In a company news release, Sennheiser notes that it has launched a website to keep customers informed on recent developments concerning the future of wireless microphones and the UHF spectrum. The website—http://sennheiser.com/spectrum—also contains a sample support letter that wireless microphone owners can download and use to express their own views to the FCC concerning equipment replacement costs they will incur as a result of spectrum reallocation.
In the middle of 2015, the FCC plans to hold an “incentive auction” with the intent of transferring spectrum currently allocated for over-the-air (OTA) TV service to mobile broadband. The auction offers TV broadcasters the opportunity to relinquish or share their spectrum license in exchange for a portion of the proceeds generated by the auction.
The broadcasters that operate on channels in the 600 MHz range that choose to stay on the air will be moved to a different TV channel during the subsequent repacking process, which is expected to take at least two years to complete. As a result, Sennheiser states in the news release that it expects wireless microphone operation in the 600 MHz range to remain status quo through 2016.
While it is uncertain whether the incentive auction will be successful, the company notes that it is preparing for the possibility of a 600 MHz reallocation and is recommending that microphone operators start preparing for this transition as well. If the auction is successful, the degree of impact after UHF packing remains unclear for the following reasons, according to the release:
—Wireless mics may still be able to operate in some pockets of the 600 MHz, following FCC approval, in the planned guard band and the mid-band gap. The majority of the re-purposed spectrum will be segmented into two separate blocks for up-link and down-link. Between them will be a mid-band gap. Below the downlink block will be a guard band. In repacking scenarios that affect the radio astronomy channel (TV channel 37), one or two small additional guard bands may be created. The mid-band gap and the guard band(s) are intended to be buffers, but their functionality for mics is yet to be defined.
—Reallocation may vary by market. The FCC plans to pursue the “down from 51” plan where a range will be reallocated, starting from TV channel 51 (698 MHz) on downwards. It is unclear how far down from 698 MHz will be reallocated, in large part to the voluntary nature of the auction, but it could be as far as 578 MHz. The FCC wants the allocation between TV and mobile broadband to vary by market, but faces strong opposition from those who want the divisions to be uniform nationwide.
—Currently, there are two TV channels in each market that are reserved for wireless mic/monitor use, available to any mic/monitor operator. It is unclear whether this will still be the case after the repacking process.
Sennheiser says that it expects expects to have better visibility on these details later this year. Regardless of the outcome of the spectrum auction, the company notes that it continues to design and manufacture products, such as it’s newest wireless system, the Digital 9000, that are more spectrally efficient and easier to operate despite an increasingly challenging RF environment. “However, without adequate spectrum, even the most advanced equipment will not be able to operate,” the statement adds. “Therefore Sennheiser will continue to advocate and pursue political activities in the interest of its customers.”
“While it is still unclear as to how the spectrum repacking will impact many thousands of audio professionals by forcing them to reinvest in compliant equipment, Sennheiser will continue to inform and support its customers wherever possible,” adds Joe Ciaudelli, Spectrum Affairs, Sennheiser. “With Sennheiser, you are not only purchasing premium products but service and support from people who care.”
Sennheiser encourages its customers to support its petition for compensation for microphone owners in light of the pending spectrum auction, and to communicate any potential equipment loss directly to the FCC.