DOCSIS 3 Cable Modems

The internet is being relied upon for many different functions. One thing that I am see more of is STL via the public network. There are many ways to accomplish this using Comrex Bric links, Barix units or simply a streaming computer.

We often can take for granted the infrastructure that keeps our connection to the public network running. Cable modems are very common as either primary or backup devices at transmitter sites, homes, offices, etc. The basic cable modem uses some type of DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) modulation scheme. This system breaks up the bandwidth on the coaxial cable into 6 MHz channels for downstream and upstream transmission. Generally, downstream transmission is 16 channels of 256-QAM signals. Upstream is 4 channels of QPSK or up to 64-QAM signals. Depending on your traffic shaping plan with the cable company, this will allow up to 608 Mbps down and 108 Mbps up. Those speeds also can change due to network congestion, which is the bane of coaxial cable based internet service.

The internet should now be considered a public utility. Especially after the COVID-19 emergency, distance learning, telecommuting at all the other changes we are experiencing. I know in the past, ISPs were reluctant to accept that role, as there are many responsibilities. That being said, when the public network goes down, many things grind to a halt.

Sometimes the problem is at the cable office or further upstream. Loss of a backbone switch, trunk fiber, or DOCSIS equipment will cause widespread outages which are beyond anything a field engineer can deal with.

Then there are the times when it is still working, but not working right. In that situation, there are several possible issues that could be creating a problem. A little information can go a long way to returning to normal operation. One thing that can be done with most newer cable modems, log into the modem itself and look at the signal strength on the downstream channels. Again, most cable modems will use 192.168.100.1 as their management IP address. The user name and password should be on the bottom of the modem. I also Googled my modem manufacture and model number and found mine that way.

Navigate around until you find a screen that looks like this:

DOCSIS 3.0 Downstream Channel Statistics

There is a lot of helpful information to look at. The first thing is the Pwr (dBmV) level. DOCSIS 3 modems are looking for -7 dBmV to +7 dBmV as the recommended signal level. They can deal with -8 to -10 dBmV / +8 to +10 dBmV as acceptable. -11 to -15 dBmV / +11 to + 15 dBmV is maximum and greater than -15/+15 dBmV is out of tolerance.

The next column to look at is the SNR (Signal to Noise Ratio). DOCSIS 3 needs to be greater more than 30 dB and preferably 33 dB or greater.

The last two columns are the codeword errors. This is a Forward Error Correction (FEC) system which verifies the received data and attempts to correct any corrupted bits. The lower the codeword error number, the better the data throughput. Codeword errors are often due to RF impairments and can be a strong indicator of cable or connector issues. Another possible cause is improper signal strength, which can be either too high or too low.

Upstream data is transmitted on 4 channels.

DOSSIS 3.0 Upstream Channels

The only statistic that is useful on the upstream channels is the Pwr, which should be between 40 and 50 dBmV.

I have found a few simple parts and tools can sometimes restore a faltering cable connection. First, I have several attenuator pads; 3dB, 6dB and 10 dB with type F connectors. This has actually cured an issue where the downstream signal was too hot causing codeword errors. Next, some good Ideal weather proof crimp on F connectors for RG-6 coax and a good tool should also be in the tool kit. I have had to replace mouse chewed RG-6 from the outside cable drop into the transmitter building. Fortunately, there was some spare RG-6 in the transmitter room.

If these attempts do not fix the issue, then of course, be prepared to waste a day waiting for the cable company to show up.

The GatesAir FLX-30

This is the second time I have installed one of these liquid cooled transmitters. This time, it is for WVPS in Burlington, VT. WVPS is the flagship station for Vermont Public Radio. The station is a full class C, a rarity in the North East. The transmitter is located on Mount Mansfield giving it a HAAT of 2,717 feet (828 Meters), which is a good ways up.

GatesAir FLX-30, WVPS Burlington, VT

This transmitter replaced the previous backup transmitter, a Harris Z16 unit from the early 00’s. There was nothing really wrong with this unit, it just was not a full power backup.

Harris Z16 transmitter

The new transmitter came in two pieces, which is typical for the 30 and 40 KW GatesAir liquid and air cooled transmitters.

New Transmitter, being placed in Radio Transmitter room

For the cooling part of this installation, 1 1/2 inch type M copper pipe was used. This matches most of the other TV transmitters down the hall. In the same building are the transmitters for WCAX-TV, WPTZ-TV, WFFF-TV, and WVNY-TV.

FLX-30 Heat Exchanger, outside with all the others
Liquid cooled transmitter piping, WCAX’s left pair, WVPS right pair
Air purge valve, sight glass, cross connect and distribution manifold, above the transmitter

The highest point in the liquid cooled system is the air purge valve and distribution manifold just above the transmitter. From here, everything slops down to a few low points; the heat exchanger outside, the pump station and the power blocks. This is to make it easier to drain, if that ever needs to happen. There is also an air inlet valve to aid in draining.

GatesAir pump station

All of the cooling work is controlled by the pump station. The fans are connected to VFD modules, which control the flow of air though the Heat Exchanger.

Milwaukee Press Tool

All of this plumbing work was greatly sped along with the use of this Pro Press pipe press tool. This thing is great! No more sweating connections. Dry fit a section to make sure that it is all cut correctly, then go to work with this and it is done in a matter of seconds. Of course, there are no re-dos, so the dry fit procedure is a little more important.

System flush and pressure test

Prior to filling with with Heat Transfer Fluid (50/50 water/antifreeze mix), the system was first pressure tested with air, then filled with clean water for a 12 hour flush. The water was drained out and the filter screen cleaned, then it was filled with the appropriate Heat Transfer Fluid.

Testing into dummy load, TPO is 25,995 watts with -14 dBc HD Radio

Final system checks, remote control test, and HTF top off and the transmitter is ready to go pending the HD Radio installation.

WEZF and WVPS four bay three around panel antenna

The Unglorious task of Vermin Control

Warm, unmanned buildings in the wilderness are very attractive to all sorts of uninvited guests; mice, rats, snakes, insects, etc. Unfortunately, these can do damage to equipment, as evidenced here:

Mouse infested power panel, remote transmitter site
Mouse infested power panel, remote transmitter site

Thus, some steps need to be taken to secure transmitter sites, generators, outbuildings and even vehicles from mice in particular. Mice can squeeze into a hole that is .7 inch (17 mm) in diameter when they are full grown. In many transmitter buildings, this leaves lots of opportunities; coax feed through ports, ingress holes drilled for wires, electrical service entrances, cooling fans, gaps under doors, soffits, etc.

Many people simply call the pest control people who will come and put poison out. That does not solve the problem and can in fact make it worse. If the poisoned mice go outside to die, they are eaten by the snakes and birds that naturally control mice in the wild. Those animals then die from the poisoned mouse. Meanwhile new mice are being reproduced every 20 days or so. Fairly quickly, the bait is consumed, the mice no longer have any predators to naturally keep the population in check and there is a mouse explosion.

Hole in cinder block building covered with aluminum rack panel blank
Large hole, formerly a vent for propane heater, covered with aluminum rack panel black.

The best way to keep them in check is to seal up building as much as possible. For some reason, coax entry ports are often left open. This is very easy to fix and whenever tower crews are running new lines, ensure that they apply the correct boot for the port and line.

Replacement door jamb
Deteriorated door jamb replaced with pressure treated wood

Another thing that happens; door jambs deteriorate or the bottom of steel doors begin to rust away. This opening is very attractive to insects, snakes, mice and even plants.

Screen covering generator ventilation opening
Chicken wire screen covering generator ventilation opening
Generator radiator opening covered with chicken wire
Generator radiator covered with chicken wire

Generators need special attention. Radiator and ventilation openings should be covered with chicken wire. This can be attached to the metal housing with self taping screws and fender washers. Be careful and look inside of the housing to make sure that the area inside the housing where the screws are being applied is clear of wires and hoses.

Stainless steel pot scrubbers filling space around conduit and pipes
Stainless steel pot scrubbers filling gaps around conduit and fuel line

Ingress for fuel, control and electrical conductors need attention as well. I found stainless steel pot scrubbers to be effective for filling gaps around these conduits and pipes. They are available on Amazon or many other places.

New Power Panel, an expensive lesson in pest control

Other openings can be filled with a combination of pot scrubbers and spray foam. Using spray foam alone often does not work, as the mice will crew through it.

I also keep a can or two of bee spray at most sites. Bees, hornets and paper wasps love to make nests in propane tank fill covers, ATU’s, under air conditioning units or anyplace else that is sheltered from rain.

Doing it with sound AND pictures

AKA: Television!

I am talking about the type of TV you need an antenna for. I have been installing a few of these low power digital TV transmitters at various places and it is good work.

Anywave MPTV 2.2 KW digital TV transmitter, WCRN Boston
Anywave MPTV 2.2 KW digital TV transmitter, WCRN Boston
LPTV antenna side mounted on tower in Quincy, MA  ERP is 15 KW.
LPTV antenna side mounted on tower in Quincy, MA ERP is 15 KW.

Anywave MPTV unpacking, rolling into building, Ellenville, NY

This transmitter’s dry weight is about 500 pounds, which was a little bit too much for our appliance hand truck, so we built a ramp. They have a nice set of wheels on the bottom, so they roll into place.

Carrier power after pre-correction files updated

There are a few differences in the way things are done. First of all, there is a different set of acronyms:

  • ASI- Asynchronous Serial Interface, format for MPEG transport stream, max speed 270 Mbps.
  • SDI – Serial Digital Interface – Similar to ASI but can run much faster, up to 12 Gbps.
  • TS – Transport Stream, Encoded video and audio streams into the exciter. Same idea as composite audio input on an FM exciter.
  • TSID – Transport Stream ID, a unique number assigned to each DTV station and encoded with the transport stream.
  • PSIP – Program System Information Protocol, carries program and system data about the transport stream.
  • ATSC 3.0 – recently updated ATSC standard that allows TV stations to do more with their transport streams than before. Will also change the modulation from 8VSB to COFDM.

Then, some things that look familiar are called by difference names, BNC cable vs ASI cable… I am a neophyte to the TV world, so there still many things to learn.

EAS is still EAS, but now there is locally generated video to go along with the audio.

A while back, some fool wrote their congressman because THE COMMERCIALS ON THE TEE-VEE WERE TOO LOUD, so there is something called CALM Act compliance.

However, at the output connector on the exciter, through the amplifier, filters, directional coupler, etc; it is RF and behaves like RF. Even more interesting; Mr. Doherty’s name is used to describe the RF amp. Doherty amplifier or Doherty modulation was designed by William Doherty for Western Electric in 1936. It was not until Continental Electronics began using it in there AM (317B) and Shortwave (420A) transmitters that it became known broadly. Old things are new again:

Continental Electronics 420A 500 KW Shortwave transmitter, Greenville site B

That picture is from my visit to Greenville, NC in 2017. This is the control console, the transmitter is behind the glass and takes up half the building. It was installed when the site was built in the early 1960’s. The new Doherty UHF amplifiers use LDMOS devices, notably the BLF888E in the Anywave units.

Antenna sweep, channel 30 UHF slot antenna, WCRN Boston
Antenna with channel band pass filter, Channel 30 WCRN Boston

The Channel Band Pass Filter is required by the FCC, basically it ensures that the TV transmitter is staying in it’s allotted 6 MHz channel. They add phase rotation, as noted above. This is why pre-correction is needed to keep the ATSC signal linear across the entire 6 MHz bandwidth. RF is RF and we like RF.