Further setback for professional users of UK spectrum; Ofcom responds – updated

Having already lost access to large swathes of the 800MHz band, UK programme making and special events (PMSE) spectrum users face another substantial setback with news that communications regulator Ofcom has decided to remove them from the 700MHz band as well. The move could have grave implications for the use of wireless equipment at sports, music and other entertainment events throughout the UK.

The reallocation of 700MHz spectrum to mobile network operators will also affect some existing digital terrestrial TV service providers.

The decision to assign more auction to mobile broadband services is hugely disappointing to the PMSE community, which has fought a near-decade long campaign through the BEIRG (British Entertainment Industry Radio Group) Pro User Group and other associations to safeguard its ability to deliver effective and secure wireless communications at large scale entertainment and broadcast events.

Ofcom says that it will be working with PMSE users to identify which spectrum will be available to them once the changes come into effect in 2022. BEIRG, however, is concerned about the extent of progress made in identifying new frequencies for PMSE and is urging Ofcom to accelerate the process.

Broadcast executive and BEIRG member Michael Grade commented: “This decision by Ofcom poses a real danger to some of the UK’s most cherished cultural and social institutions. The West End, theatres, television and film production, music festivals and conferences all rely on wireless microphones and other wireless audio devices. If these devices are not guaranteed enough spectrum in which to operate this really could mean lights out. Ofcom have had years to sort this out and all we have is a promise of a solution. When the public can’t get the shows they have paid to see, we will all know where the blame lies.”

Not surprisingly, Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards – who will leave the regulator in December after eight years in position – takes another view on the changes. “This is a crucial next step in the development of the UK’s communications infrastructure. This decision ensures that we are making the raw materials available with which investors and companies can build the services which will support the digital economy of the future.

“More spectrum will be available for mobile broadband where demand is especially high, but the UK will retain a competitive terrestrial television platform as well.”

Expanding on the roadmap for PMSE users, an Ofcom spokesperson tells SVG Europe: “Ofcom is working to ensure that users of wireless microphones continue to have access to the airwaves they need to deliver their important cultural benefits.

“One of Ofcom’s core roles is to manage the limited supply of spectrum – the raw material necessary for all wireless communications – and balance the needs of different users.

“We’re conducting a major review to protect the interests of the ‘programme making and special events’ sector. This will ensure that theatres, sports venues and music events continue to have access to enough spectrum in the future.

“The review has already identified a number of frequency bands that wireless microphones could potentially use in addition to the bands they will continue to share with DTT. Working closely with the PMSE community, we’ll confirm what spectrum will be available to them next year.”

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