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Okay, let’s kick things off by taking a look at one of the most common complaints in the world of gate automation, remote control range.

Remote control range is a lot like the shock absorbers on our cars.  When our shocks go bad, we adjust our style of driving and handling to accommodate the sudden bumpiness of the ride.  Similarly, when we have to drive right up to our gate or garage to get it to open, we oftentimes simply learn to “live with it”.

But did you know that there are ways of improving the range of your remote receiver?

But first, let’s look at the technology that makes opening your gate remotely possible.  The device you are holding in your hand right now – what we commonly refer to as the remote control – is actually a “transmitter”, meaning that it transmits a signal that will be picked up on the side of your gate operator by the “receiver”.  Now, the receiver is really the integral part of the whole setup, since this little electronic device is what essentially tells your gate to open.  When you program a new remote into your receiver’s memory, you are giving the receiver a very specific set of instructions.  With rolling code receivers (such as the CENTURION NOVA range), the receiver needs to receive a whole set of codes before it will send a “trigger” signal to the gate controller, making it the more secure option by far.

The technology behind it all is called RF, or “radio frequency”.  The receiver connected to your gate motor will have an antenna to pick up on the RF transmitted by the remote, and uses a basic circuit called a resonator to tune out all other frequencies not associated with it.  In South Africa, the frequency most commonly used for radio communication is 433 MHz.

Okay, now that we’ve briefly discussed the technology, let’s take a closer look at what we can do to improve the current range on your remote receiver.

RF can, generally, be propagated through walls and other structures but will have a very tough time going through steel structures.  Therefore, it is always advisable to mount the receiver in a spot not obscured by any steel objects.  Remember, much like a cell phone, the receiver relies on its antenna – and more specifically the antenna’s “affective aperture” or “capture area” – to pick up any transmitted signals, and for that reason many installers choose to mount receivers high up on walls or polls (preferably not ones containing too much steel!).  It is not necessary to mount the receiver especially close to the motor it is meant to operate, as long as the wires connecting it to the controller are of a sufficient thickness to compensate for any voltage drops.  Interestingly, studies conducted by CENTURION’s own engineers have conclusively proven that manually extending the antennas or using range extenders, do not improve, and in some cases actually worsen, the range.  Nevertheless, the orientation of the antenna is of the utmost importance as far as range is concerned.

Moisture in the ground can be a major factor in poor receiver range.  When it has rained, and the ground has become saturated, the range may suffer as a result, especially if the receiver has been mounted close to the ground.  This is due to the radio waves being reflected from the surface of the earth.

One thing that most remote users don’t realise is that the signal sent out by their hand transmitters is comparatively tiny, and can easily be swamped by interfering signals from other equipment.  Transmissions from devices such as DSTV remote extenders, wireless credit card machines and cell phone towers can all potentially overpower the signals from standard handheld remote controls.  Unfortunately, the only way to accurately determine whether that is indeed what is causing your range issues, is by using sophisticated radio wave detection equipment, of which a spectrometer is a prime example.

But, while we’re busy hunting for all sorts of high-tech culprits, the underlying problem may very well be much more mundane.  For instance, when last did you change your transmitter’s batteries?  Some remotes, such as the NOVA range, have a clear indication when the batteries start to run low.  On NOVAs, the green LED on the transmitter’s front panel will flash rapidly when the battery is flat and, on the SupaNOVA and SupaSMART complex receivers, three dots will appear on the 7-segment display.

So, in conclusion, don’t be satisfied with poor remote control range!

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