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Recent News

06 November 2008

What White Space Means to You

With all the big news about elections lately, many of you may have missed the vote that the FCC placed on the same day you were casting your vote to elect a new President of the United States, or possibly to uphold marriage in some states. (I say uphold marriage because that is what the people in every state that I’m aware of voted to do.) The Federal Communications Commission voted on Tuesday to approve white space devices. White space is the area reserved for television stations, but not actually in use by one. Historically, this white space has been used by wireless microphones and other broadcast related devices. In ear monitors fall into this category as well. (Assisted Listening Systems typically operate like an FM radio station in another spectrum.) This decision is on top of the earlier proposal to restrict use of wireless microphones in the 700 MHz band.

The FCC is attempting to reassure us that they will allocate some channels to wireless microphone use and that the other white space devices must comply with a database indicating on what frequencies they are allowed to operate in what areas. It seems that the FCC is going to establish a database for operators to register their venues in an effort to reduce interference. While the FCC indicates this database will give complete protection for wireless microphones to registered venues, I don’t feel so confident.

From what I have read, every test of a white space device has in essence failed. They have not been able to adequately adapt to the frequencies that are in use by wireless microphones and have caused harmful interference. Limiting the amount of frequencies that are available for microphones will work in many markets, but as many already know, it can be hard to find a clear channel now in Southern California and other crowded markets. Reducing this number further is only going to make frequency coordination that much more important in live events.

You may be wondering what you can do as this does really affect everyone. This isn’t just audio companies, but theaters, churches, corporate professionals, hotels and amusement parks who will need to deal with the consequences of this action. At this point, it doesn’t seem that there is much we can do other than continue to monitor the situation and be ready to give input to the FCC again when they ask for it. (The period for comments has already passed at this time.)

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin did make the following note regarding the new white space devices and protecting wireless microphones:

Prior to going to market any white space device will undergo a rigorous certification process.  Today’s item protects broadcasters’ operations.  It also protects entertainment, sports and other significant venues, including the unlicensed operation of many wireless microphones and other wireless devices in those areas.  Additionally, channels have even been set aside to protect wireless microphones in major markets.

It seems that the FCC is worried about microphones and recognizes their importance to the world. Hopefully the testing of white space devices will prove to be successful and this will not create any problems on our microphones. So far, this does not impact any microphones you may already own. However, I would probably suggest putting some serious thought into renting wireless microphones you may be considering purchasing in the next year.

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