Electronic Noise: How Your Smartphone May Affect Your Avalanche Beacon’s Performance

Jason Ringenberg | | AvalancheAvalanche
Danger ahead! Outdoor Pursuits

Avalanche transceivers are the most important piece of gear we use in the backcountry. The lives of us and our partners rely entirely on our beacons working well. One of the things that may interfere with the proper function of a transceiver is electronic noise.

Essentially any battery-powered device causes electronic noise. The way beacons communicate is through electromagnetic pulses. One transceiver sends out pulses that are picked up by the other. Pretty much any device that has a battery is capable of producing interference in these pulses. These interferences are what we refer to as electronic noise. This includes headlamps, GPS devices, GoPros, and most notably, cell phones.

This graph illustrates how electronic noise may affect a transceiver. The sharp spikes indicate electronic noise, while the flat-top spikes are the transmission of the beacon. BCA

Luckily, there are several strategies to reduce or mitigate the effects of electronic noise.

  1. Turn off your cellphone.
    Our cell phones are one of the biggest producers of electronic noise. Turning them to airplane mode does not significantly decrease the noise it produces, so it’s best to shut it off while in avalanche terrain. If you do not feel safe doing so, keep it stored at least 20 cm away from the beacon.
  2. Keep your headlamp on the brightest setting, or keep it off.
    Headlamps give off a sort of pulse or flicker that can cause interference. The best way to mitigate the flicker’s effects is to keep it on high, as this setting produces consistent light and results in less flicker than lower settings.
  3. While conducting a beacon search, hold the beacon at arm’s length.
    This technique will assist in keeping the transceiver away from any electronics that me causing an interference. It’s an effective way of getting a clearer reading.
  4. Keep the beacon at least 20cm from any metal material.
    Metal can warp or distort the way the electromagnetic pulse transmission is received. For this reason, it is best to keep the beacon away from metal materials such as your shovel, tin foil, or any other metal that may be floating around.
  5. Keep the beacon away from snowmobiles.
    Not only are snowmobiles giant blocks of metal, but they also have spark plugs, which are known to cause a lot of interference. It is recommended to park snowmobiles away from a potential slide area.

Remember to be safe and mindful in avalanche terrain.

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