With End of FCC Auction, Manufacturers Know How Much Spectrum Is Left for Wireless Audio

Challenges remain in effective use of the frequencies available for pro mics, other systems

In the finale to a lengthy technical drama that had kept professional wireless audio users on the edge of their seats for almost two years, the final episode of the FCC auction process intended to make another major chunk of the UHF RE spectrum available to mobile-technology users has ended. Stage 4 of the FCC’s forward auction ended Wednesday Jan. 18, with wireless operators bidding $17.7 billion for the 84 MHz of TV spectrum that had been on the block. The bid amount more than covers broadcasters’ asking price of $10 billion, plus about $2 billion in auction and repacking costs.

Even so, the total is considerably less than the $40.3 billion target price for the 108 megahertz of spectrum that the FCC had wanted to repackage into 80 megahertz of licensed spectrum on offer to interested parties, such as mobile carriers like Verizon and AT&T.

Wireless-audio manufacturers, who were waiting to see what spectrum would be left after the auction in order to plan for their next generation of wireless microphone products, are glad to have clarity and certainty return. That includes SVG Sponsors.

shure-wireless-mic

Even so, the total is considerably less than the $40.3 billion target price for the 108 megahertz of spectrum that the FCC had wanted to repackage into 80 megahertz of licensed spectrum on offer to interested parties, such as mobile carriers like Verizon and AT&T.

Wireless-audio manufacturers, who were waiting to see what spectrum would be left after the auction in order to plan for their next generation of wireless microphone products, are glad to have clarity and certainty return. That includes SVG Sponsors.

“We’re relieved that the process has finished. Now we know what spectrum is off the table,” says Mark Brunner, VP, corporate and government relations, Shure. His company, he adds, had already taken a number of steps ahead of the end of auction to prepare for a reconfigured RF landscape: discontinuing several existing lines of wireless products, improving the spectral efficiency of existing products, and creating more products aimed at the middle tiers of users, including broadcasters.

“The transition has been accomplished,” he points out. “But now the real work begins.”

Sennheiser Director of Spectrum Affairs Joe Ciaudelli is happy to see the end of the uncertainty of the auction process. “Of course,” he adds, “our industry would prefer that the entire 600 MHz band remain available to wireless mics. However, the continued availability of lower UHF, together with the access we recently gained in several alternate frequency ranges, is the silver lining. I want to thank all colleagues and customers that supported our efforts, especially those who wrote to and/or even met with FCC staff, thus solidifying a fertile future for our industry.”

Audio-Technica had gone a step further in its preparation for the end of the FCC auction, forming a subsidiary specifically tasked with developing wireless systems in response to ongoing spectrum loss. Headed by A-T VP of R&D/Engineering Jackie Green, Alteros has announced its first product, which will be available this year: the GTX wireless series will operate in the 6.5 GHZ range and provide up to 24 channels of wireless audio without the need for frequency coordination.

According to Mark Donovan, sales engineering manager, professional products, A-T, the amount of UHF spectrum lost wasn’t as big as it might have been but still presents the industry with a challenge to use what’s left as effectively as possible.

“It’s not as tragic as it initially looked, but it’s still going to be a challenge, especially in the bigger cities,” he told SVG at the NAMM Show. “But now we know what the size of the playground we’re in is going to be. We can begin to move forward.”

Although the heavy lifting of the auction process is complete, some loose ends remain. The winning bidders are assured pairs of 5-MHz blocks (a 5-MHz uplink block mated with a 5-MHz downlink block) but are now vying for specific pairs: different pairs have different advantages and limitations, based on their proximity to adjacent services, such as terrestrial TV broadcast. However, this will not change the total amount of spectrum (84 MHz) being repurposed.

Ciaudelli offers an analogy: “We know the number of lanes on the highway, but they are still figuring out which cars will travel in what lanes.”

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