Spectrum uncertainty frustrates wireless users group

Wireless Users NZ critical of discussion paper about future use of UHF radio microphones when 700-800MHz frequency freed up later this year

Wireless Users NZ is critical of a discussion paper from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on opportunities for future use of UHF radio microphones when the 700-800MHz frequency is freed up later this year.

“It seems to have avoided explaining just what frequencies will be available,” says Wireless Users chairman Steve Buckland.

“There might only be 80MHz of useable spectrum available in areas such as Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

“For example, we don’t know what spectrum will be left in Auckland because we don’t know how much Sky TV will pick up.

“The government wants people to reinvest but we can’t be 100 percent sure of what we are investing in. People have been pretty poorly informed. Churches, schools and the like can’t be sure what useage will be legal.”

Radio microphone users currently use unoccupied UHF spectrum from 646MHz to 806MHz. They are allowed to operate within those frequencies ranges used for television, on a secondary basis. In other words, television has primary rights to the spectrum.

This will all change when analogue television is turned off later this year and the 700-800MHz band is put up for auction.

Buckland says there are perhaps 100,000 users of microphones in New Zealand, at an average price of around $2000 per microphone.

He says the ministry doesn’t appear to have done its own research but appears to take Wireless Users NZ’s estimates of the market size at face value.

Users will probably need to upgrade to digital wireless microphones, where the microphones can monitor multiple frequencies and jump to what is available. Older microphones have dedicated frequencies.

Buckland says the cost is an issue. “For example, my own company, Sound Techniques, specialises in the film industry. It will cost us around $30,000 to upgrade.

Dan Larsen, a sound engineer at NowSound, says there is a major lack of information.

“No one knows what will happen about wireless microphones,” he says. “Buyers don’t know what frequencies they can use.

“Hire companies and production companies are not adopting any technology yet. They’re taking a wait and see attitude.”

The present conditions of use for radio microphones expire on March 11, 2015.

MBIE says in the executive summary to its discussion paper that the need for change to the frequency range in which radio microphones operate is being driven by three things: the frequency range being freed up for mobile broadband; changes to television broadcasting; and changes to the Maori television service spectrum allocations (the current management right expires on November 30 and a new management right will be issued).

Submissions close on June 25.

The government plans to auction the 700MHz band in the third quarter of this year.

MBIE notes that much of the 700MHz band will be used to deploy cellular services and that radio microphones will be unable to operate in the presence of cellular services.

It says it is interested in encouraging digital radio microphones, and proposes to provide for them in any new or modifed General User Spectrum Licences.

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