UK grappling with with future of wireless microphone spectrum

By Kevin
Hilton

SVG European correspondent

UK
frequency regulator Ofcom has reassessed its proposals for the future of radio
spectrum to take into consideration the concerns of manufacturers and users of
wireless equipment in television and live entertainment production, with the
sports sector forming a particularly vocal lobby. The PMSE (programme making
and special events) sector has campaigned hard since the Digital Dividend
Review appeared in December 2006 to ensure they have a say in the allocation of
frequencies after the analog television switch off and do not lose out to more
financially powerful groups, such as mobile phone operators.

The new proposal suggests that spectrum for radio microphones, in-ear
monitoring systems and wireless communications and cameras should be given to a
band manager experienced in administering frequencies. This body would then
allocate spectrum to those that need it.

How to get to that point is still to be decided. Ofcom has proposed six
options: retaining the current status quo; the present situation with
Administered Incentive Pricing (AIP), under which users pay a fee corresponding
to the amount of spectrum used; a “beauty contest” with AIP; an
auction with added safeguards; an auction with DDR safeguards; and an auction
without any safeguards.

The general feeling in the industry is that Ofcom leans towards either option
three or option four. Should a band manager be appointed the logical choice
would be JFMG, the company that currently manages spectrum for the entertainment
industry. Managing director Paul Gill said the Ofcom announcement had caught
the organisation by surprise and that a full response would be made after the
consultation document had been properly studied.

Gill did say that JFMG had expected the consultation to mention how much spectrum would be available for PMSE, including the fate of Channel 69. “It doesn’t deal with that issue but with access arrangements at the
end of the allocation process, which is surprising” he said. He added that
despite this the outline looks like good news and that a further announcement
would be made later.

Ofcom’s chief executive, Ed Richards, said the proposals were “designed to
ensure that this sector continues to have access to spectrum it needs to allow
it to thrive while ensuring that this valuable and finite resource is used as
efficiently as possible”. The consultation period closes on August 31.

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