Certain U.S. electronic devices can disrupt communications in Germany and may result in legal proceedings and fines for those who use them.
Devices that can cause harmful interference operate on the 800-900 kilohertz (kHz) and 1.8-2.4 gigahertz (GHz) frequency ranges, along with some 4G wireless technology, according to John Whitehurst, a spectrum supportability manager for U.S. European Command J6 in Stuttgart.
Common products that use these ranges are Uniden or Vtech brand wireless telephones, baby monitors and remote controlled toys, Whitehurst said.
“We’re trying to inform people if you’ve got these things, please don’t use them,” he said.
While these items may be cleared to operate in the U.S., they can interfere with German fire departments, emergency services, banks, rail systems, medical equipment, security systems and taxi services, which are authorized as primary users of these frequency bands.
Frequency interference could keep German emergency responders from hearing their radio transmissions and delay them from providing help at the scene of an accident or crime.
This can impact members of the Stuttgart military community because the Military Police communicate with German emergency responders on those frequencies, Whitehurst added.
The devices also interfere with German telecommunications companies.
On May 10, 2010, Germany auctioned many of the above-listed frequencies to cellular phone companies, who paid in excess of €1 million for the exclusive rights to a certain frequency in the German electromagnetic spectrum, Whitehurst said.
When these companies experience “dropped calls,” or calls that do not connect the caller with the call recipient, that are due to interference, they have the legal right to lodge a complaint with the German telecommunications agency, Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA).
BNetzA is responsible for assigning frequencies to companies or organizations with a wireless requirement, including cell phone providers.
BNetzA also publishes the German Telecommunications Act (TKG). According to the TKG, those caught using a frequency not assigned to them fall subject to fines, which will increase the more they commit the offense.
The TKG defines an illegal operator as anyone who “… intentionally or negligently, uses frequencies without an assignment. In such cases the offense may be punishable by a fine.
“Should you continue to operate the equipment without a valid assignment after having received this information, you will be deemed to be intentionally violating the provisions of the TKG. Such intentional operation of the equipment may be punishable by a higher fine,” the TKG continues.
The U.S.’s own Federal Communications Commission uses similar procedures.
Since U.S. personnel are subject to German law under the Status of Forces Agreement, phone companies have a right to impose fines on those found using devices that interfere with their assigned frequency, Whitehurst said.
Disruptive interference has already been discovered on Robinson Barracks. In December 2010, Vodafone, a German telecommunications operator, experienced interference on its cellular network and sent a complaint to BNetzA.
BNetzA isolated the source of the interference to Robinson Barracks and, in December 2010 and January 2011, conducted searches for interference-causing devices, according to Deputy U.S. Forces Liaison Officer T. Sean Schulze. They found several.
BNetzA representatives used radio direction-finding equipment to pinpoint the location of the devices down to the building and floor they were located on, Schulze said.
The installation coordinator was informed of the apartments with the troublesome devices, and building managers were asked to speak with the owners, Schulze said.
In addition, BNetzA is prepared to conduct future checks, he said.
According to Whitehurst, the easiest way for community members to avoid fines and legal action is to check their electronic items to make sure they are cleared for use in Germany.
Cleared devices should be labeled with a CE symbol (see below). If items are labeled with an FCC symbol, they can only be used in the U.S. and in the specific countries listed on the package. Both symbols signify the device is safe for use in Europe and the U.S.
Whitehurst encouraged community members to check their electronic devices for these symbols.
“There will be more searches,” he said. “Once you’ve been informed, you’ve been informed. If you don’t know [if an item is approved], simply don’t use it.”
Symbols appear as: