What’s Changing in Wireless Availability and How It Affects the Events Industry

What’s Changing in Wireless Availability and How It Affects the Events Industry

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By Ben MacKinney – Audio Manager, Alford Media

The wireless spectrum is a vital element in the events industry. It allows for the easy and effective operation of microphones, communication radios and many other types of similar equipment when inside the wide variety of convention facilities, ballrooms and other halls commonly used.

A recent Federal Communications Commission action sold off part of the UHF spectrum previously used by over-the-air television station broadcasts as well as wireless communications tools to the mobile phone industry. That means attention to developments and shifts in strategy are needed for event technology companies to maintain a high level of quality in their communication systems and adapt to a changing wireless environment.

The FCC’s recent actions

“The FCC wrapped up an especially complicated wireless spectrum auction in April.”

The FCC wrapped up an especially complicated and wide-ranging wireless spectrum auction in April, as CNET detailed. The process was involved, with the federal communications regulator first working with a number of television broadcasters to free up a part of the wireless spectrum that was no longer in regular use. The FCC then sold off the newly available section, part of the 600 megahertz band, to companies including T-Mobile, DISH Network, and Comcast. This piece of the larger band is recognized for long-distance use as well as effectively penetrating into buildings, two attributes that offer a variety of benefits to the businesses that use them.

The result of the auction from an events perspective is a reduction in the open, available bandwidth that was once used to accommodate wireless communications channels. The issue has roots in the changeover from analog to digital over-the-air television broadcasts.

That conversion meant TV stations started to use the full bandwidth capacity available for their broadcasts, cutting down on the open ranges that could be used by wireless communications. Now, options are significantly more limited. Digital TV broadcasters use more of the spectrum in their broadcasts, and another slice of it is no longer usable by anyone besides the auction winners. In practical terms, the number of available, open channels for microphones or radios has decreased significantly. A maximum of about 200 channels is now much lower, with roughly 30 available in total.
With the spectrum reduced even further following the FCC’s auction, it’s a complicated situation and one live events companies need to address to continue providing a high level of service for each and every client event.

Wireless Mic

The use of new and existing technology will play a role in overcoming the reduction in available bandwidth for live event communications.

The use of new and existing technology will play a role in overcoming the reduction in available bandwidth for live event communications.

Recognizing, adapting and moving forward
Creating a solution to this pressing issue is a major priority for Alford. The timeline for the transition is compressed, which means developing an alternative means of deploying the full number of communication channels needed for a successful show is a major priority. A 39-month period for a changeover from the previous open spectrum to the current use limitations – where the auction winners have exclusive rights to their sections of bandwidth – exists. However, the new owners of the spectrum have the right to begin using it at any time, trumping that three-year, three-month period.

With T-Mobile announcing it will start using its purchase of the auctioned spectrum by Jan. 1, 2018, there aren’t years ahead to seek a solution. Changes need to be developed and implemented during the rest of 2017.

Alford’s strategy for maintaining wireless communication excellence, both for backstage communications and the microphones used onstage by executives, keynote speakers, and others, isn’t reliant on a single change. Instead, it focuses on a variety of new approaches and technological means to ensure communication fidelity and accuracy continues uninterrupted.

One change that has a few different practical applications is moving outside of the occupied portions of the spectrum. By moving from the UHF band that will soon be mostly occupied to the less-used VHF band, more channel options for microphones, radios, and monitors become available. While the VHF range is significantly narrower than that of UHF, it presents an opportunity to work around the quickly approaching UHF limitations.

The potential use of the Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications range is another facet of the overall strategy. The DECT standard, most commonly used for wireless phones, can also effectively carry the short-range transmissions of radios and monitors. The quality of the DECT range isn’t high enough to confidently use on-stage microphones with it, but freeing up backstage communication from the narrower UHF and VHF bands means more audience-facing microphones can be used.

New technology also plays a major role in moving forward. Alford already has its Intermodulation Analysis System in place, which maintains listings of all licensed broadcasters in the country and compiles field readings and information for each event to provide the best possible strategy for setting up communication devices. A tool used to tune microphones to the available portions of the existing spectrum in each city is another addition, as is using new microphones that feature a high-density mode that increases the total number available for use.

Adapting and changing isn’t always easy, but this is a challenge Alford is tackling head-on.

Alford Media