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Wireless Mics and the Changing Frequency Landscape

Stephen Kohler provides an update on the impending 600 MHz band incentive auction, including the FCC's timeline, expected outcomes, and potential effects on users of professional wireless microphone and in-ear systems.
October, 28 2015 |

For up-to-date information on the FCC Incentive Auction, please refer to our Resource Center.

For over 20 years, Shure has worked closely with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and global agencies to represent the needs of wireless microphone users. With a unified spectrum strategy that includes technical policy solutions, effective communications, innovative product development, and customer support, Shure is helping to ensure a positive future for all professional wireless users.

The Incentive Auction: What It Is & When It's Happening

The FCC will be conducting an auction of spectrum in the 600 MHz band, starting at 698 MHz and moving downward. The spectrum will be re-purposed from UHF-TV and auxiliary devices (including wireless mics) to use for broadband data transmission. This process is called an "incentive auction" or "reverse auction" because the licensed broadcasters who occupy the band will be offered part of the auction proceeds as an incentive to participate. The remaining income goes directly to the U.S. Treasury.

The auction is scheduled to take place during Q1 of 2016. Until the auction concludes, we can't know how much of the band will be repurposed, but we do anticipate that it will result in reduced bandwidth for wireless microphone operations. Obviously, this will have an impact on those who operate wireless microphones in the 600 MHz range.

After the auction, there will be a 39-month transition period during which time the band will be reallocated. That leaves time for the incumbent 600 MHz users to switch to updated, rebanded, or new equipment. It is important to note that, during this 39-month transition period, new mobile broadband entities likely will begin operating within the 600 MHz band on a market-by-market basis throughout the country.

Potentially Good News for Wireless Microphone Operators

Since no one is forced to participate, it's important to note that the incentive auction has a wide range of possible outcomes. In fact, the FCC has published a chart showing 11 post-auction scenarios, indicating that some of the 600 MHz band may not end up in the auction at all. In addition, specific frequencies between and below the auctioned frequencies will be either reserved for, or shared by, wireless microphone operators. Rules for operation in the remaining TV band will remain unchanged.

With the Report & Order it published in May 2014, the FCC expanded its rules for wireless microphone licensing to reach beyond the broadcast and film industries and include eligibility for larger wireless users such as music tours, performance venues, houses of worship, and sound companies. Licensing would provide eligible users with priority for their operations in specific portions of the UHF-TV band and access to several new frequency ranges recently identified and allocated by the FCC. For larger-scale professional users who meet the eligibility criteria, this is fantastic news.

The last piece of the puzzle for wireless microphones is non-UHF frequencies. Many parts of the spectrum, from VHF on the low end to 900 MHz, 1.2 GHz, and 2.4 GHz in the upper frequencies, will likely remain open to unlicensed use under various sharing scenarios. In anticipation of this, Shure has been diversifying its offerings to ensure that the wireless microphone industry will have a number of options to meet its customers' needs.

Stay Tuned for More Updates

For users requiring many channels of wireless, the future may offer a larger spectrum for operations than today. Having an FCC license promises access to new bands and interference protection in others. Unlicensed users may face a more shared landscape in the UHF-TV band, but as manufacturers continue to improve their technologies and expand product offerings, wireless microphone systems will continue to perform well in both UHF and other established unlicensed spectrum.

In summary, the FCC is enacting rule changes in conjunction with the UHF incentive auction. Although this will result in loss of spectrum in the 600 MHz band, actions by both the FCC and wireless microphone manufacturers should accommodate the pro audio community with both sufficient spectrum and interference protection to enable continued high-quality operation of wireless microphone and in-ear systems.

We will continue to update you as events unfold. Additionally, you can view all FCC press releases, notices, and other communications on the FCC website's Media Relations page.

Stephen Kohler
Stephen Kohler is Senior Director of Strategic Planning at Shure. When he's not working, he loves to play fast notes on the guitar, chase his two children around the house and smoke selected meats in his monstrous BBQ smoker. He has a first-degree black belt but is too nice to ever use it. He also hopes that ABBA and Ozzy Osbourne will one day share the stage.