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T-Mobile Aims to Ease 600 MHz ‘Phase Zero’ Transition for Some Wireless Mic Operators

While its aggressive roll-out of 600 MHz services is moving faster than the FCC’s expected 10-phase timeline—prompting the term ‘Phase Zero’—T-Mobile is trying to work with affected wireless mic users.

New York, NY—T-Mobile’s swift rollout of new services after acquiring the largest chunk of the 600 MHz band in the Incentive Auction has put wireless microphone operators in “phase zero” of the FCC’s original 10-phase plan for the TV station frequency repack. If any carrier that acquired 600 MHz spectrum wants to start services in an area, it can, provided the company sends advance notification to protected users—but wireless mic operators are considered secondary users and are not protected.

Licensed and unlicensed wireless audio equipment operators must vacate spectrum in the 600 MHz band as soon as new licensees announce their intention to begin using it. Carriers like T-Mobile are not working to a timetable, noted Karl Voss, lead frequency coordinator for the NFL, who coined “phase zero” for those impacted ahead of the FCC’s schedule.

Many RF mic users are unlicensed, and even Part 74 license holders are typically approved for operation by frequency blocks or geographic area, making it difficult for T-Mobile to target them with notifications, said Voss, speaking at the DTVAG Spectrum Workshop at the SVG Summit 2017 in New York on December 11. The workshop stressed the urgency of the RF spectrum crunch on wireless mic operators following the FCC’s Incentive Auction.

Dan Wilson, senior manager Spectrum Engineering, T-Mobile, encouraged wireless mic operators to visit the carrier’s dedicated website: This is how T-Mobile wants everybody to get information, he said. When the company updates the list of counties in which it is beginning 600 MHz services, it also notifies those on its “significant e-mail distribution list,” he said.

T-Mobile is very serious about being a good spectrum neighbor, he continued, urging those not on the list to contact the company. The carrier is also working with SBE and NFL frequency coordinators and, less successfully, with tech companies such as Microsoft and Google and the white-space database companies, he reported.

Jackie Green, president and CTO of Alteros, noted that there is a major milestone coming up in less than a year. The FCC’s rulemaking prohibits “the manufacture, import, sale, lease, offer for sale or lease, or shipment of wireless microphones or similar devices intended for use in the United States that operate on the 600 MHz service band frequencies” after October 13, 2018.

Anyone who has equipment that operates in the 600 MHz band or in the duplex gap but that has more than 20 MW of output power may no longer use it, she noted. Commercially, companies may no longer do business with 600 MHz equipment, which will significantly impact rental houses.

It’s important to get the word out that wireless mic users can’t rely on the FCC’s projected 39-month transition plan to replace affected equipment with gear compliant with the new rules, said Voss. Start budgeting for replacing equipment and start replacing that equipment now, he said. Voss also observed that there are wireless mic operators who are completely unaware of the FCC’s new rules or of T-Mobile’s aggressive service rollout plans.

Wilson revealed that T-Mobile, which won licenses to 622–632 MHz in the downlink spectrum (663-673 MHz in the uplink block) in the New York metro area, will begin services in Manhattan in Q3 2018 after assisting incumbent FOX TV station WWOR to relocate. He said that operators in New York City will initially not see a lot of uplink activity because there are currently only two 600 MHz handsets on the market, but there could be 10 more introduced in 2018.

T-Mobile’s tests have revealed several scenarios in which the carrier’s equipment and wireless mics can interfere with each other, Wilson reported. In the uplink spectrum, the wireless mic will cause interference to the T-Mobile base station. In a venue, a wireless handset could cause interference to a wireless microphone receiver.

In the downlink spectrum, wireless mic interference directly into handsets is a concern, he continued. The downlink base station into the wireless receiver is also a concern. Each downlink receiver is 40 W plus the antenna gain, he noted. Anyone doing frequency scans will immediately see T-Mobile’s downlink, which is active 24/7, he said, but handset use will depend on customers in the venue.

While T-Mobile is unwilling to release rollout information more geographically specific than the county level, for commercial reasons, said Wilson, the company will provide more details under an NDA. The company is already working with a number of TV stations and station groups, he said.

Wireless mic operators should not assume that the TV station repack will follow the FCC’s 10-phase timetable. As Wilson noted, T-Mobile is working with stations to move them earlier—and in some cases, much earlier.

T-Mobile National Development – Spectrum •