The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has released details on the outcome of the UHF spectrum auction. Full Compass’s Kevin Peckham, who heads up technical training and education, breaks it down:
Who bought the 600 MHz spectrum?
Primarily large cell phone providers. T-Mobile was the top winning bidder at $8 billion, followed by DISH at $6.2 billion, Comcast at $1.7 billion, and AT&T at $910 million. View the complete list here.
What TV stations gave up their frequencies in the auction?
175 stations are being compensated for voluntarily giving up their spectrum.
Of that list of 175 stations, 145 gave up their frequency totally, although many will attempt to continue broadcasting by renting shared spectrum from another station. The most high profile of these is NBC flagship station, WNBC in New York. Thirty other stations agreed to give up UHF channels and move down to less desirable VHF channels, in exchange for compensation.
If you want to see the list of all 175 stations you can find it at the link below. The ‘Post Auction CSA” column indicates if they plan to continue broadcasting using a “Channel Sharing Agreement.”
What is happening to the rest of the TV stations (those not giving up spectrum space)?
TV station channels are changing in a process called “repacking.” You can visualize this as roughly the RF equivalent of what happens when you defrag a hard drive. Current plans call for a total of 957 stations to move into new lower frequencies to clear out the UHF spectrum above channel 36.
To put this in perspective, there are about 2,200 TV stations in the U.S., so nearly half of them are going to be impacted with a major technical change to move to their new assigned frequencies. This also means that nationally, we will have nearly twice the number of TV stations occupying the remaining (lower) UHF band.
How long will this take?
The new spectrum owners are very anxious to have the frequencies cleared ASAP, so they can start building out 5G cell phone systems and other wireless services. Because of the long lead time it takes to order and build transmitters and antennas, and schedule tower crews, and then coordinate moves with other stations to avoid interference, these changes will take many months. The first wave of station frequency moves is scheduled for November 2018. The planning calls for 10 waves, or phases, in different locations around the country between November 2018 and summer 2020, when all of the moves are supposed to be completed. Whether the factory and manpower resources exist to accomplish all of this by those FCC mandated deadlines is hotly contested, but those are the current requirements.
What does this mean for wireless microphone users?
Congestion – Nearly twice as many TV stations occupying lower UHF band certainly raises concerns about finding operating frequencies for wireless microphones. While it is very true that increased congestion will be a reality of the years ahead, it is important to consider that in the most R.F. congested regions, we have a very significant number of full power TV stations leaving the UHF spectrum entirely:
Los Angeles – 12
New York – 10
San Francisco – 10
Philadelphia – 10
Pittsburgh – 8
Washington D.C. – 8
Boston – 8
Chicago – 6
That’s a total of 72 fewer UHF stations in just eight cities.
Timing – As the TV stations move out and turn over the frequencies to the new owners, wireless microphones operating in the auctioned spectrum will also have to clear those frequencies. Wireless mics cannot (legally or technically) co-exist with the new services that will be moving in. While the FCC has not yet defined the exact time-table for discontinuing wireless microphone use, given the enthusiastic urgency of the new owners to move in, we know that wireless microphones will not have any extended “grace period,” and will have to stop using any of the auctioned frequencies at least as soon as the TV stations have cleared the spectrum. In some areas, that change could come as soon as late 2018 and throughout 2019, but in the most congested urban areas, this will likely be well into 2020.We will post new information as it becomes available, and plan to host webinars to answer questions as the timeline unfolds.
What about the gear I already own?
Full Compass is working with Shure to help make sure you stay compliant with the new regulations.
See if your system will be impacted by this auction and is eligible for a trade-in rebate.
And remember that now through May 31, when you buy Shure from Full Compass, you get FREE STUFF! Call your Sales Pro today at 800-356-5844 to find out more.