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. (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.