Microsoft on Xbox's strange signal: It could be anything

After over a month, Microsoft issues 43-word statement on Xbox 360 signal interference

After 37 days, Microsoft issued a 43-word statement on the report of a strange, strong radio signal apparently generated by its Xbox 360 game console, and noticed by Morrisville State College in New York.

Essentially, the statement says the problem could be anything, and that Microsoft should not be blamed because the Xbox meets federal requirements, and that it has not received reports about it.

The entire statement, averaging about one word per day, is: "Any number of scenarios could account for wireless LAN disruptions in a college dorm environment where several electronic devices operate in close proximity. Xbox 360 complies with all applicable FCC regulations and we have not received reports that would indicate such a problem."

But the original story posted online December 13 did not describe a WLAN disruption or even a problem, though there is some limited and anecdotal evidence that the unusual and still unknown signal in the 2.4-GHz band may make it difficult for nearby Bluetooth devices to connect with each other.

What Morrisville is trying to discover is whether the signal actually does come from the Xbox, and whether it affects the WLAN or wireless clients, or might in the future. Microsoft is correct in saying there were no "reports" because there is only one in our story.

The story described an anomalous signal discovered by the IT department at Morrisville State College, which has deployed a campus-wide 802.11n net based on equipment from Meru Networks. The IT staff were exploring the radio environment in one of the college dorms, using Cognio's RF analysis software. The software revealed a signal, in the 2.4-GHz band, that was quite strong and jumped around through many of the frequencies in that band.

As noted by the college IT staff, this apparent frequency hopping is not a characteristic of conventional Wi-Fi signals, but it does resemble Bluetooth, which also uses the 2.4-GHz frequency. But the Cognio software, which is designed to specifically identify the types of radio signal it discovers, identified this one as unknown.

Morrisville Network Administrator Matt Barber eventually brought in his own Xbox 360, plugged it in, and the Cognio software captured the same signal pattern. The signal was created even when the Xbox was not actually turned on. Barber speculates that it might be the continuing attempt by the console to find and connect to Microsoft's companion wireless handheld gaming controller. When Barber shrouded the Xbox with a static discharge bag the signal dropped noticeably but was still present, according to the Cognio scan. When the Xbox was unplugged from the wall, the signal stopped.

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John Cox

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