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Radar detectors zap petrol pump transactions

ChevronTexaco has determined that radar detectors are interfering with the satellite system it uses to transmit credit card information from filling stations to back-end corporate systems.

ChevronTexaco, which operates a nationwide network of 6,600 very small aperture satellite terminals (VSAT) at its filling stations, documented the problem last month in a filing to the US Federal Communications Commission.

The interference from radar detectors "frequently causes a disruption in the data flow, which can result in lost or incorrect sales and/or verification information," David Heck, manager of marketing, legislative and regulatory affairs at ChevronTexaco, wrote in the filing.

Heck added that ChevronTexaco is also concerned that "thieves could use these devices to steal fuel by simply activating a radar detector while fuelling" to knock out a credit card transaction.

David Zatloukal, vice-president of Direcway VSAT service at Hughes Network Systems (HNS), said the interference from the 25 million radar detectors in the US has rendered "unusable" the lower portions of the 11-GHz spectrum used by the satellites that transmit VSAT data.

Even though they are receivers, radar detectors contain oscillators that can knock out VSAT transmissions to the extent that "we don't know if we can provide satisfactory service", Zatloukal said.

HNS, which supplies VSAT services to ChevronTexaco, has tried to buy satellite service in a higher portion of the 11-GHz band but has had difficulty acquiring that limited capacity.

Consequently, ChevronTexaco, HNS and satellite companies such as PanAmSat, have endorsed an FCC plan to restrict radar detector emissions.

Greg Blair, president of Escort, a radar detector manufacturer in Ohio, said his industry could not afford regulation of a $39 (£26.85) product and was willing to move to lower frequencies in the 11-GHz band.

HNS, in a filing with the FCC, said this would merely result in interference with other satellite bands.

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