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Back To The Future?

The wireless/RF picture for pro audio in the U.S. is finally becoming much clearer -- here's the latest

A major consideration for this spectrum choice was because it was apparent entertainment wireless was headed for significant RF difficulties. Our assumption was that if we could put intercoms in the VHF band, it would free up a significant amount of UHF bandwidth for wireless mics and IEM systems.

This has indeed proven to be the case, with the UV-1G proving particularly well-received at large-scale events such as the various all-star games and awards shows. The reaction from production staff and management at these events, many of which I work at as an RF coordinator, has been quite positive. They’re thrilled to have more UHF channels – and more channels in general – available for RF wireless operations.

Further, a few manufacturers are already developing VHF wireless microphone systems – I’ve tested them, and frankly, they sound and perform great.

Become Licensed
It used to be that only those working in the broadcast, cable, and film industries could get a Part 74 license, but last year the FCC broadened eligibility criteria to include professional sound companies and operators of large venues that routinely use 50 or more wireless microphones, intercom, IEMs and IFBs. The advantage of a Part 74 license is that those users receive priority over unlicensed users operating under Part 15, primarily white space devices.

Have questions about wireless/RF? Be sure to go to the Wireless and Communications Forum in the LAB on ProSoundWeb for answers.

Getting licensed allows more powerful transmitters (up to 250 mW in UHF) and immediate registration in the TVBD / white space geo-location database, which protects against interference from white space devices, aka TV-band devices (TVBDs). Individuals can also apply for a license, provided they meet the original eligibility requirements, such as if they are a location sound mixer or broadcast professional.

Before every show, I register the geo-location of the event and channels we’ll be using. This theoretically eliminates potential interference from unlicensed TVBDs. Even though I originally thought this was going to be a pain, I’ve found it actually works, and that makes my RF coordination job at these events more reliable.

The Bottom Line
Fortunately, most manufacturers of, and broadband service providers for, white space devices have no interest in VHF – the size of the antenna required for these devices to operate in the spectrum is prohibitive. Which means entertainment wireless systems can, and likely will, utilize the VHF spectrum.

I estimate that in the next year or so we’ll see at least three manufacturers debut VHF wireless microphone systems and related products. This is very big news for the pro audio industry as we begin to close a chapter on a book we’ve been reading for almost a decade.

James Stoffo is a founder and chief technology officer of Radio Active Designs. He continues to work as the RF technician and frequency coordinator on large-scale special events and installations. Additionally, he’s provided testimony at FCC hearings and attended regular weekly conference calls with a number of other industry wireless professionals seeking to better understand and prepare for the ongoing changes.

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