White Space Devices – What Are the Risks to Your Wireless Mic?

Recently, Ofcom approved plans for white space devices to share radio spectrum with digital TV and wireless microphones. Although we knew it was coming, the decision comes as a considerable blow as we face the prospect of unlicensed wireless devices operating in close proximity to wireless microphone and in-ear monitor systems.

Ofcom considers the move as “offering new wireless applications to benefit consumers and businesses”, insisting that it is necessary to serve the demand for an increasing number of wireless devices.

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What’s Happening?

First of all, let me explain a little about what white spaces are. White spaces are the name given to parts of spectrum that are unused in a particular location and at a particular time. These TV white spaces are in the UHF bands between 470 MHz to 790 MHz – a part of spectrum that is essential for the reliable operation of wireless microphones.

Unfortunately, the decision has been taken to grant access to unused portions of this spectrum via a process referred to as ‘dynamic sharing’. Examples of proposed white space applications include Internet connectivity for ships, rural broadband, city-wide data networks, and Machine-to-Machine communications.

Ofcom claims that any risk of interference will be significantly mitigated by insisting units meet a minimum technical specification. Parts of this include the ability for units to recognise where they are and then be managed using a spectrum database to ensure different devices run simultaneously.

On face-value, the solution put forward by Ofcom might seem perfectly reasonable; particularly given that these are unused portions of spectrum. However, the fact remains that we will have unlicensed devices running alongside wireless microphones, and this results in increased risk to our industry.

Further to this, the announcement from Ofcom comes at a time where congestion in the UHF bands is already at an all-time high since we lost the 800MHz band. Add to this the recent announcement to also clear 700MHz for further mobile broadband service expansion, and you can begin to see the problem.

On the plus side, the importance of UHF and wireless microphone users has been acknowledged through Ofcom’s process, but even with the database there is still potential for devices to be hacked. If this were to happen, you wouldn’t be able to tell where they are. Thus, the risk remains high, and the thought of unlicensed systems just doesn’t sit well.

The whole process is just another example of how the future of wireless spectrum remains uncertain. Ofcom’s decision to give the green-light to white space devices is but a drop in the ocean of a chain reaction that started with the switch from analogue to digital TV. Our ability to reliably operate wireless microphones in the UK remains under severe strain, and, for this reason, we need to treat white space devices with caution.

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Learn More & Be Ready

There is no doubt that changes to RF spectrum have come thick and fast in recent years. So much so, that it can seem daunting; even to the most adept of audio engineers. For this reason, we have launched an awareness campaign called “Losing Your Voice”. The new website acts as a resource centre for our industry to help better inform both professional and semi-professional users of RF technology about the challenges we face.

You can learn more and download your free guide to wireless audio in the UK by visiting: LosingYourVoice.co.uk

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Marc Henshall

Marc forms part of our Pro Audio team at Shure UK and specialises in Digital Marketing. He also holds a BSc First Class Hons Degree in Music Technology. When not at work he enjoys playing the guitar, producing music, and dabbling in DIY (preferably with a good craft beer or two).

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