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Some baby monitors cause problems in Japan

Officials warn against using electronics that interfere with local cell

By DAVID ALLEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 18, 2009

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Warning: Your baby monitor could knock your neighbors off their cellular phone grids and ground aircraft.

American military officials this week are warning families not to use baby monitors bought in the U.S. after recent reports that Japanese cell phone traffic was interrupted outside base housing areas.

Marine Corps Bases Japan issued an alert Monday ordering personnel not to use certain baby monitors, cordless phones and walkie-talkies.

The Air Force is working to ensure bases throughout Japan receive notification of the problem, said Capt. Will Powell, director of public affairs for the 5th Air Force. Japanese officials asked the military for assistance earlier this week, he said.

“The possible interference with or disruption of Japanese emergency radio or cell phone communication is a matter we’re taking seriously,” Powell said Tuesday in an e-mail response to Stars and Stripes. “And we’re doing everything we can to comply with the Japanese Government’s request.”

At issue are devices that broadcast in the 900 megahertz range, according to the Marine Corps message. The problem is that 900 megahertz devices, which are used stateside for cordless phones, baby monitors and walkie-talkies, break into a frequency reserved in Japan for cellular phones and emergency communications.

Most popular models of baby monitors sold in the States, such as Graco, Evenflo and Fisher-Price, work on the 900 megahertz frequency.

It’s an issue that pops up when new personnel move to Japan and bring their electronic gear with them. The problematic devices have been mistakenly sold at base exchanges.

In 2007, a baby monitor in the Negishi Housing Area in mainland Japan interrupted a Japanese emergency frequency. And in 2006, baby monitors in homes in Sasebo Naval Base’s Hario Housing Area interfered with communications at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, grounding 195 planes and delaying flights for more than an hour.

Interference on Okinawa was first noticed more than a year ago, said Kazuo Takabayashi, chief of the Monitoring and Investigation Team of the Okinawa Office of Telecommunications of Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

“The first report came in May of last year from a cellular phone company, that claimed radio waves had been interrupted at certain radio relay stations,” he said. “Through our investigation we learned that the interference was caused by baby monitors used by an American family who lived in their off-base home near the relay station.”

In the past year, such interruptions have been confirmed as coming from housing areas on Kadena Air Base and camps Shields, McTureous, Foster and Lester, Takabayashi said.

Since it has no access to the bases to trace the problem, the agency asked for help from U.S. officials.

Last weekend Marines went door-to-door at base housing areas to trace the recent problems and made visits to base exchanges to ensure American-made baby monitors, cordless phones and walkie-talkies were taken off the shelves, U.S. officials said.

“The AAFES online store has also discontinued shipments of these items to addresses in Japan,” said AAFES Pacific Region spokesman Jeffrey Craven. “We do offer a baby monitor — Summer Infant — that is compliant with the requirements.”

Violators of Japan’s Radio Law face a maximum sentence of one year in prison or a fine up to 1 million yen, about $10,000.

No SOFA personnel has been prosecuted under the law, Japanese and U.S. officials said this week.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.
 


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