The demand for 5G Wireless is having a direct and potentially costly effect on schools, houses of worship, mobile DJ’s, entertainment venues, theaters and businesses currently using wireless microphones.
Before July 13, 2020 almost every venue and person in the United States with wireless microphone systems operating above 608 MHz will need to discontinue use, migrate to new frequency ranges or reconfigure their systems to avoid signal interference and comply with new federal (FCC) regulations.
How 5G Affects Wireless Microphone Use
Wireless audio communication devices operate by sending and receiving signals on specific frequencies called radio waves. Radio waves are bands (sections) of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. These spectrum bands have different characteristics that are ideal for particular uses. For example, the lower-end radio frequencies such as AM radio and CB (citizen’s band) radio are weaker, but can travel many miles. The higher end waves suitable for things like x-rays, are more powerful but don’t travel far.
It’s the middle range of the radio spectrum that is ideal for use by cell phones, wireless microphones, TV and other radio stations. This same range also includes everyday devices like garage door openers, baby monitors and drones.
Why the FCC is Making These Changes
In the United States, it is the responsibility of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to decide which bands in the spectrum can be used and for what purpose. With the demand for 5G wireless and all of our other favorite devices competing for usage in this middle range of radio waves, allocation of this space has become a necessary evil.
In 2001, the general public saw the significance of why this type of spectrum band allocation is needed:
“September 11 exposed the primitiveness of our communication systems” said Mike Worrell a member of the F.E.M.A. Urban Search and Rescue system, Arizona Task Force-1.
“I was tasked with getting a call through to Washington for our task force leader. He had tried many times but was unable to get through, receiving an ‘all circuits are busy’ message.”
Following the events of September 11th, the 9/11 Commission recommended more spectrum be allocated to public safety so that first responders from different agencies and jurisdictions would have an easier time communicating.
As a result, in 2010, the FCC prohibited the use of wireless mics and other devices on some frequencies. It did so because the use of those devices could cause harmful interference that disrupts or degrades communications in the frequencies being used by public-safety and licensed commercial wireless (cell) services.
In order to meet the increasing demand for wireless broadband services nationwide, the FCC recently auctioned (additional) spectrum that had been licensed to broadcast television stations. The results of the auction (completed in April 2017) restricted the availability for wireless microphone operation on the 600 MHz frequencies.
Where to Find Frequency Information
Frequency band information is required to be printed on every transmitter and receiver and is typically found on the front, back, bottom or the inside of a battery compartment. These devices may also have a digital display that shows this information.
Where to Go From Here
The good news is, there are a variety of options to consider based upon your situation and type of use. One of these options is the availability of other frequencies.
Wireless microphones designed primarily for spoken word versus a large production concert for example, have more flexibility as to the frequencies they can operate on because this type of use is more forgiving of latency. Latency is a milliseconds delay that can occur in unlicensed ranges where some mics have the ability to automatically switch between frequencies to avoid interference by other devices nearby. (e.g., the 902-928 MHz, 1.9 GHz (DECT1), and 2.4 GHz bands)
Shared wireless use of unlicensed 900+ MHz bands may occur at sporting events where a large number of reporters, staff, coaches and players all utilize the same bands. This requires advance coordination between these groups of people who will typically agree to use physical distance to help avoid interference in this frequency range. To illustrate, if you have ever seen a quarterback tapping on his helmet indicating that he can’t hear the play call during a football game, the cause may have been something as simple as a late-arriving reporter broadcasting nearby.
The majority of the UHF TV band (Channels 14-36) also remain available to wireless microphones. This is important because the frequencies within this portion of the UHF TV band have very favorable characteristics, including: signals that can travel through walls, devices that achieve extended range from low transmitter power, and devices that utilize compact antennas.
Due to our desire for the latest trends in wireless, we often forget that wired microphones are an excellent and incredibly reliable option for many situations. Not to mention, wired mics will never fall victim to frequency restrictions.
Interestingly, these frequency restrictions are not a worldwide issue. Frequency restrictions primarily impact the United States although there are also some restrictions in Canada. This presents the opportunity of a secondary market in other countries for devices that are not functional within North America due to frequency restrictions. The Sennheiser International Frequency Advisor (SIFA) is a tool available to anyone that can provide easy access to frequency information in other locales, in addition to access to immediate help when traveling worldwide.
If you choose not to participate in a secondary market to liquidate your 600 MHz wireless audio devices, there is the option of trade-in programs being offered by manufacturers that can help offset the costs of replacing those devices.
Contrary to what you might think, trade-in programs are not a source of income for manufacturers. These programs are often facilitated by third-party companies who receive and destroy the unusable equipment.
Sennheiser’s 600MHz Wireless Trade-In rebate promotion accepts any 600 MHz device by any manufacturer, on purchases of new equipment from July 1, 2019 – July 13, 2020. New wireless solutions must be purchased from an authorized Sennheiser dealer. Sennheiser even offers a PayPal option to receive your rebate.
Knowledge is power, so take advantage of the advice and information that is available through manufacturer reps and other industry professionals who can assist in providing forward thinking and creative solutions.
“There are teams of people who are willing to help” said Matt Buckner of Sennheiser. Based on your needs, they can evaluate your current use and advise on whether any changes need to be made. If changes are necessary, they will help you find a practical and budget-friendly solution.
The Future of Frequency
Joe Ciaudelli, Director of U.S. Spectrum Affairs for Sennheiser Innovation & Research writes, “Ever since the dawn of radio, policies regarding the use of spectrum have continually changed – that will not end with the outcome of this incentive auction. The United States is the undisputed global leader in news and entertainment content. U.S. core copyright material is a $1 Trillion industry (that’s Trillion with a “T”), and has a 3-to-1 export-to-import ratio – the highest of any American-made product or service. Wireless microphones are not merely a convenience, they are indispensable tools fueling this ecosystem.”
“Sennheiser is committed to work cooperatively with the FCC so that the Commission fully understands the importance and ubiquitous nature of wireless microphone operation in our society, and the challenges that spectrum repurposing poses. Our goals are to minimize the adversities that such changes could cause, and to ensure that wireless microphone use for live and recorded events will continue uninterrupted while meeting future demands. We thank all of our colleagues and customers who support our efforts – especially those who wrote to and/or even met with FCC staff, thus fortifying a fertile future for our industry.”
For more detailed technical information see Sennheiser’s Guide to Wireless Microphone Operation Post FCC 600 MHz Incentive Auction.
Download the Sennheiser 600 MHz Wireless Trade-in Program Rebate Form on the WESCO Broadcast and AV website. WESCO Broadcast and AV is an authorized distributor of Sennheiser, offering access to the complete product line. View the entire product line on WBAV’s website or contact your WESCO Broadcast customer service representative for additional information.
Sennheiser is committed to providing information regarding the impacts of spectrum allocation: https://en-us.sennheiser.com/spectrum Author: Joe Ciaudelli, Director of U.S. Spectrum Affairs for Sennheiser Innovation & Research. Private sector advisor in the U.S. delegation to the international Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency on information and communications. He is also the founder of Rayvel, a corporation that specializes in electro-magnetic science, and holds three patents in holographic technology.
Sept 12,2016 – Technical Services Division Chief – Mike Worrell talks about emergency communication challenges on 9/11: https://www.firerescue1.com/fire-products/communications/interoperability/articles/usar-firefighter-at-911-talks-communication-challenges- S8l02Sa8UCnVsZAK/ Mike Worrell was previously with the Phoenix Fire Department where he served for 29 years, most recently as the technical services division chief. Worrell was also a member of the Public Safety Advisory Committee to FirstNet, a member of the National Urban Search and Rescue Incident Support Team, and a qualified communications unit leader and communications technician instructor. Prior to joining the Phoenix Fire Department, he was an electronics technician in the U.S. Navy, Submarine Service. Now is the FirstNet senior fire services advisor.
Justice and Public Safety – Elaine Pittman: Little Progress on National Public Safety Network 10 Years after 9/11:www.govtech.com Associate Editor Elaine Pittman in an August 31, 2011, article assessing National Public Safety Network changes after 9/11
FCC Consumer Guide to Operation of Wireless Microphones: https://www.fcc.gov/sites/default/files/operation_of_wireless_microphones.pdf
The Strange David and Goliath Saga of Radio Frequencies: https://www.wired.com/story/wireless-mics-radio-frequencies-fcc-saga/
1. DECT – acronym for Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications