Computers Are Hard: SHINE Phenomena Impacts Broadband

There are always unexpected obstacles that arise in technology and computers. An old TV took down the broadband for an entire village in Wales.

We’ve said it before, we’re saying it now and we will continue to say this until it’s no longer true: Computers are hard. It’s not just the physical layers you see and feel, but the inner workings of those layers where code lives and functions. There are quirks not just in how programs are designed, but also how materials which compose machines interact with other materials. There are precious metals, wiring, plastics, electrical components and more that go into the build of a computer, some of which can be disrupted when presented with various environmental conditions. 

Take a look at the village of Aberhosan, a rural community of Wales. Every morning for 18 months, the entire village would experience a disruption in their broadband. Openreach telecom engineers repeatedly attempted to find the culprit of this problem, which sometimes extended into neighboring communities. The techs at Openreach became increasingly frustrated, “As a team, we’d been facing an ongoing issue in Aberhosan for months,” according to Openreach engineer Michael Jones. “Not being able to solve the fault for our customers left us feeling frustrated and downbeat, but we were determined to get to the bottom of it.”

They tried replacing sections of cable, they ran tests that showed the network was in working order. Yet the 7am disruptions continued, so Jones brought in a team of experts from around the UK to do one more test. This test would be to see if the problem was being caused by the SHINE phenomenon. SHINE is Single High-level Impulse Noise, which happens when interference is generated as a burst, like when a device is turned on or off.

“By using a device called a Spectrum Analyser, we walked up and down the village in the torrential rain at 6 a.m. to see if we could find an ‘electrical noise’ to support our theory,” according to Jones. “And at 7am, like clockwork, it happened. Our device picked up a large burst of electrical interference in the village.”

They traced the issue to a resident in the village who, like clockwork, turned on an old TV every morning at 7am. An old TV took out the broadband of an entire village and some of its surrounding communities and it took a team of experts 18 months to figure it out. SHINE isn’t a horribly rare thing, it can happen with a number of electrical devices from CCTV cameras to microwaves.

This is yet another example, similar to what was mentioned in the article on how Psy nearly broke YouTube, of nailing a beam on the second floor of a building and starting a fire on the 8th floor. It’s nothing that could have been foreseen, no way anyone would predict that outcome. An it was something incredibly frustrating to sort out. Luckily, for the town of Aberhosan, the resident who owned the TV immediately switched it off and vowed to not use it anymore. Openreach also plans to switch to a fiber network as part of its expansion plans in rural Wales.

Computers are hard. Even when you do everything right and have all of your ducks in a row, something you never saw coming could throw a wrench in your plans. This is why we have experts, without them, most of us would have problems piling up. Plumbers, accountants, doctors, lawyers, scientists, researchers, writers, all of these people are experts in their field. There are experts in technology too, like the ones who helped track down the problem above, so look to technology experts to help your business with technology.

About the Author

Pieter VanIperen, Managing Partner of PWV Consultants, leads a boutique group of industry leaders and influencers from the digital tech, security and design industries that acts as trusted technical partners for many Fortune 500 companies, high-visibility startups, universities, defense agencies, and NGOs. He is a 20-year software engineering veteran, who founded or co-founder several companies. He acts as a trusted advisor and mentor to numerous early stage startups, and has held the titles of software and software security executive, consultant and professor. His expert consulting and advisory work spans several industries in finance, media, medical tech, and defense contracting. Has also authored the highly influential precursor HAZL (jADE) programming language.

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