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Cellphones

Why Your Clock Radio Is All Abuzz About iPhones 397

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-hate-that-sound-so-much dept.
blackbearnh wrote in with a story that's not really about the iPhone, but if your office speakerphones beep like mine does, read on: "If you own an iPhone, you may have noticed that it has a distinct and very annoying effect on clock radios, computer speakers, car radios, and just about anything else with a speaker. The folks at O'Reilly Media aren't immune, so they set out to discover just what is it about iPhones that makes them such bad RF citizens. The iPhones aren't the only bad apples in the cell phone basket and there's not much you can do about the problem. We're really in an interesting time in that there has never been so many high-powered personal transmitters just wandering loose in the world."
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Why Your Clock Radio Is All Abuzz About iPhones

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  • Psh (Score:5, Funny)

    by waffledoodle (1070284) * on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:00AM (#25528409)
    As I understand it, all Apple products have a distortion field.
    • Re:Psh (Score:4, Funny)

      by Mateo13 (1250522) on Monday October 27, 2008 @02:06PM (#25531587)

      It's not the phones, it's the douche bag field emitted by iPhone owners.

  • by HeavyD14 (898751) on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:03AM (#25528453) Homepage
    It just looks like someone has never had a GSM phone before.
    • by Spazztastic (814296) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [citsatzzaps]> on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:06AM (#25528517)
      Mod parent up. Cell phones have been doing this since my old Nokia to my new Blackjack II.
    • by g0dsp33d (849253)
      I haven't gotten a chance to test this as my cell doesn't seem to have this problem, but supposedly if you put a magnet around the wires going to your speakers it reduces / removes the buzzing sound. Old USB wires will have a usable magnet in the chubby part near where it plugs in. I'd be interested to know if this works for anyone or if it was just someone's way of earning money on metacafe :-p.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by HeavyD14 (898751)
        Yeah, those are called Chokes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_mode_choke [wikipedia.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It's not a magnet. It's ferrite.

      • by orclevegam (940336) on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:48AM (#25529351) Journal
        As the AC pointed out it's not a magnet, it's a ferrite bead [wikipedia.org]. This is a very common thing, and many cables come with one installed already. Just looking at the monitor sitting on my desk I can see a pair of beads on it's VGA cable (one at each end), and they're very common in most high end speaker systems. For cables that don't have them you can pick them up from various places in the form of snap-on cylinders which can either be directly clamped onto the cable, or alternatively you can wrap the cord around the bead once or twice before clamping it, which will hold it in place on the cable and also serves to improve the filtering slightly.

        They're a very simple passive device that works by disrupting high frequency RF passing through the cord. Since any large (long) conductor can function as an antenna, most cables are really just giant antenna, so adding a ferrite bead is a really cheap and simple way to counteract this. As for interference within a speaker itself (that is, not arriving by way of the speakerwire used to hook it up) there's not much you can do other than putting a Faraday cage around the speaker, or just moving the source of noise farther away from the speaker.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          there's not much you can do other than putting a Faraday cage around the speaker,

          ...how about putting a Faraday cage around the phone instead?

    • by tom17 (659054)

      It's so old they made a song about it last century ffs.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCurWzyu7fM [youtube.com]

      Tom...

    • by CFTM (513264)

      Is it just limited to GSM? As long as I've had a cell phone (only about 8 years now) I've noticed that 5-10 seconds before the phone begins to ring, if it's near any sort of audio equipment it will produce that distinctive buzz. Although, with the iPhone, it produces it if you just place the phone near the speakers, no phone call required. Here's my simple solution, move the iPhone to a different part of my apartment! Poof no more noise...

      Although if I was a pilot this was drive me nuts...

      • by penguinboy (35085)
        It's not just GSM. iDEN phones (Nextel) used to do the exact same thing.
      • by alta (1263)

        The phone does it any time it starts a communication with the network. With older phones, that was just during calls and network status checks. Then it started doing it with SMS messages... The iphone is constantly communicating, that's why they dictate you have an unlimited plan.

        And yeah, GSM only, and not limited to ATT or iphone. I'd bet the G1's do it.

        http://www.feelingcingular.com/ [feelingcingular.com]

        For me, I only need to move by blackberry about 4ft away from my computer speakers. (actually, the speaker wires and th

    • by fermion (181285) on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:24AM (#25528883) Homepage Journal
      It is not just GSM phones. My old RAZR had the same problem. At meeting, anytime a phone rings we get all sorts of interference with audio.
      • by sricetx (806767)
        GSM cell phones have this audio interference problem, and I think TDMA phones do. CDMA phones do not exhibit this behavior (at least the Virgin Mobile prepaid phone I had a few years ago didn't, and it used the Sprint CDMA network).
    • No joke. Watch CNBC sometime and you can hear everyones CrackBerry going off during the whole show. They finally starting keeping them off set, but many times guests still have them on.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mi (197448)

        everyone's CrackBerry going off

        Yep... I'm relying on the subtle noise, that my *berry makes on the computer-speakers as a mail-notifier... It is, actually kind-convenient — quiet enough not to wake-up the baby, but noticeable enough not to miss an e-mail.

    • by JWSmythe (446288) * <jwsmythe@jwsmyth ... minus physicist> on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:39AM (#25529183) Homepage Journal

          I don't know how this ever made it to any news source. I'm trying to remember how long ago the first time I noticed it. It's been at least 10 years. My first phone that did it was an old Nextel.

         

    • by OrangeTide (124937) on Monday October 27, 2008 @12:06PM (#25529677) Homepage Journal

      Indeed. It is a well known phenomenon. I end up turning my blackberry off or leaving it in the kitchen on game/movie night because it makes all sorts of funny beeps on the surround system. I don't think people realize how powerful the transmitter in a cell phone is, and that it is not unique to iPhone.

      Apple customers tend to be rather picky and vocal about any possible defect with Jobs' perfect little products.

  • GSM Buzz (Score:5, Informative)

    by russotto (537200) on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:03AM (#25528457) Journal
    It's not just the iPhone. It's any GSM phone. Google "GSM Buzz". Meet the "GSM Devil", which relies on this interference to tell you you're phone is about to ring. http://shop.mopodmania.net/product.sc?categoryId=1&productId=15 [mopodmania.net]
    • by eln (21727)

      Yes, all GSM phones do this. However, since this article mentions the iPhone, it's automatically posted to the front page of Slashdot.

      Aren't most iPhones still on the AT&T network, what with the whole exclusivity thing? AT&T uses GSM. My Palm Treo on AT&T does the same thing, as did my Razr before it.

    • Re:GSM Buzz (Score:4, Insightful)

      by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:12AM (#25528635) Homepage

      Correct, lots of cell phones do this. If people are noticing it more with the iPhone, it's probably because people are more likely to want to hook the iPhone into audio equipment than with other cell phones.

      • by DingerX (847589)
        Actually, it's because the iPhone uses the data network more often. I throw my GSM on the table by my speakers, and it'll buzz once or twice a day for reasons unrelated to incoming messages/calls. But if you have an iPhone that tries to automatically check your email every few minutes and does so across the network, it's going to be a real PITA.
    • Re:GSM Buzz (Score:5, Funny)

      by bloodninja (1291306) on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:13AM (#25528649)

      Meet the "GSM Devil"

      I put on my robe and wizard's hat.

  • by Nick Ives (317) on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:03AM (#25528465)

    Maybe it's just because you guys aren't used to GSM cellphones but over here in the UK everyone recognises that noise. Anytime you put a mobile next to speakers you get that noise.

    Welcome to the 1990s, America!

    • Maybe it's just because you guys aren't used to GSM cellphones but over here in the UK everyone recognises that noise. Anytime you put a mobile next to speakers you get that noise.

      Welcome to the 1990s, America!

      Funny how this post [slashdot.org] got +5, Informative for the same thing you just said, yet your post is sitting at +1, Troll.

      • by russotto (537200) on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:19AM (#25528795) Journal

        Funny how this post got +5, Informative for the same thing you just said, yet your post is sitting at +1, Troll.

        Slashtip: Including a link to a silly gadget is always worth karma. Bashing the US can go either way.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Funny how this post got +5, Informative for the same thing you just said, yet your post is sitting at +1, Troll.

        That's ok, it wil finally be moderated correctly: -1, Redundant.

    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      These people know full well that GSM buzz has been around for years (even in the luddite, technology deprived United States) are merely playing off the iPhone hype (sorry, this statement was redundant.) What I find cool is that the GSM buzz is so well known it has made it's way into the metaverse, by way of the video game Grand Theft Auto IV. If the player is riding in a car and he is about to get a call (in the game) there will be a few bits of buzz right before the ringing is heard. At first I thought

  • One more (Score:2, Funny)

    by Xerolooper (1247258)
    Reason not to get an iPhone
  • by sznupi (719324) on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:05AM (#25528505) Homepage

    ...everything regarding cellphones? Including, in this case, sometimes annoying side effects?

    This is nothing new...especially if, on any other phone, you have also kept semi-constant GPRS connection.

    PS. Rearranging speaker cables/etc. eliminates the problem anyway...

    • by MadCow42 (243108)

      Blackberries are particularly bad too. Same challenges: GPRS, constant data traffic, etc.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      When I'm watching TV I can always tell when someone's phone in the room is going to ring, as there is a loud, audible buzz in my Trinitron.

      At least my Sony TV doesn't have a rootkit... that I know of. But it is suceptable to cell phone interference, and not Apple but everyone. I don't even know anyone with an iPhone.

  • It can't be nearly as bad as the nextels I've had. Put that thing next to a speaker, have it ring and then tell me that you don't think it's giving you brain cancer.
    • Put that thing next to a speaker, have it ring and then tell me that you don't think it's giving you brain cancer.

      Heck, I think this statement from the cell phone expert (from TFA) pretty much proves that our phones are rotting our brains:

      Rodman: We're really in an interesting time, radio speaking, in that there hasn't been a time before, certainly in the last five years, maybe the last ten, when there was such an inordinate number of relatively high-powered personal transmitters just wandering loose in the

      • by TheLink (130905)
        Well imagine everyone packed like sardines in a subway train.

        If there isn't a cell/microcell available, all their phones will be transmitting at max power to try to find an available cell.

        I wonder what the RF safety specs say about that scenario.
      • It really should be "...in that there have never been so many...", if we're going to be pedantic. But granted, yours is A/A- material, where the original is C-grade material.
  • My phone is constantly beside my computer speakers on my desk or by my clock radio when I'm sleeping. I haven't heard anything from either...

    Maybe it's because the computer speakers are so old that they're actually still shielded (unlike most today?) Dunno about the clock radio though, but it's pretty old too... has to be at least 5-6 years now.
  • by bigtallmofo (695287) * on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:10AM (#25528587)
    As others have said, this really is a GSM issue and not an iPhone issue. The sound I hear from my computer speakers with my iPhone is identical to what I heard from my Nokia 3610 which is about as un-iPhone as a phone can get without being better described as a rock.

    Seriously - the interference sound is identical.

    My only concern really is what is this doing to my neurons, rods, cones and assorted other presumably sensitive body parts. I don't care about a goofy sound coming from my computer speakers every once in a while.
    • by blueg3 (192743)

      If I recall correctly, it's below the ionization threshold, so mostly it'll heat those parts up a bit. If those parts are particularly susceptible to electric or magnetic fields, perhaps a bit more.

  • FCC Rules Part 15 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by doas777 (1138627) on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:10AM (#25528599)
    whatever happend to the label on the bottom of everything, which states that:
    "This device complies with Part 15 of the FCC rules. Operation is subject to the following two conditions: (1) the device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) the device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesirable operation."

    obviously the folks that made my PC speakers obeyed those rules, so why is apple getting away with breaking condition 1?
    • Re:FCC Rules Part 15 (Score:5, Informative)

      by leighklotz (192300) on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:19AM (#25528797) Homepage

      whatever happend to the label on the bottom of everything, which states that:

      "This device complies with Part 15 of the FCC rules. Operation is subject to the following two conditions: (1) the device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) the device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesirable operation."

      obviously the folks that made my PC speakers obeyed those rules, so why is apple getting away with breaking condition 1?

      The iPhone isn't operating under Part 15. It's licensed. Your cell provider holds the license from the FCC. They paid a lot of money for it; remember the spectrum auctions that raised billions. It's your speakers that have to live with the licensed world, not the other way around.

      The same is true for broadcast radio, TV, police, fire, ambulance, business radios, taxi dispatchers, amateur radio, military, and even foreign licensed broadcast systems. Your speakers have to live with it.

      You might try (1) using twisted pair instead of zip line to your speakers and (2) using ferrite bead clamps, a few turns wrapped around both ends of the speaker cable. But it probably won't help, as it's likely your speakers internal amplifier is picking up the signals directly, as they're cheaply made (see TOA) and poorly shielded.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by wramsdel (463149)

        Leighklotz is exactly right, but it gets even worse. Even a Part 15 device, using similar modulation to the GSM phone, could likely cause interference to your speakers. I have a DECT phone, compliant with FCC Part 15, sitting next to my computer speakers, and it creates a nice buzz when it's searching for the base. That's not the phone's fault, I'm sure they're transmitting all their energy in the allowed band, but nonetheless my speakers are rectifying that RF energy and amplifying the resulting envelop

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BigForbis (757364)
      Cell phones do not fall under part 15 of the FCC's rules. Therefore they don't have to follow this. I believe cell phones fall under part 22 or part 24 (but I could be wrong about this).
    • I've wondered that in the past as well. I always assumed it depends on how you define "harmful."

      It's not like cellphones cause pace makers to mis-fire, CPUs to make miscalculations, storage devices to become corrupt, etc. They emit a frequency that get's picked up (and played) by speakers.

      If you classify harmful as "undesirable operation" then yes, it's harmful. But if "undesirable operation" is in a separate category as "harmful" then I guess it's a no harm / no foul as far as the legal-ese goes.

    • Because transmitters, like the iPhone, and like every other cellphone, are held to a different standard.

      Also, the "interference" is only harmful if you have a cheap, poorly shielded device. The signals that are causing the problem are fundamental to the operation of the GSM network. The sources of RF are more numerous now, including from cellphones and computers with lame lexan cases, but I wouldn't automatically call it interference.

    • by Muad'Dave (255648)
      Because a cell phone is not a Part 15 device. Read Title 47, Part 15 [wikipedia.org] some time - interesting stuff. Cell phones fall under at least parts 22 and 24, and possibly others.
    • by Tuoqui (1091447)

      Part of the problem is that the speakers arent shielding their wires from the EMI properly and they're picking up your cell phone's transmissions and receptions as an antenna would.

      If you put some ferrite beads on the wire to your speaker it kills the GSM buzz and such because it takes a slightly bigger signal (like that from your TV, Radio or Computer) to push through it as compared to the background noise from a cell phone being probed for activity pre-ring.

  • Look for it to make a comeback. A room papered with the right stuff would be quite quiet RF wise. Velvet optional. :) Work well if you have a room you don't want stuff working in.

  • The iPhones aren't the only bad apples in the cell phone basket and there's not much you can do about the problem.

    Not much you can do? You can always not buy an iPhone. My phone doesn't cause problem for speakers or my clock radio.

    • The iPhones aren't the only bad apples in the cell phone basket and there's not much you can do about the problem.

      Not much you can do? You can always not buy an iPhone. My phone doesn't cause problem for speakers or my clock radio.

      Well, as the grandparent said, iPhones aren't the only ones that do it.

      I've had cellphones that do it, and some that didn't appear to. Likewise I have some speakers that are immune to the problem while others (as well as my clock radio) suffer from it greatly.

      It's not an iPhone issue but a frequency issue. GSM phones that use GPRS or Edge cause it which covers a LOT of phones. And the iPhone 3G defaults to GPRS when it has a low 3G signal.

  • by AdamWeeden (678591) on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:18AM (#25528771) Homepage
    Yes, this is a pain in the butt, but as others have noted, it's nothing new. I've been having this issue since my first AT&T (formerly Cingular), i.e., GSM, phone. There is a trick to fix this though: magnets. Simply loop your speaker wire through a magnet, as this article [gizmodo.com] indicates.
    • by phrostie (121428)

      i'll give it a try, thanks.

      on the other hand i'd bought a little FM transmitter so i can listen to my itunes on my car radio. it has the same problem. can this be fixed also?

    • So now I just *crack* open the plastic case of my alarm clock.. dig the speaker wire out of the plastic, add some additional wire to the leads so I have enough to actually feed through a magnet, and voila!

      Easy.

      Maybe for home entertainment systems or car systems (I did this ages ago when I had a Nextel phone) but not so easy for integrated speaker apps.
  • Ok, I hate apple's hype machine as much as anyone, but seriously... this isn't an iPhone thing. I have never seen ANY GSM phone that had power and did not interfere with PC speakers, speakerphones, and car radios.

  • Not on 3G, EDGE only (Score:5, Informative)

    by yabos (719499) on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:28AM (#25528953)
    The GSM buzzing is all GSM phones but I noticed on my iPhone that using 3G it goes away. From what I've read, the loud noise is caused by rapid turning on/off of the GSM transceiver which creates EM pulses.
  • As mentioned many times already, this has nothing to do with the iPhone and everything to do with GSM.

    However, it seems AT&T are much worse. My personal phone is on T-Mobile and my work phone is on AT&T. The work phone produces much more interference. Switching the SIM from that into my phone, I get the same issue. I think AT&T must bump the transmit power to maximum on devices connected to their network. I wonder what this does to battery life!

    • by flatulus (260854) on Monday October 27, 2008 @12:36PM (#25530187)

      Perhaps the AT&T cellsite is further away from your location than the T-Mobile cellsite. Hence, your phone has to "talk louder" for the AT&T cell to hear it.

      No cellular provider would intentionally instruct your cellphone to emit more power than required, because it would be self-defeating. Excess transmit power just means unnecessary interference to nearby cells on the same frequency. The cellular protocols provide a means for controlling the power of a handset up and down as needed to get "just the right amount" of RF energy at the cell tower's receiver.

  • Your clock radio comes with the following government message:

    This device complies with Part 15 of the FCC Rules....

    (2) this device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation.

    It is not our place to question why we are not to reject interference, or what dangers might ensue if were to attempt such a thing. Rather, is our duty under the law to accept interference. So do your part, listen carefully to the buzzing radio, and just be proud to be doing your part as a citizen of this great land.

  • I bought a Motorola i670 on Sprint because I thought that Sprint was a CDMA carrier, but apparently they use some iDEN [wikipedia.org] handsets, which is very similar to GSM.

    I get the "GSM sound" in my car radio, since I store the phone under the head unit.

  • Every digital phone I've had from Bellsouth Mobility->Cingular->ATT has had the GSM NOISE.

    It's not at ALL an iphone issue, and by naming the iPhone TFA becomes TROLL. I've had this with every Nokia, Motorola and Blackberry I've had in the last 10 years, or at least when the ATT group went GSM.

    Guess what, tMobile is GSM too.

    So well known, there's a dedicated website for it:
    http://www.feelingcingular.com/ [feelingcingular.com]

  • Seriously, the local TV news crews around here need to RTFA and get a clue and mandate all cell phones turned off during their broadcast (or get better shielded equipment). Its funny hearing the noise on TV the first time (heh, some dumbass is texting during the 1hr they actually work), but just get annoying when it continues throughout the newscast. You would think they would be able to recognize it and fix it quick, but it keeps showing up, specially during remote "live" broadcasts.
  • by Animats (122034) on Monday October 27, 2008 @11:46AM (#25529309) Homepage

    The US's Part 15 only applies to RF emitters; devices that don't emit RF at all, like audio amplifiers, don't need Part 15 certification. Part 15 doesn't say anything about sensitivity to interference.

    The European Union, however, does regulate sensitivity to interference under the Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive. [conformance.co.uk] So the EU tries to address the problem.

    The EU standards require a test for susceptibility to high power AM, FM, TV and airport-type radar signals. Those were viewed as the worst case when the directive was published. Electronics that's not designed for it is likely to crash when faced with a megawatt airport radar at a few hundred meters. (Remember, with most radars, the peak power is huge but the duty cycle is low.) But the EU directive doesn't address nearby TDMA sources. That's probably something the EU will have to address.

    There's something to be said for spread-spectrum emitters, like WiFi and Sprint PCS phones. They have a broad enough output spectrum that they tend not to interfere with much.

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