Signal-minded approach to signal jamming


Signal jamming is an increasingly popular means for criminals to steal vehicles and loads, with truck hijackings costing the country an estimated R3 billion in 2015.

In almost every reported hijacking incident, the truck’s tracking signal was not available because the suspects involved had used signal jammers.

Picture: Illegal GSM jammers are often used by criminals to prevent the GSM tracking device in the vehicle from receiving and transmitting messages.

The scourge of signal jamming in South Africa has been brought into the public domain through Carte Blanche exposés and the much-publicised blocking of cellular communications during the 2015 State of the Nation Address in Pretoria. The latter event, in particular, has helped create greater awareness among the general public and has spurred tracking companies such as Ctrack to innovate and fight back.

Even so, the use of signal jammers continues to proliferate in South Africa, as they are easy to obtain and have become more affordable. As a result, hijackers today make use of a wide range of jamming systems and devices, some of them large and cumbersome and others small and portable. This is despite the fact that ownership and/or use of signal jamming devices is, according to ICASA, illegal in South Africa.

Whether big or small, these systems typically prevent telematic devices from broadcasting their position to tracking service providers.

Says Hein Jordt, MD of Ctrack Fleet Management Solutions: “Hijackers use a range of jamming systems to block tracking devices from communicating via the cellular networks or via satellite. Once jammed, they typically hijack the vehicle or work with the driver to move it to a location where they offload its valuable cargo.”

Those involved in transport and logistics know it is critical to protect both trucks and their loads from theft. According to the South African Insurance Crime Bureau, truck hijackings are all about the commodities being transported, with FMCG products like tobacco currently in high demand. In any event, the fact of the matter is that the majority of trucks are hijacked for their loads.

What is required by fleet owners and operators is a total transport solution, one that combines fleet management with the ability to detect signal jamming. The good news is that there is a solution available today that can equip both trucks and trailers with effective jamming protection.

In order to mitigate signal jammers, one has to make use of alternative frequencies to those being jammed. This is where Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS) technology, used by Ctrack, comes in. DSSS does not rely on any other format – such as GSM – to communicate. Instead, it transmits messages using a bandwidth in excess of that needed by the message signal.

This spreading of the transmitted signal over a larger bandwidth makes the resulting wideband signal appear as a noise signal, which allows greater resistance to intentional and unintentional interference. DSSS is also designed to transmit signals from difficult radio frequency (RF) areas and can penetrate through concrete, making it ideal for city, retail and financial institution environments.

In March, Ctrack announced that their jamming detection solution will form part of a combined fleet management package. “We are now able to offer our customers the option of installing a non-GSM jamming detection module as part of their fleet management system to ensure continuous visibility, helping to combat vehicle theft,” Jordt said.

With the fleet management component, fleet owners are able to monitor driver behaviour such as harsh, acceleration, braking and cornering, as well as over speeding. Significant fuel and maintenance costs will also be saved through monitoring factors such as engine performance and fuel consumption.

Compiled by: Leané du Plessis & Tristan Wiggill
Article originally appeared in Transport World Africa.