U.S. Open RF Challenge Proves Need for White-Space Protection
By Ken Kerschbaumer
More than 300 professional-level wireless microphones and audio communication devices are being coordinated this weekend at the U.S. Open at Bethpage, NY, and the event is a milestone: the first major sporting event to benefit from a more wide-open spectrum universe after the analog-TV shutoff.
Louis Libin, president/CEO of Broad Comm Group, is handling RF coordination for the United States Golf Association (USGA) and warns that the broadcasters must remain engaged in the fight for spectrum integrity, despite the current situation. “The battle is never over,” he says. “The battle conditions have changed, but broadcasters need to realize we have to stay organized and fight.”
The fight Libin refers to involves the desire of consumer-electronics manufacturers to deploy unlicensed consumer devices within the “White Space” spectrum, the spectrum used by professional broadcasters and sports leagues for wireless microphone and communications transmission.
The argument by those on the consumer-electronics side is that there is a tremendous amount of unused RF spectrum within the TV band, enough for unlicensed and licensed users to coexist. The FCC has agreed, in theory. However, the battle in Washington is not finished, with a number of appeals filed. Consumer-electronics suppliers want even more spectrum for deploying devices; they are not pleased with such safeguards as spectrum-sensing devices. Current users of White Space spectrum are appealing to ensure that safeguards and protections remain in place.
The analog-TV turnoff last week opened up additional spectrum, creating a potentially dangerous scenario for broadcasters because the lack of a spectrum crunch could lead to complacency. More important, it could allow those who support unlicensed consumer devices in the spectrum to make the argument that there is plenty of space available. But the current situation will not remain forever.
“We are now in a situation that is temporary,” says Libin. “[Before the DTV transition], we used to have this additional space. And here at the U.S. Open, we can accommodate all of the broadcasters and give them the tools and spectrum that make them happy.”
The remaining problem for broadcasters is to make sure lawmakers understand that, even if spectrum is available during certain periods of the day, it will not necessarily be available all day. Local newscasts, concerts, and sporting events need clear access to spectrum during preproduction and the actual event. “The spectrum during those periods needs to be clear and crisp,” says Libin.
Those on the consumer-electronics side also argue that one channel dedicated to the needs of professional users will be enough. But this week’s U.S. Open demonstrates that this plan is not realistic.
“We have one channel of spectrum dedicated to communications like walkie-talkies,” says Libin. “One channel is not enough, and neither is two channels.”
But with consumer-electronics makers and others smelling new revenues (if not profits), don’t expect the matter to be cleared up soon.