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How the 700MHz clearance will impact live events

Shure’s manager of applications, Andrew Francis, offers PSNEurope some unique insights into the impending 700MHz band clearance and what it could mean for the UK’s ever-growing live events industry...

The UK’s live entertainment industry shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, taking a record £17bn in 2017 thanks to big West End productions, music, arts festivals and live tours of TV shows. And a further growth of over seven per cent is forecast for 2018, according to accounting giant Deloitte.

However, the way that big productions and gigs is planned will soon change significantly, due to the scheduled clearance of the 700MHz band to be reserved for telecoms and growing 5G mobile networks.

Germany and France have already started this process. Programme making and special events (PMSE) audio users within the UK will retain access to the guard band (694 MHz to 703MHz), but will lose access to other frequencies in the 700MHz range from May 1, 2020.

Helping us to understand the problems to be faced, and offering advice on how to circumnavigate those problems, Shure’s manager of applications, Andrew Francis, provides insight, as well as answers.

The clearance of the 700MHz channel comes into effect in May 2020. How are users of wireless tech managing the changeover?

Shure has been making its customers aware of the 700MHz clearance and its implication of making the 600MHz spectrum grow higher in demand. Up until the switchover date, the 700MHz band will be fantastic to use, as digital TV will be moved to other frequencies, but after May 2020 we will all need to be more aware of the spectrum we wish to use. Shure also offers wireless microphones in different areas of RF spectrum such as Microflex Wireless, which uses 1.9GHz (DECT), it does not require any licence to operate and is perfect for many meeting room applications. Another piece of interesting and often overlooked spectrum is the 1785- 1805 MHz range.

The reason it’s interesting is that it can be used under the same shared PMSE licensing regulations as Channel 38 but is often much less utilised. On a recent site survey, I scanned both Channel 38 and 1.8GHz then calculated we could fit approximately 32 channels of ULXD wireless in Channel 38 and 128 Channels in 1.8GHz.

Can you talk a little about Airband and how that will assist bigger events where there are bigger RF demands?

Airband is a solution proposed by Ofcom to allow PMSE users access to alternative RF spectrum, but there are concerns about the viability in the long term. Shure has been proactive in trialling kit which operates in this spectrum with success, but as it’s a one market solution just for the UK, the return on product development is limited. Regulatory advancement is required before most manufacturers will commit to making equipment.

Are there any concerns from the aeronautical sector regarding the use of Airband?

Yes, there are many concerns about radio mic users causing disruption and interference to the Civil Aviation sector. However, Ofcom believes they are unsubstantiated, and Shure supports further study to gather the necessary data to build confidence. PMSE users will take secondary priority use of the spectrum in the same way as TV band licencing.

How are you adapting as a manufacturer to ensure your products are as efficient and effective as ever?

We’ve spent many hours at events, assisting with frequency planning and support to ensure that large-scale events run as they should. This time onsite has helped us understand what’s been needed and has been crucial in relaying this information directly back to the R&D department. It’s one of the main reasons why Axient Digital has delivered so well across all applications: it answers all the questions any users might have because, essentially, it’s been developed through many varied conversations with users of wireless microphone systems.

Are regulators from around the world doing enough to protect the spectrum access within the entertainment sector?

No. The largest obstacle faced by consumers of radio microphones is actually regulators making policy decisions which benefit the mobile sector but leave PMSE users to deal with the consequence and fight to be heard.

Policy makers are still gaining an understanding of how important wireless microphone technology is to the entertainment and corporate sector. Wireless microphones are in use throughout businesses of all sizes nowadays and if the trend continues, usage will only increase.

What next?

In a much similar approach to the transition away from PMSE users having access to the 800MHz spectrum, Ofcom are now offering a compensation scheme for the replacement of radio mic equipment in the 700Mhz range. Shure UK would also like to thank Ofcom, the UK government, as well as BEIRG and, those in the PMSE community that have worked very hard towards achieving this outcome for all radio mic users.

The only thing we can be confident in is the use of radio microphone, and in-ear monitoring equipment isn’t going to go away any time soon, neither is the public’s expectation for high quality entertainment, productive business meetings, conferences and high-speed access to the internet from mobile devices. All sectors that benefit from the use of RF spectrum must continue to work together to ensure we maintain reliable access to this finite resource.