Ofcom guarantees PMSE access to ‘guard band’ spectrum

In a move that has been welcomed by the PMSE (Programme Making & Special Events) community, UK regulator Ofcom has confirmed that audio PMSE users will have continued access to the 694 to 703 MHz band, also referred to as the guard band beyond May 2020. The decision follows the earlier confirmation that PMSE users would lose access to the 700 MHz band from the same year.

Echoing the situation throughout Europe, access to the RF spectrum in the UK has been the subject of considerable revision over the past 10 years as demand for mobile data service availability has continued to accelerate. Following a similar reallocation and auction process affecting the 800 MHz band – previously of great significance to the PMSE community – the publication in November 2014 of a consultation document about possible clearance of the 700 MHz band came as no surprise to seasoned observers.

At the time of this document’s publication, Ofcom confirmed that the clearance would form “a key part of our broader strategy for ensuring that sufficient spectrum is available to meet projected increased in demand for mobile data.”

Nearly two years later after this document was issued Ofcom gave notice to PMSE users that they would lose access to the 700 MHz band from 1 May 2020. Subsequent to this – and acknowledging widespread industry concern about the availability of sufficient bandwidth to support intensive wireless productions for live events and broadcasting – Ofcom published a consultation on 20 April 2017 regarding the so-called ‘guard’ band from 694 to 703 MHz.

The consultation proposed to allow PMSE audio users to have continued access to the 694 to 703 MHz band, which is also required to protect DTT reception below 694 MHz from interference related to mobile data services located above 703 MHz.

In the latest announcement, issued in late November, Ofcom outlined responses to the consultation and confirmed that audio PMSE services – namely those using wireless microphones, in-ear monitor systems or audio links – will continue to have access to the guard band beyond 1 May 2020.

Whilst the decision undoubtedly offers welcome reassurance to PMSE users, few would bet on this being the end of the story. With demand for bandwidth to support increasingly extensive mobile data services – not least those supporting sports OTT programming – continuing to grow, further spectrum clearance initiatives are a near-certainty.

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