Is Another Wireless Spectrum Reshuffle on the Horizon?

President Obama has authorized sweeping changes to the wireless spectrum, hot on the heels of the 700 MHz ban.

What, if anything, will recent FCC recommendations mean for sound engineers and other wireless microphone users?

The Infamous 700 MHz Ban Explained

The FCC’s recent ban on 700 MHz wireless use caused a major shakeup for sound engineers across the U.S., and turned previously state-of-the-art wireless mic systems into expensive junk.

Effective June 12 2010, the FCC reallocated the entire 698-806 MHz UHF frequency range for use by emergency responders and wireless devices such as smart phones and PDAs.

Some wireless microphone systems, which had operated in this bandwidth in the so-called ‘white spaces’ – spaces in the UHF spectrum between broadcast TV channels  – were forced to vacate these frequencies to comply with the law.

Problem solved, right?

Easier said than done. Many users of wireless mic systems were faced with a hefty re-investment in new equipment. Audio manufacturers mitigated this somewhat with generous trade-in and rebate programs.

But the shifting of wireless mic operation to different bandwidths leads to another problem.

The lower UHF frequencies  now face unprecedented crowding not only by existing unlicensed devices, but also devices that haven’t even been invented yet.

These devices are expected to push demand for wireless frequencies 30 to 40-fold. Will the new frequencies be enough to accommodate them?

Does a New Reallocation Go Far Enough?

The FCC now proposes yet another spectrum reallocation that will free up an additional 500 MHz of bandwidth- all to be auctioned off to the highest bidder of course- with some frequencies set aside for unlicensed use and public safety.

These new frequencies will come from government agencies and private license holders alike.

While this show of presidential authority has calmed the bandwidth debate somewhat, the burning question remains if new frequencies will be enough for both new devices and public safety.

For users of unlicensed microphone systems – sound engineers and musicians – there’s also the question of whether or not a proliferation of new technology will crowd out white spaces even further than before.

According to the White House, “In addition, there will be new opportunities for innovation through free, unlicensed use of spectrum by technology startups, individual users, and others.”

But Obama and the FCC remain mum on exactly how much space will be available for “individual users.”

What Can You Do?

The first thing you should do is check that your system complies with FCC rules.

All new mic systems sold in the U.S. comply with the law, but if you’re checking your old system (or purchasing used wireless gear), be sure it operates in the 470-698 MHz frequency range. These frequencies are safe to use – for now.

But as more consumer products compete for those frequencies, you may be forced to upgrade to new products – and new frequencies – in the future.

Will the 500 MHz of free space looming on the horizon for new wireless devices alleviate overcrowding for unlicensed mic users? Audio manufacturers are silent on the matter so far.

But AudioLinks is keeping an eye on this situation, so be sure to stay tuned for future developments.

Meanwhile, don’t hesitate to call (407-757-3326) or email us if you have any questions about your existing wireless microphone system.