Sennheiser: Wireless Microphones Need Spectrum Just As Much As Mobile

Sennheiser says authorities should not take away airwaves from special events and production without giving alternative frequencies

Sennheiser has warned that the drive to provide as much spectrum as possible for the mobile industry should not come at the expense of the programme making and special events (PMSE) industry, which relies heavily on wireless microphones and other equipment that uses wireless spectrum.

Speaking at a Westminster eForum, Alan March, senior manager of spectrum affairs and system design at the German audio manufacturer, claimed that without the ability to use this wireless equipment, the content that many people watch via 4G would simply not be made, damaging the UK economy.

At present, wireless microphones use the 700MHz band, along with Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT), which has been allocated for mobile broadband by both the EU and International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

Growth in wireless

Fibre optic quantum cryptography light © asharkyu ShutterstockRegulator Ofcom has pledged to clear 700MHz for mobile by the end of the decade and has promised that DTT services (Freeview) will not be affected and that alternative spectrum will be found for PMSE.

“There’s an awful lot of [wireless microphones] out there,” said March. “They’re everywhere. These devices are used for film and TV and used in sport, churches and colleges. They’re all over the place.

“When it comes to content production … the point we need to remember is that this stuff has to be made before it can be delivered. How we harvest the audio for production is now almost uniformly done with wireless tools.

“High quality content delivers a lot of money for UK plc.”

March said that large events were most at risk from the seizure of 700MHz, arguing that just because this spectrum wasn’t in use all the time, it didn’t mean the industry did not require it for huge occasions, such as a football match at Wembley.

Alternative bands

The 470-694MHz frequencies, or UHF band, are still used for television services in many European countries. Ofcom and many of its European counterparts opposed the repurpose of these airwaves for mobile broadband at the recent ITU World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-15).

March said he hoped that the UHF band would be retained for PMSE and DTT for the “foreseeable future.”

“Policy makers should be in no doubt that [taking away] sub-700MHz [from PSME] would be a bad idea,” he argued.

“Ofcom really has to be applauded. It has to be one of the most progressive regulators for recognising there will be a problem post-700HMz deployment and looking at solutions [for PMSE].”

Ofcom has identified the 960-1164 MHz and 1526-1559 MHz bands as potential ones that could be shared by PMSE. Ofcom has released a proposal for PMSE to share the former band with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), while the latter is used by mobile satellite services.

However there is no industry wide consensus on the use of 960-1164 MHz band. Sennheiser wants more work to be done to see if it is viable for PMSE and says the whole ecosystem needs to get behind it.

“We need manufacturing involvement,” said March. “There is no equipment operating in this band at the moment. [Manufacturers] need assurances this band is practical and usable.”

Broadcasters have also been concerned by the move to free up as much spectrum as possible for mobile, arguing that DTT generates £80 billion for the UK economy.

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