‘White Space’ Devices & RF Coordination: What You Need to Know

The first TV Bands Device (aka “white space device” or WSD) has been approved by the FCC and was released to the market on January 26, 2012.  The device is the model AWR Agility White Space Radio manufactured by KTS Wireless (http://www.ktswireless.com/products-and-services/agility-white-space-radio-awr/).  This is a fixed device, which is intended to provide wireless broadband access for a wide variety of voice, video, or data equipment (everything from environmental monitoring equipment to traffic cameras).

Fixed device Agility White Space Radio currently being tested in Wilmington, North Carolina

Deployment of the KTS device will initially be limited to the Wilmington, NC area and will eventually expand nationwide.

Users of wireless audio systems have been aware of the potential threat created by these TV band devices for many years, since the FCC began to investigate using the ‘white spaces’ vacated by analog television in the UHF and VHF TV bands to provide wireless broadband Internet access.  On June 12, 2009, the Digital Television (DTV) Transition was completed and analog television broadcasts by major stations ceased by FCC mandate. After years of regulatory planning, debate, and product testing, the future is here.

How it affects consumers

TV band devices (eventually there will be both fixed and portable models) will operate alongside wireless microphones used by broadcasters, theatrical producers, sports franchises, music tours and other productions.  Their goal will be to expand reliable wireless broadband internet coverage to underserved rural areas and dense urban populations, improve internet access for schools and public buildings, provide new data management systems for corporations, and create networks in homes. Although there are numerous technical challenges to sharing the TV spectrum frequencies, the benefits to the American public are significant.  Due to their ability to penetrate obstacles and reach longer distances than higher-frequency Wi-Fi, some have described WSDs as a game-changer that will positively affect all of us.

Here’s what FCC Chair Julius Genachowski had to say: “With today’s approval of the first TV white spaces database and device, we are taking an important step towards enabling a new wave of wireless innovation. Unleashing white spaces spectrum has the potential to exceed even the many billions of dollars in economic benefit from Wi-Fi, the last significant release of unlicensed spectrum, and drive private investment and job creation.”

How it affects wireless audio users

A TV Bands Device can only transmit on TV channels that it knows are unassigned to a TV station or other licensed user.  The device receives this information from one of 10 FCC-approved TV Bands Device Databases. The first database, operated by Spectrum Bridge Inc., also went live on January 26.

As these new devices begin sharing the same TV channels used by wireless microphones, personal monitors, and production intercoms, interference will become a real possibility.  Fortunately, the FCC has set aside a minimum of two TV channels in each market that are available exclusively for wireless audio systems.  These are off-limits to TV Bands Devices.

Since 3-15 wireless microphones (depending on model) can operate in one TV channel, the reserved TV channels will accommodate the needs of most wireless users.  Users of larger numbers of wireless systems may register in the TV Bands Device Database to protect additional TV channels during a specific event.  Unlicensed wireless microphone users must request database protection in advance from the FCC, while licensed users may register in the database directly.

Here’s what wireless users need to do to insure continued trouble-free operation of their gear:

1. Take inventory
Make a list of all of your wireless mics, in-ear monitors, and intercoms that operate in the VHF or UHF TV bands (174-216 MHz and 470-698 MHz, respectively.)  You’re looking for the “3 M’s” (Make, Model, and MHz).  Note the exact frequency that each product is actually set to as well as the frequency range that it is capable of transmitting on.  This is important because it tells you what your options are if changing frequencies becomes advantageous.

2. Do some research  

Find out which TV channels are exclusively available for wireless mics at your venue’s location.  You can easily check this online, using Spectrum Bridge’s online Show My White Space tool.

(http://whitespaces.spectrumbridge.com/whitespaces/Home.aspx).

3. Compare
You’re free to operate on any TV channel that isn’t assigned to a TV station or licensed two-way radio user. Ideally, you’d want all of your wireless gear to be set to frequencies in the TV channels that are reserved for wireless audio systems at your location.  If they’re not, you may want to keep that in mind when planning for future equipment upgrades.

4. Start planning  
If you need more wireless systems than will fit into the reserved TV channels from time to time, you’ll want to register in the database at least 30 days before the event to protect them from interference.  Now is the time to think about that music festival, convention, or Christmas concert.  It’s a good idea to start planning for these special events sooner rather than later.  If you’ll be supplementing your facility’s own wireless systems with additional rented gear, find out in advance which TV channels you want to use.  Do your preferred rental providers have those frequency ranges in stock?  Making phone calls now will avoid nasty surprises two days before an important event.

 

Davida Rochman

A Shure associate since 1979, Davida Rochman graduated with a degree in Speech Communications and never imagined that her first post-college job would result in a life-long career that had her marketing microphones rather than speaking into them. Today, Davida is a Communications Manager, lending her skills to a wide spectrum of activities – from public relations and social media to content development and sponsorships.

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