A portion of the Federal Communications Commission’s 600 MHz band will go up for auction during the first quarter of 2016, depleting the already-crowded spectrum for users, which includes wireless microphones in the AV and pro audio worlds. Anticipating the need to accommodate users that are affected by the smaller spectrum, the FCC has released two announcements—one about plans to allow wireless microphones to use new spectrum bands, and a second about unlicensed services within the 600 MHz band.
The 600 MHz spectrum band predominantly caters to TV broadcasting; however, wireless microphones in the live sound and AV industries operate on the unused frequencies within that band. The FCC is paying participating broadcasters for their licenses to certain frequencies, which will then be auctioned to wireless companies like AT&T, T-Mobile, etc. next year. What this means for AV is that users have less frequencies to work with for wireless mics, and manufacturers need to design products to sync with new frequencies outside the 600 MHz spectrum.
“There’s a limited coverage range, and that needs to be dealt with,” explained Mark Brunner, senior director of global brand management at Shure. Brunner has spent the past several years monitoring the reduction of wireless spectrums used by AV, and advocates on behalf of these users to the FCC on a regular basis. “These spectrum changes are moving quickly, but that doesn’t mean equipment will be obsolete immediately. The Commission is doing its best to ensure a smooth transition after the auction to minimize disruption to pro audio.”
On August 6, the FCC announced that it has adopted new rules that will enable wireless microphones to use new spectrum bands.
“With less space in the TV band, we need new spectrum bands. This means manufacturers will have to produce new equipment to fit in that spectrum,” Brunner said. “The FCC is giving us a safety valve while we transition. The auction will occur next year, but it will be several years before the transition is complete.”
The FCC release explains that wireless microphone users will have access to: “(1) significantly more spectrum in the 900 MHz band; (2) access to a portion of the 1435-1525 MHz band at specified times and places, subject to coordination requirements that protect critical aeronautical mobile telemetry; and (3) access to portions of the 6875-7125 MHz band.”
The FCC also announced it will permit unlicensed fixed and personal/ portable white space devices and unlicensed wireless microphones to use channels in the 600 MHz spectrum, which will make the spectrum even more crowded. In response, Brunner encourages wireless users to get licensed.
“There’s going to be changes. License eligibility has expanded, meaning the ability to be a licensed operator of wireless mics is expanded. You will have greater rights with a license in the post-auction environment, so for any serious AV integrators or rental companies, they should look into becoming licensed,” he said.