Shure clarifies status of white spaces issues for wireless users

Leading wireless manufacturer Shure has issued a strong message to wireless microphone clients: While the UHF TV band may become more crowded, it is not going away by any means. “Reports of the death of the UHF TV band have been greatly exaggerated,” says Mark Brunner, director of public and industry relations. “The UHF TV band has been, and will continue to be, the largest and best spectrum for wireless microphone users.” Shure has worked with the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology since 2003 to raise awareness of the pro audio industry’s needs.

The FCC’s ongoing reorganization of the UHF band is centered on the ongoing transition from analog to digital television. DTV stations will occupy a smaller section of the UHF spectrum (470MHz–698 MHz) than is currently allocated for TV broadcasting. The remaining spectrum (698MHz–806 MHz) has been divided up into blocks, some of which are being auctioned to private companies for new nationwide wireless services, while others have been reserved for public safety communications.

When all these shifts are complete, there will still be unoccupied UHF channels in every market, known as white spaces. Shure has been at the forefront of industry efforts to preserve spectrum for pro audio users. Because the issue has generated confusion among wireless users, resellers and even some manufacturers, Shure seeks to clarify three common points of misunderstanding:

  • No auction for white spaces
    “The white spaces are not being auctioned,” Brunner says. The FCC auctions cover the spectrum of 698MHz-806MHz, often referred to as the 700MHz band. “The white spaces will not be sold to Google, Microsoft or anyone else.”
  • The DTV morning after
    “Wireless microphones will not stop working on Feb. 18, 2009,” says Edgar Riehl, technology director for Shure’s advanced development group. “Any consumer device that the FCC allows to operate in the white spaces must include circuitry and software that allows it to detect and avoid both TV broadcasts and wireless microphone signals.” The FCC is currently testing this avoidance technology, and it is unlikely to authorize new devices unless they can adhere to these rigid rules under real-world conditions. “No one can definitively say how this will turn out,” Brunner says. “The FCC has to iron out a lot of details before it makes any decisions related to new use of the white spaces.”
  • Limitations of other frequencies
    Some imagine that moving to different frequency bands can eliminate the risk of interference. Shure advises caution, noting that the remaining post-DTV UHF band will have much more usable space. "The 902MHz-928MHz and 2.4GHz ranges have been represented as some sort of ‘spectrum lifeboats,’ but those boats have holes in them," Riehl says. "Additionally, providing interference-free, high-quality audio is even more challenging in these bands, where wireless microphones compete with other signals such as WiFi and Bluetooth.” Ultimately, the UHF band will still have more usable spectrum, which translates into more available wireless channels.

For its part, Shure is already prepared for the new wireless landscape, however it shakes out. “When the timetable for the auctions became clear, we responded by transitioning our wireless products to new frequency ranges that are below the auctioned and public safety blocks,” Brunner says. “Our premium UHF-R product was designed with the post-DTV RF landscape in mind. Its 60MHz tuning bandwidth is among the widest in the industry, offering maximum flexibility to large-scale wireless users.”

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