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Wireless 600MHz Incentive Auction Update (USA)

Discussion in 'Sound, Music, and Intercom' started by MNicolai, Jan 29, 2016.

  1. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Hello everyone,

    For those of you not keeping tabs on the FCC auction coming up shortly, I'd like to bring you the latest updates as I've been able to aggregate them. The short of it, wireless microphone users got screwed a few years ago, and they're about to get screwed again.

    This is a bit of a moving target, moving at the speed of molasses but in a clump that's the size of Jupiter. Any changes to the information below are still quite possible, and I apologize in advance if there are any mistakes in my interpretations of the FCC's documents as I've relayed them below.

    Auction Summary
    The incentive auction process allows current spectrum licensees to sell off their spectrum, or be reassigned to a different band, at which point mobile broadband providers will bid against each other to buy up that newly available spectrum.

    It's an iterative process. The FCC will begin by deciding how much spectrum it wants to repack, or "clear", referred to as the "Initial Clearing Target". This target will be based on one of a dozen scenarios offered by the FCC, shown below. Blue indicates spectrum to repacked. Grey are guard bands and the duplex gap. Channel 37 is reserved for radio astronomy and medical telemetry and is not affected by this auction.

    upload_2016-1-29_15-36-52.png
    (Source, page 453)

    After the first phase is complete, it will be determined if that scenario is viable and if it meets the requirements for a successful auction. If not, then bidding will continue onto the next phase, at a lower scenario. This this will continue until the auction either fails altogether or until the auction reaches a successful conclusion at the end of one of the bidding scenarios.

    The FCC could fail to clear any spectrum at all, or they could kill off all the way down to 548 MHz (Upper edge of UHF Channel26). Most estimates I've seen expect somewhere between 84-126 MHz to be cleared during this auction. Everything is on the table though and anything can happen.

    Auction Timeline
    The auction commences March 29 of this year. It is expected to drag on through early summer. Upon completion, a Channel Reassignment PN will be issued by the FCC. At this time, a 39-month transition period will begin.

    18 months into the transition period, manufacture of new wireless systems in the affected spectrum space will be prohibited. Sales of systems in this space may continue, but with a point-of-sale disclosure.

    Throughout the transition period, wireless microphone users may continue to operate in the affected spectrum space but may be pushed out of certain spectrum ranges as mobile broadband providers in a given regional market begin populating their newly licensed spectrum.

    Upon completion of the transition period, the only room available for wireless microphone users to reside in within the affected spectrum will be the guard bands and the duplex gap.

    Guard Bands & Duplex Gap
    Most options only include (2) 3 MHz guard bands, only 2 MHz of which may be used by unlicensed wireless microphone users. The duplex gap may also be used with exception to the top 1 MHz of the gap. That is, if the duplex gap ends up being 11 MHz, only 10 MHz will be available for unlicensed wireless microphone users. If the gap is 7 MHz or 9 MHz, only 6 or 8 MHz would be available for unlicensed wireless microphone users, respectively.

    Good money is on that however much usable space remains available within 600 MHz, it will be very crowded and generally insufficient for use by any number of standard-density wireless systems.

    Reimbursement
    Sennheiser petitions the FCC, seeking reimbursement from new spectrum licensees to existing wireless microphone users for costs incurred by relocation. The FCC denied this petition repeatedly, citing in June of last year:


    Capital Planning, New Purchases
    While we cannot know at this time to which extent wireless microphone users will be affected, I highly recommend users evaluate their existing systems and budget accordingly in a 3-year plan for their eventual replacement. Wireless system manufacturers are working on products outside of the UHF band like it's the cure for cancer, so it may be best to hold off for now on purchasing replacement wireless systems until the full extent of the auction is known and manufactures have begun offering new products and we have made it some stretch of the way into the 39-month transition period.

    The usual suspects (Shure, Sennheiser, et al) provide high-density systems that can fit a Broadway tour's worth of wireless into a brown paper bag's worth of spectrum. They come at a premium price, but provide quite a bit of protection and flexibility. I would say, in general -- spend the money on the more expensive wireless systems so you know you can move around and remain flexible as-needed. This isn't the first time spectrum has been put on its head, and it certainly will not be the last.

    Even if you are outside of the affect spectrum space, be mindful that all of the users in your area who are affected will be moving down into your spectrum and the 470-560 MHz range is about to become quite congested.
    Failing the ability to invest in high-density systems, I'd recommend spending as little as possible on wireless. Spend just enough on the most basic of systems currently offered so you can get by and then plan on replacing them within a few years.

    Other Options for Sound Reinforcement
    An alternative option is to rent systems instead of purchasing them. While expensive on larger shows, it can prevent you from incurring the expenses of having to replace all of your newly acquired systems in the near future.

    It may also be fruitful to consider investing in getting your sound system tuned professionally to optimize your system gain before feedback followed by an investment in high quality hanging, floor, and shotgun mic's. I see far too many systems that are poorly tuned and that are impossible to do area miking in because the potential for feedback would be a showstopper. However, many existing systems with a proper tuning could better enable sound engineers to utilize area miking for theater performances. There is such a thing as a bad speaker or a poorly designed system, but more often than not what I encounter in the wild are systems that are under-utilized because they lack proper tuning and signal processing.

    You can also set up a "remote pit" where the pit orchestra performs in a studio space and is piped into the auditorium via the sound system. This can help reduce the needs for wireless systems. The overall volume of the pit would remain the same to the audience members, but by placing the orchestra is a separate room, the sound engineer can retain greater isolation from the orchestra in their area mic's, allowing them to get the performers' sound levels up above the levels of the pit orchestra.
     
  2. robartsd

    robartsd Active Member

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    Perhaps we should (have) be(en) campaigning with patrons encouraging them to use less cellular data - consumer demand for wireless data is funding this squeeze on UHF spectrum.
     
  3. firewater88

    firewater88 Active Member

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    Thought I read somewhere recently that TV stations could be offering up their signal for the auction and not be replacing it. Meaning, they will no longer be broadcasting FREE over the air TV. Ultimately forcing people to but into a cable provider and paying out the yin yang for TV service. Or having it online and then streaming it. But then some people will then use their wireless data to stream it and thus needing more bandwidth and frequencies to send out all that data.
    I have been watching this whole ordeal as I was just about to put in a grant for 12 more wireless, but that would put them in the low to mid 500's which now looks to possibly be affected. Bummer....
     
  4. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    A broadcaster can sell their spectrum outright and discontinue over-the-air broadcasts. They can also combine with an additional broadcaster to channel share, so only one of them needs to license the spectrum they're using. It could very well be an upset to your cable subscription as it's a pretty substantial incentive to move to streaming and discontinue broadcasting. Estimates I've seen put the overall revenue of this auction at ~$40,000,000,000 (Billion, with a "B").

    As for your grant, if you purchase high-density wireless units you should be safe. Any other scenario and I'd try to bank the money up instead of spend it, or write for a grant to cover something you'll need soon so you can bank up the funds that would've come out of your operating budget for that and bank those up for later.

    Really, the safest thing to do is to not purchase right now if you can avoid it. New products are surely on the horizon, and for the next several months the full extent of the ramifications of this auction will remain unknown.
     
  5. firewater88

    firewater88 Active Member

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    I'm looking to expand my AKG DMS setup to a total of 24 channels. Love the tie in to my Vi3000 console. The range is 548.1 - 605.9 & 614.1 - 697.9. All mine currently are in the mid to upper 500 range. Good thing is that we are a stand alone theatre away from others and I don't need to fight for frequencies. Bad news is wouldn't matter with cellular ( although that is pretty weak in our building) but who knows what the changes will bring. Have not heard any news about AKG releasing a new product that has lower frequencies yet, so this has gotten me a little worried about a purchase right now.
    I am an OTA tv guy at home. Use cable for Internet only, so I stream most things now anyways. Would hate to loose local tv and basically be forced to get cable tv to replace what I am getting for free now. Also not to keen on the Feds using the money, the billions you speak of, to offset national debt and deny any requests to help consumers with rebates for new gear cause of the new freqs.


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
     
  6. Calc

    Calc Active Member

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    The locals here are up in arms about the possible TV buyout as well. The worry is that it'll be PBS stations that decide to take the buyout because they aren't making any money as-is.

    @MNicolai I seem to remember it being part of this debate a year or so ago that wireless mic users would be able to buy a license once everything settles, and become a primary user of sorts. Legally, that would give me right-of-way to my chunk of spectrum. Realistically, if someone is causing interference I have no way to track where it's coming from. But do I have to worry about becoming licensed in order not to be kicked out by anyone else in the area who licenses?
     
  7. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    @Calc, August 2014 they increased the eligibility for sound companies and venues to receive licenses but the requirement is that you must use more than 50 wireless systems routinely. The licenses would give you the ability to operate in a small portion of the duplex gap at a higher transmit level than unlicensed users, and with interference protection against unlicensed users. You would also be able to operate in certain UHF TV bands you would otherwise be restricted from operating in, but the reallocated mobile broadband spectrum remains off-limits to wireless microphone users.

    I'll post more detailed info on this when I have some more time later.
     
  8. Joel - Studio 52

    Joel - Studio 52 Member

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    Great information, Mike. Thanks for sharing.

    What's the latest word on the FCC's frequency auction?

    Best,
    Joel
    Studio 52
     
  9. themuzicman

    themuzicman Active Member

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    Update (Via the Washington Post) --- Buyback has finished, the auction proper starts in a few weeks.
     
  10. Joel - Studio 52

    Joel - Studio 52 Member

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    Thanks TH. This is going to get very interesting. - Joel
     
  11. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Mock auctions will be held end of May for bidders with the real auction beginning shortly thereafter.

    Initial clearing target is 126MHz, which previous predictions say the FCC is not likely to succeed with. If they did succeed, UHF wireless users all the way from 698MHz down to ~570MHz would be disrupted.

    Luckily previous estimates don't expect the FCC will be able to clear that much spectrum based on who we know is participating in the forward auction and who we know isn't.
     
  12. Joel - Studio 52

    Joel - Studio 52 Member

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    Thanks for the update, Mike!
     
  13. techyman2008

    techyman2008 Member

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    Dose this have any affect on Us Canadians?
     
  14. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Only if you live near the border. But fair chance what's happening here will spread to other regions. I believe the EU is undergoing some changes now or did so in recent past to offer up more spectrum to mobile broadband.
     
  15. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Stage 1 of the 600 MHz incentive auction failed, raising only $23B on the forward auction toward a target of $88B. The FCC was attempting to clear a total of 126 MHz of spectrum in this stage.

    Stage 2 started yesterday in a 2nd attempt to auction off spectrum. The FCC is now trying to clear a smaller range of spectrum totaling 114 MHz.

    Estimates going into the auction were that the FCC would only clear 70-90 total MHz, so it may be a few more stages before the auction reaches a successful conclusion.
     
  16. Joel - Studio 52

    Joel - Studio 52 Member

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    Thanks for keeping us posted Mike.

    Joel
     
  17. RCDVS

    RCDVS Member

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    Wow Mike! Great information, But what's a guy to do? I'm the Technical Director for Main Street Theatre in Tucker, GA - a suburb of Atlanta. We are new (only two years and four productions) and small, and all volunteer. We just got $3000 budget to purchase wireless mics. The budget was dearly won and I doubt we'll see this much again very soon. I just can't burn it all with rental for maybe two shows. Any advice other than "not now"? Also any advice as to how to spend that much as effectively as possible. I'd like to get six mics out of that.
     
  18. themuzicman

    themuzicman Active Member

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    There are a few things you can do in an attempt to be future-proof. If your entire system is just 6 mics, you shouldn't have too many issues with this sale if you plan accordingly. The thing you don't know yet is how DTV stations will end up shifting. I wouldn't say "not now", but I will say hold on to the money as long as you can and see if you can wait out another round or two of the auction to see if the clearance target shifts upward. For now, the best advice I have is to buy something with as large of a tuning range as possible, as low as possible, and in budget. For Sennheiser that'll be your ew100 G3, for Shure I would suggest to try and buy an older used model of something or the ULX-S (if you don't plan on expanding). Sennheiser has announced a new variant on the ew100 G3 that goes from 470-516. If they hold true to their $650/channel price for tx/rx set that isn't too bad an option to still be future proof (yes, it falls north of $3k, but it's the best in the price range).
     
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  19. TheaterEd

    TheaterEd Renaissance Man Fight Leukemia

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    So if I'm reading this right They are currently in stage 4 and only auctioning off 84 MHz of the spectrum?
     
  20. BillESC

    BillESC Well-Known Member Premium Member

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