Army officials confirmed last month that a recent radio tower equipment upgrade at the Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga., was the source of interference affecting the garage door openers of hundreds of homeowners in nearby neighborhoods.
Ron Elliot, director of public affairs for Hunter Army Airfield and Fort Stewart, reported that new, stronger repeaters were installed on April 10at the airfield. Residents in the Ardsley Park area and as far south as Richmond Hill began reporting problems with their garage-door openers the following day.
Though the 380 to 399.9 megahertz band is widely used by garage-door openers, baby monitors and other household devices, under regulations issued by the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. military is the primary authorized user. Civilian devices are considered “unlicensed users” of the spectrum band are required to yield to military use if necessary.
However, with the increase in consumer products competing for commercial spectrum and the nationwide deployment of the military’s land mobile radio system—a wireless communications system intended for use by military personnel, first responders and public works employees in ground vehicles or on foot—interference reports from civilians are also increasing.
According to a 2005 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, “as of August 2005, manufacturers had received over 1,300 customer complaints of affected garage door openers that they attributed to interference from Land Mobile Radios. One major manufacturer also estimated that its distributors had received between 7,000 and 10,000 complaints.” These numbers are expected to rise as competition for spectrum increases.
“From a military perspective, there’s not a whole lot to do [to fix the problem] because we’re authorized to operate in that frequency,” Elliott said. “You have to have a spectrum to switch frequencies.”
Using a pre-determined range of frequencies to accommodate multiple demands for radio space on the base without interfering with civilian devices could ease the problem, but “it’s also a matter of domestic security,” Elliott added. Pre-selecting frequencies could make it easier for unauthorized listeners to access military communications.
Homeowners affected by the radio tower equipment upgrade have two options, Larry Jameson, co-owner of Overhead Door in Savannah, told the Savannah Morning News. Owners who have a new unit can purchase a dual frequency universal receiver, while owners with older units may need to purchase a new operator and receiving unit.