In 2016, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) held an auction to repurpose and sell portions of the national wireless spectrum. That action recently ended, with the sale of the block of UHF television channels 38 – 51, or 614 – 698 MHz.
As you can imagine, this has the potential to impact thousands in the audio world. Full Compass’s own Kevin Peckham, who heads up technical training and education, put together a summary of what we know right now:
To clear the spectrum for the new owners, the FCC is in the process of reassigning TV to move down to UHF and VHF channels 2-36. The FCC rules require the transition to be fully completed within a maximum of 39 months, which translates to mid-2020.
The 614-698 MHz region is currently very popular for UHF wireless microphone use. With the exception of some very small blocks of frequencies in guard bands, wireless microphones will no longer be allowed to use those frequencies.
This will also impact wireless microphone users. Here’s how:
- What’s the timing? 39 months is a maximum transition time, so by the middle of 2020 we know that wireless microphones will have to be out of impacted frequency bands in all areas of the country. Could it be sooner? In less congested areas of the country, where fewer stations are moving, we could see transitions completed well before then. Given the extensive tower work and other technical issues of TV station repacking, anything earlier than 2019 is unlikely.
- A large percentage of existing wireless microphones will need to be replaced or re-tuned. Manufacturers are deeply involved in this already. New wireless models will be programmed for the new frequency restrictions.
- Repacking TV stations and wireless microphone users into the channel 2-36 spectrum will cause greatly increased congestion, which will vary greatly in different regions. It is too soon to what specific channels will be occupied in each region until the new TV station reassignments are published. Once the transition is completed, wireless mic users will need to refer to the RF databases and coordinate frequencies to avoid conflicts in their area. With more users sharing fewer frequencies, coordination will be critically important for large scale events.
- Part 74 changes – There are rule changes which relax the restrictions on who can apply for Part 74 wireless microphone licenses. Part 74 users have increased power limits and access to frequencies that regular part 15 users do not share. This may be an attractive consideration for large venues and other large scale users who routinely operate fifty or more channels of wireless mics. It is generally not an option for smaller scale users.
We will post new information as it becomes available, and plan to host webinars to answer questions as the timeline unfolds.