FCC action may see popular bitcoin mining hardware model banned

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Bitcoin miners using one of the most popular brands of mining hardware could potentially find that hardware banned after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission shut down a New York City mining operation because it interfered with mobile data networks.

The shutdown, detailed in a letter Thursday, related to complaints from T-Mobile that radio transmissions from a Brooklyn address were interfering with its 700 MHz LTE network. Upon investigation in November, FCC officials ascertained that the unauthorized radio transmission was coming from an Antminer s5 Bitcoin Miner. Once the miner was turned off, the radio transmission ceased.

“Section 15.5(b) of the FCC Rules states that operation of an intentional, unintentional, or incidental radiator is subject to the conditions that no harmful interference is caused,” the letter to the bitcoin miner read. “Section 15.5(c) of the Rules states that the operator of a radio frequency device shall be required to cease operating the device upon notification by a Commission representative that the device is causing harmful interference” with the “operation shall not resume until the condition causing the harmful interference has been corrected.”

The Antminer s5 Bitcoin Miner is now a few generations old and it’s not clear how many have been sold in the United States. But Bitmain Technologies Ltd., the manufacturer of the device, is one of the largest dedicated mining hardware manufacturers, operating the world’s second-largest bitcoin mining pool.

What is unknown at this point is whether the hardware has was generating the 700MHz radio emissions because of a manufacturing issue or whether the operator of the miner had made modifications to it. The FCC itself said that it had not determined the cause. Telling Ars Technica that “bitcoin miners sometimes modify devices to speed up the mining process, and doing so might cause spurious emissions,” the FCC said it was still investigating the matter.

If it is a hardware issue, the FCC will be obliged to shut down other similar bitcoin mining operations if and when they’re discovered to be causing radio interference. Certainly, now that there has been one case of interference and it’s known that bitcoin miners could be the cause, the FCC will likely be paying more attention to the operations in the future.


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Author; Duncan Riley
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