    This happens to me and I do not have anything 4G. It happens only with WRAL and their sister station Fox-13. Annoying!

  • SaveEnergyMan Dec 5, 2013

    TWC customer service issues aside, I am glad that WRAL identified the problem and publicized it.

    I was ready to toss the box in the yard and tell TWC to come pick it up. At least I know how to prevent the issue now until a permanent fix is made. Thanks Monica!

  • icmfal Dec 4, 2013

    Direct TV is about as bad as TWC. None of them are worth the money they want for their services. I will stick with my Antenna.

  • dcatz Dec 4, 2013

    This is 100% Time Warner's fault. The boxes should be shielded; this is standard practice for any competent electronic design.

  • PJM Dec 4, 2013

    such nonsense! Timewarner Cable sucks hello direct tv

  • ohmygosh Dec 4, 2013

    Glad to see this. The birds come home to roost. All electronics devices should be in metal shielding. Plastic isn't. Not only does this prevent radiation from the box but pickup of external radiation. This has been known for 100 years.
    I had a cable modem that generated so much interference that it wiped out radio reception. Switch mode power cubes and power supplies are another huge source of noise. It's not that such problems can't designed away, it's the manufacturers cost reduction efforts which nixes such RF tight designs.

  • bji Dec 4, 2013

    Time Warner is the worst company I ever had to deal with! They don't care about their customers and make no effort to fix problems. Hope their management rots in hell!

  • NotUrTypicalAmerican Dec 4, 2013

    But will Time Warner Cable give a credit for those people who are experience those problems until they get it resolved?


  • HomeBrewDude Dec 4, 2013

    Amazing.... I cancelled my cable and went to DirecTV because Time Warner came out and could not fix this issue. No problems with satellite ..