The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has recently ratified a Wireless Audio Order on Reconsideration and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning the use of the frequency spectrum that will impact all wireless microphone users.
The Order on Reconsideration ensures that wireless audio applications will continue to flourish now and in the future, Sennheiser states in a response to the FCC’s action.
Sennheiser points out the FCC ruling modifies initial guidelines that may have negatively impacted manufacturers, owners and operators of wireless microphone equipment in their original form.
“Because less spectrum will be available for wireless microphone operations as a result of the incentive auction and repacking of TV band spectrum, the Commission has taken several actions in recent years to accommodate wireless microphone users’ needs by providing access to spectrum in various frequency bands – both on a licensed and unlicensed basis,” explains the FCC in a July 13 press release. “Wireless microphone operations range from broadcasting and other professional uses with a need for high-performance microphones, such as live theater, to individual consumers’ use of handheld microphones at a conference or in a karaoke bar.”
Sennheiser Contributes to FCC Reconsideration
Back in December of 2015 Sennheiser filed a Petition of Reconsideration with the FCC following the initial announcement of new regulations. The company’s initial response to the FCC was timed to coincide with the upcoming incentive auction and reallocation of the 600 MHz frequency spectrum. Sennheiser’s filing elucidated practical concerns for manufacturers and users of wireless microphones in day-to-day applications, and it proposed other potential solutions.
The FCC studied Sennheiser’s, as well as others’ opposing proposals, during the past 18 months to make the Order on Reconsideration possible.
“We sincerely applaud the FCC staff for their work and due consideration on this Order and proposed rule making,” says Joe Ciaudelli, director of U.S., spectrum affairs, Sennheiser. “This represents a very positive outcome for our customers and all professional wireless microphone users. Clearly the FCC listened to the needs of the professional production community and worked hard to provide a solution.”
The Order on Reconsideration is wide ranging and affects several key provisions of the guidelines passed in August of 2015. According to Sennheiser, the Commission had initially created an out-of-band emission (OOBE) standard that might have resulted in unintended consequences.
With the ratification, the FCC has now adopted the established European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) OOBE standard, which achieves the intended goal of protecting the use of adjacent frequency bands and harmonizes with international standards to allow users to operate the same equipment in multiple countries in many cases.
In addition, the Wireless Audio Order on Reconsideration will enable legacy equipment that operates within the 600 MHz band to be modified to comply with the new regulations, saving a significant amount of still operational wireless gear from costly premature obsolescence following the transition period.
FCC Balances Scales With License Eligibility Expansion
In the Future Notice of Proposed Rule making the Commission states its intention to expand license eligibility allows many organizations that stage sophisticated productions, but do not qualify for an FCC license under current rules the ability to obtain a license.
Sennheiser emphasizes license eligibility was opposed by large conglomerates that wanted UHF channels for operation of unlicensed white space channels.
The global audio company says that licensed microphone operators are able to reserve channels for interference protection from unlicensed devices when they stage their productions.
“[License eligibility is] a vital privilege that will help organizations like high-quality regional theaters ensure smooth, professional wireless audio operation,” notes Sennheiser.
Getting into other details relating to the FCC’s latest actions, Sennheiser says a provision that would have required the exclusive use of proprietary connectors for unlicensed wireless equipment with detachable antennas has been modified by the order to allow the use of standard connectors.
Acknowledging the importance of unlicensed users within the wireless sector, Sennheiser comments the move ensures that replacement antennas and cabling can be procured quickly and easily from a wide range of sources, allowing reliable operation even in the case of cable failure.
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Wireless Audio Order on Reconsideration Clarifies Spectrum Use
Addressing concerns specifically related to frequency bands and their applications, the FCC’s order states frequencies within the 169-172 MHz band are now optimally coordinated for microphone use to allow more microphones to operate in this band.
The Commission also clarified details regarding the 1435-1525 MHz band, which is used for large-scale events of over one hundred microphones. The Commission clarified the 30 MHz spectrum use limit in the 1435-1525 MHz band pertains to a single operator.
As a result of the newly issued order, multiple authorizations that utilize the full 90 MHz may be assigned to different operations within an area. A single operator that requires more than 30 MHz for a large event can apply for a special temporary authorization (STA).
Moreover, the Wireless Audio Order on Reconsideration also prescribes the procedure for use of the 941.5-944 MHz band, which can be useful for fixed venues such as Broadway theaters and casinos requiring house wireless microphones on distinct frequencies from those utilized by touring acts. Users will need to confer with a local Society of Broadcast Engineers coordinator and apply for a license with the FCC, which will coordinate with incumbent Federal primary users of the band.