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Shopping for D-ENG Gear at NAB

Besides BAS replacement gear, what else will you need?

LAS VEGAS:

During normal times at NAB, the microwave radio booths would see good traffic, with some broadcasters needing to buy new gear and others just nosing around to see what's new.

But these aren't normal times. These are the 2 GHz spectrum relocation times, sponsored (or at least paid for) by Sprint, which inherited Nextel's obligations when the companies combined.

In order to free up 2 GHz spectrum for its use, Nextel agreed to replace analog microwave equipment with more spectrum-efficient digital models for broadcast auxiliary service, cable television relay service and local television transmission service users, among others.

INTEROPERABILITY

Like an expense account dinner, it's a chance to order off a menu without paying attention to the prices. Well, almost like that. Sprint Nextel's obligation is "to fund and coordinate the relocation of operators within the entire 2 GHz band," according to the company's BAS relocation site, www.2GHzrelocation.com

When Sprint Nextel has verified the broadcaster's 2 GHz equipment inventory, "quotes are generated based on the Nextel ID numbers as to what's comparable equipment to make the broadcaster whole," said Jeff Winemiller, president and CEO of RF Central in Carlisle, Pa.

"For the most part, most of the manufacturers' pricing is, I believe, comparable," he said. "There might be a very small percentage between the lowest price radio and the highest price radio as near as I can tell."

Each microwave radio supplier has negotiated a volume pricing agreement with Sprint Nextel, so broadcasters won't necessarily ever see the price.

"From our point of view as a manufacturer, it really boils down to looking at the features [and] operability of the equipment that's out there," said Russell Murphy, eastern sales engineer for Broadcast Microwave Services in Poway, Calif. "Is it DVB-T compliant and is it easy to operate? Does it have all the features that somebody's looking for?"

The microwave vendors are adapting their NAB booths for this kind of shopping. "I think it's important for people at NAB to actually sit down and operate the microwave equipment in the booth, " said Dr. John Payne, president of Nucomm in Hackettstown, N.J. "It's one thing to read about the features, but when you actually try to operate equipment you can learn a lot about the ease of operation."

The short-term objective for broadcasters in replacing their 2 GHz spectrum relocation equipment is that, on the first day the digital equipment is fired up, it is able to perform the same tasks handled by the analog equipment it replaced. But microwave vendors TV Technology spoke with encourage a longer view.

"Medium term is going to be much more than standard-definition ENG," said Mike Payne, vice president of marketing and business development at Microwave Radio Communications in Billerica, Mass. "There's going to be HD and perhaps IP, more of a network type of activity.

"So when you take it in a context of backhaul, if you only look at it short term, then the short-term solution won't support those medium- and long-term plans."

LOOKING AHEAD

Moseley Broadcast Director of Engineering Funil Naik agrees.

"I think this is the one chance that people are going to get, because somebody else is buying it for them, to be looking at how whatever they buy allows them to do what it is that they're doing today, which is standard definition, and also for the future, when the technology changes, high definition."

The search for those future HD and IP solutions may send broadcasters to other booths in search of equipment such as MPEG-2 encoder/decoder combinations. While that equipment will not be paid for by Sprint Nextel, broadcasters will want to know how it can interface with the digital microwave equipment Sprint Nextel is springing for.

Also, under the 2 GHz relocation agreement, a broadcaster can specify a piece of digital microwave equipment that has more capabilities than the analog unit it replaces. However, the broadcaster will have to pay the difference in price between the comparable piece of equipment and the more advanced one. Sprint Nextel's largess only goes so far.

And speaking of Sprint Nextel, the company will have a major presence in the Central Hall in the convention center and at Sprint Central at the convention center monorail terminal.

At the booth, broadcasters will be able to discuss relocation issues with Sprint Nextel relocation team members, as well as draw for NASCAR Nextel Cup Series tickets.

At Sprint Central, the company will host luncheons and afternoon sessions Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Space is limited to 20 per-session, so advanced registration is required. (Go to www.2ghzrelocation.com and follow the NAB links.) And Thursday morning, Sprint will host a larger meeting in the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In the same way that particular NABs can be remembered because of the introduction of ENG, camera robotics, high definition and so forth, 2006 will likely stick in broadcasters' minds as the year they went microwave shopping on somebody else's credit card.