Almost every venue and person using professional wireless microphones in the United States will need to reconfigure their systems as soon as Nov 2018 to comply with new federal regulations and avoid interference. Since the definition of wireless microphones includes in-ear monitors, intercom systems, and interruptible fold back (“IFB”) systems, more devices will be impacted by the new federal regulations than most people realize.
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More details courtesy of Sennheiser:
Most wireless microphones, especially those of professional grade, transmit in locally-vacant TV channels, commonly referred to as white space channels, primarily in the Ultra High Frequency (“UHF”) range. Legislation required the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) to conduct an “incentive auction” to repurpose a large portion of UHF TV band spectrum for mobile broadband. The auction impacts the 600 Megahertz (“MHz”) band, specifically 614-698 MHz. For wireless microphone operators, this means that many UHF TV channels used today will not be available in the future.
FCC decisions concerning the incentive auction and the subsequent repacking of the TV band will significantly impact wireless microphones. Wireless microphone owners and operators should prepare for changes, including:
614-698 MHz will be repurposed, and will largely become unavailable to wireless microphones after a transition period that will end on July 13, 2020.
There will be portions of the repurposed spectrum (e.g., the guard band and duplex gap) where wireless microphones will be allowed to operate, but under different rules (see below) including a 20 mW output power limit.
Some TV stations currently broadcasting on channels in the 600 MHz band will be moved to lower TV channels, thereby increasing congestion in the remaining TV spectrum. This will further reduce the number of channels available to wireless microphones in the lower UHF and the VHF bands. However, the FCC’s adoption of Sennheiser’s proposal for co-channel operations (explained below) makes previously prohibited channels now available to wireless microphones.
About half of existing UHF wireless microphone equipment will likely be rendered obsolete, or will require modification. Basically, no later than July 13, 2020, any wireless microphone that can tune above 614 MHz will need to be taken out of service or modified to comply with the new band plan and FCC rules. More specifically, these rules apply to any wireless microphone that can tune to any frequencies within the broadband downlink block (617-652 MHz) or the uplink block (663-698 MHz), and all existing wireless microphones with output power greater than 20 mW that will be used in the guard band and duplex gap.
Timing of the deployment of the new broadband services will vary by market area. Deployment in most areas is expected to occur well before 2020. A 600 MHz licensee is required to register use of its spectrum in the white space database system once it commences service in an area. Wireless microphone operators should check the database system, using the web portal of any of the FCC approved administrators (e.g., Spectrum Bridge, Key Bridge Global, Telecordia/iconectiv, etc.) for channels available to microphones in their locale. We generally recommend that wireless microphone owners and operators begin replacing 600 MHz equipment now and plan completion of their transition well before the final July 13, 2020 deadline.
The two microphone reserved channels that currently exist in each geographic market are being eliminated. However, portions of the guard band and duplex gap will be available for the exclusive use of wireless microphones.
The FCC has proposed that a reserved UHF TV white space channel exist in every market area, but a final decision is pending. This channel would be shared between wireless microphones and white space devices (explained below), but could be reserved by licensed microphone operators for eligible events.
The FCC will require manufacturers, distributors, integrators, and retailers that sell or lease 600 MHz wireless microphone systems to post notices at the point-of-sale, on websites, on packaging, and in literature about vacating 600 MHz and the new operating rules.