Post-Auction, the Spectrum Landscape Remains Tumultuous
Microsoft lobbies the FCC against expanding access for unlicensed wireless mics
The aftermath of the FCC spectrum auction is turning out to be as complicated as the auction itself was. Professional users of wireless microphones have been receiving unwelcome surprises in the form of unexpected use of recently acquired UHF spectrum by mobile-network providers who bought it during the auction, which concluded in March. A dust-up in July between wireless-microphone users and Microsoft illustrates where some of the battle lines are being drawn.
In July, Microsoft — which did not participate in the auction but has long advocated for the use of the newly freed White Spaces spectrum for wireless broadband applications — lobbied the FCC not to expand license eligibility that would grant the ability to reserve spectrum — on a temporary, per-use basis — to some currently unlicensed wireless-microphone users.
After the auction, licensed wireless users have access to additional 900 MHz, 1.4 GHz, and 7 GHz frequency bands that are unavailable to unlicensed operators. In addition, wireless users have exclusive use of 4 MHz of the Duplex Gap and the 11-MHz buffer between 600 MHz uplink and downlink mobile broadband blocks. However, the FCC is considering providing a pathway for certain professional unlicensed wireless users to become licensed so that they can access these alternative bands and have the ability to reserve channels for events.
Microsoft’s attorneys at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis responded sternly: “Microsoft recommended that the Commission not propose to permit an expanded class of wireless-microphone users to block wireless broadband operations in White Spaces channels.”
They buttressed their recommendation with assertions that such allowances would work against making wireless systems more spectrally efficient. In addition, they said the allowances would lead to these areas of spectrum’s becoming “administratively burdensome and likely ungovernable” by opening the spectrum not only to the theatrical and large public-event producers expected to utilize it but also to others, including the “yoga studios” that Microsoft fears will clutter these airwaves.
Microsoft further asserted that new and existing bandwidth in the 60 MHz range and 18 MHz of White Spaces channels is sufficient to accommodate both licensed and unlicensed users.
Sennheiser Spectrum Director Joe Ciaudelli reflects the wireless industry’s response. “Microsoft fails to point out that unlicensed microphone operators are losing their pathway to reserve White Space channels in the database system,” he wrote in a July 5 letter to the FCC, asserting that Microsoft was presenting a distorted picture.
“The net number of microphone operators that will have this privilege,” he continued, “will actually be drastically lower, even after expansion of Part 74 license eligibility. Microsoft conflates the amount of alternate spectrum the Commission has made available to wireless-microphone operators. This spectrum only partially compensates for the loss of UHF available to microphone operators and is not ‘additional’ spectrum, as Microsoft characterizes. Furthermore, the TV-station repacking will fill the lower portion of the UHF band, making the spectrum loss to microphone operators far greater than the 84 MHz in the LTE band that Microsoft references.
“Microsoft also has major misunderstandings of wireless-microphone technology and its marketing,” Ciaudelli added. “Spectral efficiency has been a design [criterion] of Sennheiser and other microphone manufacturers for decades. This accounts for the large number of wireless microphones in operation in areas such as Times Square and the Vegas Strip, where available spectrum has always been limited. … The audio industry has led the digital revolution.”
He tells SVG, “In a last-ditch effort to obtain more White Space spectrum for its unique purposes, after failing to achieve that during earlier proceedings, Microsoft incorrectly portrays wireless-microphone technologies as antiquated and professional wireless-microphone users — entities such as Ford’s Theater and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra — as untrustworthy. Microsoft completely misunderstands wireless-microphone technology and the commission’s licensing processes.”
His assessment reflects wireless-microphone users’ concern that the post-auction landscape for RF might look more like Eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall fell than like the carefully negotiated islands of safety it looked like on paper.
Jackie Green, president/CTO, Alteros, the wireless microphone company established by Audio-Technica to develop solutions for that changing landscape, notes that some of the outcomes are not the ones that were expected. She reports in an e-mail, “Someone showed me a picture this week of guys on a show; they were wearing T-shirts that said ‘RF Armageddon.’”