The purpose of spectrum monitoring is to support the spectrum management process in general, including frequency assignment and planning functions. In practice, spectrum monitoring comprises:
- monitoring of emissions for compliance with licences;
- frequency band observations and frequency channel occupancy measurements providing information about the actual usage of spectrum;
- assistance in the investigation of radio interference on a local, regional and global scale;
- detection, localisation and identification of illegal transmitters; and
- identification and measurement of interfering signals.
Electromagnetic fields (EMF) occur in nature and thus have always been present on earth. However, during the 20th century, environmental exposure to man-made electromagnetic fields has been steadily increasing as growing electricity demand, ever-advancing technologies and changes in social behaviour have created more and more artificial sources of EMF.
Thus, people all over the world are exposed to EMF to varying degrees, and the levels of exposure will increase as technology advances further. These EMF are found in the non-ionizing part of the electromagnetic spectrum (between 0 Hz and 300 GHz) and are emitted from common sources such as power lines, household electrical appliances and computers, radio and television broadcast facilities and cellular phones. They are different to ionizing radiations, such as X-rays and gamma rays, which have enough energy to break molecular bonds.
MCA’s remit in this regard is to ensure that the levels of non-ionising radiation from radio frequency transmitters are within the levels applicable in Malta as determined by the relevant competent authorities. These levels refer to those of ICNIRP, the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection.
The MCA, as part of its routine audit programme, monitors the levels of EMF at various locations around Malta and Gozo. A summary of the EMF measurement results are publicly available and can be found here.
To provide further assurance on undertakings’ compliance to EMF obligations, in 2020 the MCA undertook a detailed assessment of the public exposure to the levels of EMF by taking measurements at the carriage ways around the towns and villages across the Maltese Islands. Such an assessment also served to provide assurance to the general public that EMF levels in accessible areas are within the safe EMF reference levels as applicable at law.The audit focused on the realtime levels of EMF emanating from all radio transmitting apparatus operating during the interval of the measurement activity. Measurements included transmissions from mobile base stations, radio and TV broadcast, PMR and radars amongst other sources. The report presents the assessment of the EMF measurements. The full set of the real-time EMF measurement data is made available to the public as open data under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) licence.
Licensees intending to install or modify radio transmitting apparatus need to evaluate the Radio Frequency field strength in the vicinity of this apparatus and in areas that are accessible to the general public. These levels are an aggregate of the radiating fields emanating from the said apparatus as well as other radiating sources. The MCA has published EMF Guidelines intended to deliver a higher level of harmonisation to the procedures followed by licensees in adherence to their obligations when installing or modifying their radio transmitting apparatus, including amongst others, by specifying the reporting format, measurment methodology and compliance processes to be undertaken prior to bringing the radio apparatus into service. These Guidelines continue to build on the efforts of the MCA to ensure compliance in relation to EMF radiation limits.
Following the deployment of the first 5G network in Malta, the Malta Communications Authority carried out a 5G EMF measurement campaign. The purpose of this exercise was to further warrant the compliance of 5G-enabled mobile base stations to the existing EMF obligations. In addition, the measurements ensured that the cumulative EMF emission levels have remained within the reference limits in the ICNIRP Guidelines for the protection of the general public. The measurement campaign was also intended to provide assurance to the general public on 5G EMF exposure and address any related concerns. Further details together with the findings can be found in the 5G measurement campaign report.
Radio Frequency Interference
Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) can be described as any unwanted radio frequency signal, which interferes with another desired signal, eventually causing electronic radiocommunications devices to malfunction. Such interference is referred to be harmful interference and could be a result of various causes, such as:
- natural atmospheric conditions;
- unlicensed or illegal use of radio equipment;
- electromagnetic disturbance from apparatus or installations; or
- a fault or deficiency in the affected station or equipment.
The impact of harmful interference ranges from simple inconvenience to, in some cases, serious commercial or safety consequences. It is the duty of the MCA to investigate cases of harmful interference in order to ensure that the radio spectrum is used in the most efficient manner.
To this end, only radio spectrum that uses radio efficiently may be used. This is a requirement under the Radio Equipment Directive (2014/53/EU) relating to the making available on the market of radio equipment. Therefore, in general, any radio equipment that is imported for use in Malta must be compliant with this Directive and must be installed and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s direction as well as with national regulations and/or licence conditions.
For example, it is illegal to use DECT 6 cordless telephones in Malta since this equipment causes harmful interference to mobile phone networks. It is also illegal to use jamming equipment in Malta since such equipment does not meet the essential requirements of the aforesaid Directive. Similarly, radio local area networks such as Wi-Fi should be configured to operate in the ‘European’ region or else ‘Malta’, in order to ensure that its transmission parameters are in compliance with the relevant European and national legislation. Such a configuration also ensures that associated radio spectrum is used efficiently and therefore ensures that no harmful interference is caused to other networks or services. In addition, mobile phone repeaters shall only be installed and configured by an operator holding the relevant rights to use mobile radio frequencies. This will ensure that no harmful interference is caused to the provision of mobile electronic communications services.
Guidance for those intending to import radio equipment is available on our website. However, if you require any further assistance you are kindly invited to contact MCA's consumer affairs unit on +356 21336840 or by completing the general enquiry form.
The MCA would like to point out that certain radio equipment, such as those operating under a general authorisation licensing framework, are not provided protection in case they experience harmful interference. MCA’s remit in this regard is to ensure that the relevant radio equipment operates in accordance with the National Frequency Plan, the licence conditions and any applicable national regulations, such as the General Authorisation (Radiocommunications Apparatus) Regulations (S.L.399.40).
Are you experiencing a radio harmful interference problem?
In case you are experiencing a sudden interruption in the reception of radiocommunication services (such as loss of DTTV signal, mobile phone reception issues, malfunction of baby monitors, remote control garage door openers, etc.) you may check the following before raising any complaints with the MCA.
First and foremost check the condition of antenna, relevant cables, power source and connections of the devices suffering from such interference. Secondly, check the condition of the device experiencing the interference issue and try using another device to see if the original device experiencing the reception issue is faulty. Thirdly, disconnect any newly installed electric or electronic equipment that you have recently installed. In addition, you may also check with your neighbours whether they are experiencing similar interference issues. If you are the only one experiencing such a problem, then most probably the interference issues may be caused by a defective electric or electronic appliance within your home or the device itself is faulty.
In case the affected service is a subscription service (e.g. mobile service or DTT service) and the above measures are not effective, then you should contact your service provider in order to report such a fault.
In case your interference issues persist, you are kindly invited to contact MCA’s consumer affairs unit on +356 2133 6840 or by completing the general enquiry form providing, as a minimum the following information:- (i) your contact information, (ii) description of the interference and (iii) the place or area where the interference is occurring.
The MCA will then contact you to understand better the nature of the interference and if necessary may co-ordinate a site inspection.