The State of UK Spectrum for PMSE Wireless
And what you can do to help
Firstly, let’s bring you up to speed:
The last 15 years have seen the explosion of mobile telephones, and then, in rapid succession, the demand to have fast wireless internet access available on these devices. It’s fair to say that with the increasing use of smartphones, RF spectrum has never been in such widespread use by the general public. Consequently, the rights and licenses to use that spectrum are now big business in a way they never were before.
Over a similar period of time, the use of wireless microphones and IEMs have also increased dramatically. The PMSE (Program Making and Special Events) sector uses wireless devices daily from applications including touring, theatres, education, sporting events, newsgathering and television broadcast. As the microphone is the first device in the signal chain, it is imperative that it operates without any interference as this would be detrimental to any application.
The so-called UHF bands IV & V (470MHz-862MHz) is where the demands and requirements of PMSE and the mobile sector collide. UHF spectrum has excellent propagation characteristics and is of great benefit to any users. These bands have long been used by television broadcast and PMSE has used the so-called White Spaces (unused spectrum) in between active television transmitters. However, over the last decade, we have seen large swathes of UHF spectrum auctioned to the mobile sector — making the interference-free use of wireless technology by PMSE users much more difficult.
What's happening now?
In the UK, following the World Radio Conference in November 2015, OfCom announced its intention to clear a further 100MHz for mobile use as early as 2020, meaning over 200MHz of spectrum will have been lost from professional users since 2012. This additional loss of spectrum might make the operation of wireless microphones and IEMs at some large events impossible due to the lack of sufficient interference-free spectrum. The problem is further compounded by a decision to permit White Space Devices to operate alongside pro wireless equipment in the remaining UHF bands.
Technology has a role to play here. Over the past few years, wireless mic manufacturers including Shure have created new systems that are much more spectrally efficient, and can operate reliably within a much narrower RF range. But these systems still need clean RF spectrum in which to operate. Technological advances can make the best of reduced RF availability, but eventually, there will be a limit.
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What will happen next?
In the UK, work is currently taking place by OfCom to find replacement spectrum for PMSE use on a shared basis in the 960-1164MHz band (currently used by the Civil Aviation Authority). While this is welcome, it's moot whether it can replace the spectrum that has been lost for PMSE use. Pressure groups in the creative industries, such as BEIRG have a role to play here; more key industry players emphasising the significant contribution professional wireless mics make to the UK's economy and cultural capital would help. Where would the UK tourist industry be without the draw of the West End theatre, the Glastonbury festival, Glyndebourne, live Shakespeare at Stratford, or live sports broadcasts, all of which now make heavy use of professional wireless technology?
What can you do to help?
1 - Bolster your wireless knowledge
As audio professionals, it’s important we stay up-to-date with the latest technology to make the best of the spectrum available to us. To mitigate risk, we will have to get better at coordination, and we need to utilise new technology (such as digital wireless systems) for their spectral efficiency.
To help professionals keep on top of the constantly changing spectrum landscape, we regularly run Shure Wireless Mastered seminars, and frequency coordination training through our Wireless Workbench Masterclasses. To register, or to find out more, visit sai.shure.co.uk
2 - Help us help OFCOM asses compensation for PMSE wireless users
As many of you will know, Ofcom recently announced their decision to make the 700MHz band available for mobile data by mid 2020.
Before any changes take place, OfCom is requesting submissions to a ‘PMSE Financial Questionnaire’ to help ascertain how much funding should be made available to compensate professionals whose wireless equipment will be left fully or partially redundant.
Shure and BEIRG strongly urge those individuals or organisations whose equipment will be negatively impacted to complete the questionnaire which can be found at the link below before the 13th May 2016.