[LINK] Analogue TV frequencies not just used for TV, so spanner in works of spectrum sale

Glen Turner glen.turner at aarnet.edu.au
Sat Jan 20 21:35:11 AEDT 2007

Something to watch for here in a few years?

The Register

Ofcom spectrum sale hurts more than just the luvvies
By Bill Ray

Ofcom's consultation on the Digital Dividend, aka selling off the
analogue TV frequencies, has attracted more than its share of
attention from El Reg readers who are in uproar about the proposed
disconnection of the wirelessly connected.

Ofcom is consulting on a proposal to sell the frequencies currently
used by analogue TV when the grand switch over to digital starts in
2008. But lurking among the TV channels are hundreds of wireless
microphones and communications equipment used by the entertainment
industry, using short-term licenses allocated by the Joint Frequency
Management Group (JFMG) at, relatively, low cost.

Reader DT summed it up nicely...

    Can you imagine Cats being done with cabled mics, or Starlite
    Express, or Les Mis, or The Lion King? I can't. I did see
    Superstar in the west end during the 70s and marvelled that no-one
    got tripped up or tied up in the myriad number of cables that
    snaked constantly about the stage.

But it's not just musical theatre that will suffer, as Fletcher
Fletchowicz points out...

    Regarding the sellout of radio frequencies and complaints of
    theatre types: channel 69, the part of the spectrum allocated for
    radio mics, is also used by film and television crews. So as well
    as no more theatre you'll be facing no more Bill, no more
    Hollyoaks, no more Dr Who, and no more quality UK production

...and no more Big Brother. Channel 69 may get a stay of execution as
an unregulated channel, but without any guarantee of quality you might
miss the latest racist slur. But it's not all good news. As John
points out:

    This is actually quite a serious issue - both for the professional
    theatres and, possibly even more so, for amateur societies as well
    as churches and roaming conferences (and the freelance PA people
    who provide for such events).

    I think Ofcom need to take a good long look at who uses the RF
    spectrum around the analogue TV frequencies, and allocate various
    sections (preferably the same as a currently used, having just
    spent several thousand pounds on radio mics) for low cost, local
    licences (inc. temporary and non-exclusive ones).

Ofcom is proposing to keep some space available for a while - until
2012 - but with its contract with the JFMG expiring in September 2008
there'll be no one to manage allocations unless it's extended.

Meanwhile, theatre companies are already reluctant to buy more
equipment for fear of being unable to use it once Ofcom decides what
to do. With an individual microphone rig costing up to £10,000 it's
unsurprising they've started renting kit from abroad rather than
investing in such an uncertain future.  Some readers, such as Matt
Bieneman, looked to a more technical solution:

    I and several of my friends have used these systems since they
    came out about two years ago. They work incredibly well, even in
    areas with lots of interference and 2.4 GHz AirPort
    systems. Although I don't have personal experience using 50 or
    more channels, others do; these systems can work with up to about
    100 channels.

According to the professionals, such digital systems are still not
suitable for commercial use - not only do they lack the quality needed
for theatre, they also introduce an unacceptable latency. The Sabine
system also uses 2.4GHz, where competition from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and
even microwave ovens makes guaranteeing quality of service very

The industry is looking at digital technologies, and developments
might take the problem away, but would you bet an industry on it?

It might seem that an industry which claims to be worth £15bn annually
could afford to bid for spectrum like everyone else. But that £15bn
doesn't come to the theatres; most of it goes to hotels, travel, and
other expenses incurred by the 60 per cent of West End audiences who
come from abroad. So, the proponents argue, an industry that brings so
much to the UK deserves to be a special case: Ofcom should hand over
some spectrum for the good of the country, or at least, for the good
of the tourist industry.

Reserving a few deregulated channels might help those running church
fates or Highland games, but deregulation would in turn make it
impossible for professionals to rely on them. The JMFG has set up a
site where you can check how the proposals might impact your usage,
which will depend on the frequencies you are currently using.

Ofcom swears blind that this isn't about making money, but about
"maximising the value that the use of this spectrum is likely to bring
to society over time", though the name - digital dividend - would seem
to belie that ideal. Promises to work region by region, or hold open
frequencies until 2012, will just drive professionals mad and make
investment in the industry an even more risky proposition.

As a country we need to decide if the entertainment industry deserves
special treatment, because of the money it brings into the country and
the prestige it confers on the UK. Otherwise, we could bet the farm on
a technical solution or just sell off the spectrum to the highest

Ofcom is still accepting comments on the proposal, and nothing has
been decided, but a great deal more than the next series of Big
Brother is at stake here.

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