Update on Wireless Mics & the 700 Mhz Band

Yesterday I listened in on a webinar sponsored by iLevite and Shure. Chris Lyons of Shure gave a good summary of where we are right now with the digital TV transition and the reallocation of spectrum. There wasn't a lot of new information, mainly because there haven't been that many developments, but it was a good seminar nonetheless. Here's the upshot.

As far as the "White Spaces" goes, the FCC recently released it's report on field tests. TV Technology has a good summary article on the report. In the testing of the new wireless devices Google, Microsoft and others want to bring to market, it was found that the devices could detect and avoid TV stations and other wireless carriers (ie. mics) about 50% of the time. Doug Lung, author of the TVT article mentioned above, concludes that these White Space Devices (WSDs) are likely to cause interference. Regardless, the FCC seems to be convinced that the WSDs can work. They will issue a ruling on Nov. 5th.

The whole issue with WSDs is a murky one, as no one really knows what it will mean for church sound, schools, theaters, sound companies, etc.. One of the plans of the WSD proponents is to put together a database using geo-location and registered frequencies to avoid interference. This plan has its own problems, of course. The good news, if there is any with WSDs, is that we'll at least have some real information to act on come Nov. 5th.

The other topic discussed is one we've dealt with here before; the 700 Mhz band (698 Mhz-806 Mhz). As previously written about here, the days for us to use the 700 Mhz band for wireless mics are numbered. We'll know exactly how numbered on Nov. 5th. Shure has been leading the charge of an industry coalition to establish a 24-month transition period for users of wireless mics in the 700 Mhz band. If the FCC agrees to this, we would, in theory, have roughly 2 years (from Feb 17, 2009 or another arbitrary date) to stop using our wireless mics in that band. 

This would be a God-send to the thousands of churches, schools and other venues that are looking at multiple thousands of dollars to replace existing wireless gear. Being able to spread the costs out over a 2 year period would be most helpful. Personally, I doubt we'll get that much time. If we're lucky, we'll get a year. 

Like I said earlier, if you own wireless mics that operate in the 700 Mhz band, start making plans now to replace them. It's not a matter of "if" but of "when." The question is today, what do we buy? The answer to that is, "Wait a few more weeks." Once the FCC issues its ruling, we'll have more guidance on how to proceed. 

Given this climate of uncertainty in the wireless spectrum, I'm looking at trying to get away from as many wireless mics as possible for Upper Room and CPC. I'm hoping to drop down to 2 wireless IEMs and go Aviom for the rest of the band. Ideally, we'll only use wireless mics for the pastor and other verbals during the service. I want to keep my vocalists on wired mics. They're cheaper and sound better to boot.

In the meantime, we have a few days left to comment on the ruling. Shure has an excellent resource with full instructions on how to file a comment. If enough of us get together on this, we might be able to buy some more time to make the switch out of the 700 Mhz band. Follow this link to learn more on making a comment. Hurry--we only have until Monday, Oct. 27 to comment. After that, we get what we get.

Stay tuned for more information. I'm guessing that the FCC's Nov. 5 ruling will be a topic on the FaithTools "Live from WFX" episode coming up. In the meantime start planning for change--'cause it's coming!