The State of UK Spectrum for PMSE Wireless

Tuomo Tolonen | April 12, 2016

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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At the World Radio Conference 2015, regulators gathered to discuss the  future of spectrum. The key focus at this years event was the proposed  realloc… 

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As a relatively new development in the ongoing debate about the future  of spectrum, Whitespace Devices are often overlooked or misunderstood.  In this… 

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.

http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/700-clearance-cfi/

Tuomo Tolonen

Tuomo is the Pro Audio Group Manager at Shure UK. He has a great interest in all things RF and often is on-site at events to assist with RF co-ordination. In his spare time Tuomo still talks about RF and recently entered the Guinness Book of Records for talking about wireless for 72 hours straight. Being from Finland but having lived in Germany, the U.S. and now the U.K. Tuomo is an Arsenal and Bayern Munich fan, and switches his support throughout the season. In addition he is German during World Cups, Finnish during Winter Olympics, and English between June and September when the weather is good.