4G sale highlights spectrum problems in UK

UK: Broadcast and licensing regulator Ofcom has heralded the coming of 4G telecom technology by setting the sale of major parts of the analogue spectrum for the first quarter of 2012. The auction of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands will free up 80% more spectrum than the 3G sales of 2000 and is intended to bring in next generation mobile devices and broadband.

Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, comments, “The auction is not only critical to the future of the UK mobile telecommunications market but it is also of significant importance to the wider economy. It will support a wide range of data services that are fast becoming essential features of the modern world.”

The sale of the 800MHz TV band, covering channels 61 to 69, was outlined in the Digital Dividend Review (DDR) of 2006. It is controversial because channel 69 in particular has been the mainstay of the PMSE (programme makers and special events) sector for the use of radio microphones, in-ear monitors (IEMs), wireless cameras and general communications systems.

Despite being offered the new channel 38 as a replacement for channel 69, PMSE users and wireless equipment manufacturers feel the sector will be adversely affected by the reallocation of spectrum. The concern is that not enough frequencies will be available for large-scale outside broadcasts of sports events and concerts, which could hamper the efficiency of such productions.

The 2012 London Olympics will be the last major event covered in the UK under the existing frequency arrangements. Industry groups including BEIRG (British Entertainment Industry Radio Group) and the IBS (Institute of Broadcast Sound) are worried that there will no longer be the wireless capacity to handle the staging and broadcast of any big live event after the Games.

Details of compensation available to PMSE equipment users were published recently and the major radio mic manufacturers, including Sennheiser, beyerdynamic, Shure and AKG, are producing equipment that will work on the “new” frequencies.

The spokesman for BEIRG, Alan March, says the decrease in spectrum available for PMSE is, at this stage, “not the end of the world as long as broadcasters continue broadcasting in the traditional manner”.

He says there will still be the interleaved frequencies between main channels, as well as channel 38, but emphasises that the real problem could come with the new breed of “white space” devices. These would be able to scan for available frequencies and lock on to them. At this stage there is no guarantee that this technology would be aware of any other devices using adjacent frequencies, making interference a potential threat to PMSE equipment.

March says this is a “huge risk”, not just for PMSE but also for broadcasters, whose main transmissions could be affected.

Ofcom has issued consultation documents on white space devices but a spokesman said that no conclusions had been made on this as yet.

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