Postgame Analysis: SVG, DTV Audio Group Help Shape Latest FCC Wireless Mic Rules

By Ken Kerschbaumer, Editorial Director, Sports Video Group

For more than five years, SVG and the DTV Audio Group have worked hard to ensure that the FCC and members of the Senate and Congress heard the industry’s concerns over the loss of white-spaces spectrum and its impact on licensed spectrum users. At times, that fight seemed to be a bit hopeless, but the energy and focus paid off earlier this month with new rules adopted on Aug. 6 by the FCC.

“Our concerns remain the same, but licensed users live to fight another day,” says Mark Brunner, senior director, global brand management, Shure, who played a key role in helping SVG and the DTV Audio Group gain access to Washington, DC, power brokers.
Wireless microphone systems help bring viewers closer to the action.

Wireless microphone systems help bring viewers closer to the action.

Brunner credits SVG and, more recently, the DTV Audio Group with providing a forum for manufacturers and large-scale operators (namely, sports and news broadcasters) to exchange their views on policies, technologies, and how best to move forward.

“Through those discussions, the industry was able to present a unified voice for the nation’s professional wireless-device operators,” he explains. “That achieved the expansion of wireless-device licensing to include professionals beyond the broadcast industry and helped secure and maintain priority to the UHF spectrum that will still be available after the auction. It also will open important and significant portions of spectrum for licensed users.”

One of the key victories is that the FCC acknowledged that using a national database to control wireless microphones or to reserve spectrum for breaking news was not realistic, especially if the rulings would require licensed and unlicensed users to duke it out in the same spectrum. And the news-broadcasting community, specifically, helped with that victory by making it clear that, although a database might make sense for a scheduled event, it would greatly hinder the ability to use wireless microphones from a breaking-news event, where news reports could save lives.

“The network interests affiliated with news were instrumental in making that case,” says Brunner. “Other important attributes of the database will go forward, and it will be the de facto communication tool for the deployment of LTE services in the 600 MHz band over the 39-month transition period.”

Brunner also credits the FCC for taking on the difficult challenge of balancing different interests.

“From the beginning,” he adds,“the chairman’s stated goal was ‘disappointing all stakeholders equally,’ recognizing that the affected parties would all have to compromise on their particular requests.”

There is still much to be sorted out (see Dan Daley’s full report on the new rules, below). For example, what does “commencement of service” mean for a company that acquires spectrum during the auction? Does the clock to commence a service start ticking when the company acquires the spectrum, when it begins testing devices in the spectrum, or when it actually launches a service? Can the company sit on the spectrum acquired for years without doing anything with it, like a prime piece of real estate?

“The definition of occupying spectrum is not fully fleshed out,” says Brunner,“but it is critically important that it is for those in professional audio.”

Also in the works is the development of transition issues pertaining to equipment. For example, is field equipment able to be modified to meet future needs?

And then there is the most important item on the “to do” list: identifying one or two white-space channels in every market. That issue has its own challenges because, in markets where spectrum is lacking, TV stations could be placed in the duplex gap.

“The biggest challenges with this auction are in the transition, as opposed to the cut-and-dried date to get out of the 700 MHz band spectrum,” explains Brunner. “This band plan will be a patchwork quilt for three-plus years, and it will be challenging for the folks currently operating in it and for those who will be entering the band.”

Sponsors and members of SVG and the DTV Audio Group can expect to see both groups continue to do what they can, where they can, and when they can, with respect to the wireless-spectrum transition. The goal is always the same: to provide a unified voice that can truly have clout in front of key decision makers in Washington, DC.

Our promise is simple: to be a safe harbor for the honest exchange of ideas. To develop strategies for the future based on real-world market and technology conditions. And to make sure that, ultimately, any transitions have little impact not only on those in our industry but on consumers and viewers across our nation, who have come to expect sports productions, news reports, concerts, and more that are more exciting, informative, and artistic thanks to the use of wireless microphone systems.

Below is SVG Audio Editor Dan Daley’s recap of the Aug. 6 rules as laid out by the FCC:

New rules adopted by the FCC address the long-term needs of wireless-microphone users by providing continued access to the 600 MHz band and expanding access to other bands. The commission also adopted a Report & Order that modernizes its Part 15 rules to permit unlicensed fixed and personal/portable white-space devices and unlicensed wireless microphones to use channels in the 600 MHz band and television-broadcast bands while continuing to protect television and other licensed services from harmful interference.

These new rules come in advance of a planned auction of spectrum in that frequency range, one considered critical by broadcasters and other professional users, scheduled for March 29, 2016.

Specifically, the new rules pertaining to broadcasters allow greater use of the VHF channels and permit co-channel operations inside DTV contours without coordination if TV signals fall below a specified threshold; expand eligibility for licensed use of the 4 MHz portion of the 600 MHz duplex gap to include all licensed users in the TV bands (broadcasters, cable networks, movie studios, and operators at major sports/concert/theater venues); and provide new opportunities for these licensed wireless microphones to operate on a secondary basis in three additional spectrum bands, consistent with the commission’s spectrum-management goals: (1) access to significantly more spectrum in the 900 MHz band; (2) access to a portion of the 1435-1525 MHz band at specified times and places, subject to coordination requirements that protect critical aeronautical mobile telemetry; and (3) access to portions of the 6875-7125 MHz band.

The Report & Order issued by the FCC will affect operation of unlicensed devices from garage-door openers and cordless phones to WiFi and Bluetooth technologies to the Internet of Things. Part 15 rules permit unlicensed devices to operate on unused TV channels, the so-called white-space spectrum. Following the upcoming incentive auction, there may be fewer white-space frequencies in the television band for use by such devices.

The Report & Order is designed to allow more-robust unlicensed use and to promote spectral efficiency in the 600 MHz band. Specifically, the rules do the following:

* Permit more-robust and -efficient operation of fixed and personal/portable white-space devices in television-broadcast bands without increasing the risk of interference to broadcast services.

* Provide technical parameters for fixed and personal/portable white-space devices to operate in the 600 MHz band, including the duplex gap and guard bands, and channel 37 on a shared non-interference basis with medical telemetry and radio astronomy.

* Permit sharing of spectrum between white-space devices and unlicensed microphones in the 600 MHz band.

* Expand the location and frequency information in the white-space databases and update database procedures.

* Adopt transition periods for the certification, manufacturing, and marketing of white-space devices and wireless microphones that comply with new rules.

The commission asserted that these new rules provide “efficient sharing of these bands to accommodate various wireless-microphone users, while continuing to protect the licensed users of each of the bands,” according to an FCC statement, as well as providing nationwide access to spectrum for unlicensed use in the 600 MHz band.

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