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Understanding New Wireless Microphone Restrictions
Here is an article from Christianity Today
Understanding New Wireless Microphone Restrictions
Why your church likely needs to replace its wireless systems—and soon.
Monday, May 18, 2009
It's true. Regardless of how well your wireless devices work now, if they operate in the 700 MHz band (as many do), it's time to replace them.
When the government decided to transition from analog to digital television, this freed up the space in the 700 MHz band (698-806 MHz) used by broadcasters (and wireless microphones). In 2008, the Federal Communications Commission auctioned off slices of this spectrum—for billions of dollars—to Verizon, AT&T, and others. When the digital TV transition happens (now slated for June 12, 2009), these companies will start using their respective slices of the spectrum.
What does this mean for churches using 700 MHz wireless devices (including mics, in-ear monitors, and wireless intercom systems)?
"The 700 MHz band has been reallocated and the bottom line is that any wireless mic that operates in the 700 MHz band—and that's a lot of them—needs to be replaced," says Chris Lyons, manager of technical and educational communications for Shure Inc., a microphone and audio systems provider.
The FCC hasn't set an official date for when current users must stop using the 700 MHz band, meaning churches aren't required by law to make a change—yet. But that doesn't mean churches won't encounter problems with the way their equipment works in the near future.
"We don't know when the FCC will tell users to get out of the 700 MHz band," says Lyons, "but whether you can or can't [legally populate the 700 MHz band], by the end of 2009, you'll be experiencing interference."
Lyons says it won't happen instantly—acknowledging, for example, that churches in Chicago will notice interference before a church in Wyoming—but it's just a matter of time.
If churches are hoping this problem will be avoided, they're going to be disappointed.
"Sooner or later, Verizon, AT&T, and others who invested billions of dollars in the 700 MHz spectrum are going to want the FCC to clear [unlawful users] out," says Lyons. "There is zero possibility that this will go away completely."
"It's best to assume you'll need to replace equipment by the end of the year."
Confusion for Churches
Tim Beverly, music director for Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, California, says, "I've heard rumblings about this, but at this point have not worried about it. I have a hard time believing that they would pass a law that would obsolete everything that's been out there, but who knows? I guess I'm sort of treating this like the Y2K scare; I didn't believe that either."
Matt Patman, technical arts director at Friendswood Community Church, also expressed doubts about this restriction. In the past two years, Friendswood—located south of Houston—was hit by Hurricane Ike and the recession. They have four units operating in the 700 MHz range, but because of financial limitations, Patman says, "We are not planning on replacing them at this time—hoping that we can keep them until next year."
Patman also thought his church might be protected by a license, but that's not the case.
Kent Margraves, national applications manager for Sennheiser Electronic Corporation, says that out of the millions of wireless microphones in use, less than 1,000 are licensed.
"Even if they are licensed, it doesn't matter," Margraves says. "They will still have to vacate when the time comes. An official ban has not yet been ruled, but when it is, it will include them."
As for the churches choosing to do nothing, Margraves says the results will vary.
"Their wireless systems will not suddenly fail or shut down. They will, however, be at an increased risk of interference," he says. "As the new users of the 700 MHz band come online, wireless channels in that range may experience interference from cell phone and data services, emergency first responders, or other new services."
"My biggest concern for churches on this topic is reliable performance. If a church is operating between 698-806 MHz, it is not unlikely that they will experience some sort of new interference in the coming weeks, months, or years."
The Dollars and Sense
For churches with multiple wireless devices, replacing everything may be expensive. Wheaton Bible Church in Wheaton, Illinois, recently spent about $36,000 replacing its wireless devices. It was able to purchase 16 channels of new wireless microphones (Shure's top of the line UHF-R series) thanks, in part, to a $6,000 rebate it will receive from Shure.
"If it weren't for the rebates, I would not have been able to get the UHF-R series mics," says Shelton Thompson, technical director at Wheaton Bible. "So it's a great deal for us."
As churches explore replacement options, their first step should be to contact the manufacturer of their current wireless devices. Most manufacturers (including Shure, Sennheiser, and Sony) offer rebates. The rebates offered by Sennheiser and Shure are available through the end of 2009.
Margraves references one megachurch that chose to purchase three high-end wireless systems in conjunction with more wired microphones instead of replacing dozens of wireless systems.
"All users should review their wireless needs," says Margraves. "There is nothing wrong with plugging in wired microphones in some cases."
The best option for most churches is to purchase systems in the 500 MHz band. Although other, more expensive, options do exist, such as 900 MHz or even 2.4 GHz systems, moving down to the 500 MHz range is the most efficient (and cost-effective) option.
Churches that don't trade in their soon-to-be-defunct systems as part of a rebate offer can follow the example set by Watermark Community Church in Dallas.
Watermark had six channels operating in the 700 MHz band, but it was able to replace that equipment with older equipment it stopped using after its move to a permanent campus less than two years ago. Watermark then donated its 700 MHz devices to missions groups in countries unaffected by the new restrictions.
Ryan Howell, technical director at Watermark, thinks this is a viable option for other U.S. churches forced to transition out of the 700 MHz band.
"The sad truth is, the gear is perfectly fine, but we are no longer allowed to populate the 700 MHz band," he says. "Other countries don't have those restrictions, and with a perspective that the investment was for ministry purposes, why not give the equipment to another organization that can use it to reach others for Christ?"
The Future for Wireless Mics?
For churches concerned that future spectrum auctions could force them out of the 500 MHz band, Lyons and Margraves both say this is unlikely. But some wireless mic users have expressed concerns about another current issue: the inception of white space devices.
These devices, also called TV Band Devices (TVBDs), aren't fully developed yet. But when these devices are available to consumers (probably in 2010), they'll provide wireless access by detecting existing signals and operating in unused frequencies (or "white spaces").
The FCC addressed concerns about these devices in November by issuing a 130-page report. In short, Margraves says the report is "great news for wireless mic users!"
"The FCC made a very clear and distinct priority to wireless microphones over TVBDs," Margraves says. "Specific channels in the UHF range have been set aside for wireless microphone users. There are also strict rules on exactly how TVBDs will operate, once on the market, and what they must do if they are in proximity of wireless mics."
While the FCC's decision to reallocate the 700 MHz spectrum has been—and continues to be—costly for churches, the silver lining is that churches can feel confident about the future of their wireless microphones operating in the 500 MHz band.
Tyler Charles is a freelance writer and assistant editor for PreachingToday's FaithVisuals.
Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today, Inc./Your Church magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Your Church.
Rev. Ryan A. Rose - Pastor of Discipleship & Media
Butterfield Church - ButterfieldAG.com
You could always call the manufacturers like Shure and their take on things, since they are one of the largest manufacturers and have the most to lose here. They will tell you that the sky is NOT falling, but some parts are loose. As long as you stay out of the 700s, and you will have years probably to make the change, you will still be able to use wireless, and there will be a legal way to do it. There are new announcements coming that have not been mentioned here or in other industry trade rags, because nothing is solid until the ink is dry.
"Kent Margraves, the national applications manager for Sennheiser Electronic Corporation..." is just stating the facts. Not sure what a national application manager is...perhaps something to do with sales.
Azalea Baptist Church
sampled from the Lab at prosoundweb
We think we have it rough. The TV stations really got it handed to them:
"Your valid economics question notwithstanding, it would appear you don't really understand many of the factors involved in the current 700MHz spectrum reallocation.
First, it was Congress that mandated the consolidation of the UHF-TV band spectrum back in 1996, not the FCC. The FCC is simply the agent by which Congress carries out telecom and wireless policies.
Second, it was known since 2005 that the 700MHz spectrum would be reallocated to services incompatible with low power broadcast auxiliary services.
Third, you (we) have been using, and continue to use TV band wireless microphones, intercom, IEMs and IFB/cueing illegally: We don't have licenses to operate these devices as per 47CFR Part 74.832, nor are we eligible for licenses as the regulation currently stands. We've been squatting/trespassing for free and now we're being told to move.
The FCC had no real idea how many wireless mics were in use since the number of active licenses bore no relation to actual numbers. Granted there is mounting evidence the FCC knew of the growing use by non-eligible parties as far back as the early 80's and apparently abdicated enforcement, but that does not create a de-facto legal status for our use of Part 74 devices and we could not legally be considered incumbent users entitled to protection or consideration.
You think migrating out of 700MHz is expensive for you or any users of wireless mics? Even considering all the Cirque du Soleil shows in the states with a total expenditure about $1M for new wireless gear and the labor to re-engineer the systems and actually change the equipment out, that's dwarfed by the average UHF-TV station that had to not only migrate out of 700MHz but had to go digital; average cost for a full power station change over was several million dollars. All while advertising revenue is falling and competition from cable only networks and internet delivery is on the rise. Now there's an aggrieved party.
Production Radio Rentals"