Tropospheric ducting (super-refraction) and LTE

I have designed and operated VHF/UHF analog & digital trunked radio systems and analog & digital microwave backhauls, so I am no stranger to the peculiar effects of tropospheric ducting. There are some very important distinctions between analog & digital trunked radio systems, all of which use FDD (frequency division duplexing) and LTE networks, which use FDD or TDD (time division duplexing). We will see that for TDD LTE systems, surprising cases of long distance interference are possible due to super-refraction caused by tropospheric ducting. Other sources of anomalous propagation are important and exhibit frequency dependence as well. The shortest path may not be the path traveled–implications for optimistic terrain-shielded frequency reuse.

Tropospheric ducting on LTE bands

These are a few relevant papers. Let me know if you’d like to discuss further.

Dual-frequency 240MHz + 2GHz 50km & 140km oversea paths – from 2015 study–sometimes 240 MHz does better and sometimes 2015 MHz propagates better!

240 km LTE interference between Korea and Japan 50 Watt base stations contend with 0.2 Watt devices. Base station to base station power nearly -90 dBm over 240 km!

Tropospheric ducting for VHF two-way radio systems

VHF tropo ducting has been known for decades from Hawaii to California–a 4000 km path. However the antennas required are large and the signals are weak. In summers I used to hear repeaters 150 km away while driving in my car–almost every day at certain times of day. On some days the 150 km distant repeaters were so strong you could hear them on an indoor desktop scanner with internal antenna! They were usually too weak for me to talk back reliably, but I did get enjoyable listening.

Whether trunked or conventional, the impact of ducting on your VHF system depends on the signal strength of your desired/undesired, which should be > 21 dB in a 12.5 kHz analog system. If you’re more than 50 km (base-base) you may have some issues with ducting interference. This gets trickier in places like New England with a long highly-populated irregularly shaped coast. The interference on the repeater input can be the issue, especially with high-power base stations accessing repeaters. These distant base stations can “jam” portable units into your repeater.

Possible resolve: check other user license. Are they keeping to legal EIRP/antenna height for their control stations?

DMR: MotoTRBO will change to a new rest channel if interference is detected on the current rest channel.

Tropospheric ducting for UHF (450MHz) two-way radio systems

UHF tropo ducting on GMRS: I have experienced 300 km distance repeaters on an omni base antenna. This was a plague when UHF trunking came into vogue on 12.5 kHz “split” channels because for years before, low power mobile operation had been permitted on the repeater input (455-460,465-470) MHz range. Of course, pretty soon people put base stations on those frequencies and we had to threaten FCC action sometimes to get them to stop. We also used repeater panels that would mark those channels as “last-used”. I had to be very careful when planning a new trunked system so that the “home” or “collect” frequencies were not plagued by these legacy operators!

LTR systems (on any band) have only a single bit “area code” to distinguish co-channel systems – and of course the repeater number and group code. But given a busy Midwestern state, there was perhaps once every year or two where due to tropo ducting a customer would hear someone else on their area code, repeater and talkgroup! LTR systems are being rapidly replaced with DMR systems, so these problems hopefully won’t be relevant too much longer.

Trident Microsystems Passport systems have a color code that was 2 bits (???) and with other unique ID measures gave much better resiliency against directly hearing “skip”. But as an analog system 21 dB D/U was required for good audio quality in the presence of tropo ducting. These systems are disappearing so I won’t go into further detail. Ditto for LTR-Net and MultiNet II.

DMR: MotoTRBO will change to a new rest channel if interference is detected on the current rest channel.

Tropospheric ducting for 800 MHz two-way radio systems

This was a treat back in the days of co-channel Nextel and two-way radio systems. In a different case where a customer was 40 km from the repeater with an omni base antenna (tsk tsk) there were several hours per year when they could not access the SMR LTR system on 800 MHz due to tropo skip. A MultiNet II 800MHz trunking repeater system would sometimes hear tropo skip on the input frequencies. Due perhaps to it having multiple voting receiver sites, I don’t recall this being a significant problem. However, that system had (has?) so many other coverage problems the skip may have just gotten indistinguishable from the other problems.

For Privacy Plus and AMPS systems, the very limited number of connect / SAT tones meant that after a call was established, an undesired signal could bleed through. Privacy Plus control channels rotate every day (and could be manually encouraged to do so earlier). I did not look into if these systems could automatically move the channel in case of interference due to their obsolescence.

Tropospheric ducting for 900 MHz two-way radio systems

Yes there are still plenty of systems operating in this band despite the relatively frozen license structure. There used to be a slightly errantly attributed perception by some that the coverage was not as good on 900 MHz as 800 MHz. These perceptions of reduced coverage at 900 MHz vs. 800 MHz were influenced by a few factors:

  1. 12.5kHz analog FM does suffer a 4 dB impairment relative to 25kHz bandwidth analog FM
  2. The radio technology available at the time of early 900 MHz systems was a bit rudimentary by even year 2000 standards. The mobiles had trouble holding frequency accuracy, microphonics were more of an issue, and every radio model had different compandoring. In short, the 1980s and 1990s 900 MHz radios had not so great performance or audio quality, leaving the band largely to public utilities and campuses (and Nextel).
  3. System implementers were often as not careless with tower-top amplifier and distribution amplifier configuration, leading to IMD/spectral regrowth problems (harming repeater receive sensitivity). These issues existed at 800MHz but given adjacent spectrum uses became aggravated at 900 MHz.

The nature of 900 MHz systems made them less prone to interference from tropo skip since the receive sensitivity (due to misconfiguration) was often not great already, and the systems tended to have users close to the repeater. If the systems had been constructed correctly, 900 MHz would have been slightly more prone to tropo skip due to 12.5kHz bandwidth (21dB D/U instead of 17dB D/U required for good audio 12.5kHz vs. 25kHz).

Now that PDV Wireless (populated with key ex-Nextel executives) is on 900 MHz, they are proposing a 900 MHz rebanding to separate broadband from narrowband users, as was successfully if belatedly implemented at 800 MHz.