AES Section Meeting Reports

Pacific Northwest - May 17, 2012

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PNW's May 2012 meeting brought local manufacturer's rep Van Browne to speak about the latest developments in "whitespace" radio spectrum usage and wireless microphones. 14 AES members and 6 others gathered at Shoreline Community College in Shoreline, WA. Van is a one-time musician, many years ago turning to pro audio sales and repping. He has also served as PNW Section chair, vice chair and committee member.

We began with a review of the UHF wireless spectrum scene today. Two years ago, the 700MHz band was closed to wireless mics and mostly auctioned off for commercial services. Wireless mics must now operate somewhere in the "TV" band of 470-698MHz. The old 700MHz mics are now illegal, although many are still in use. Van figures that illegal users will eventually get the picture when they start getting severe interference from the legitimate new owners. This TV band is used by over-the-air TV stations and several new wireless users, such as telecom companies, so wireless mic users are forced to do some footwork.

While industry pressure led to the FCC reserving two 6MHz channels in each market for wireless mics, plus another two channels in some markets, this isn't a whole lot. Whitespaces, a term describing radio spectrum not permanently assigned, may be available in a given market, but also may be intermittently and legitimately used by other TV Band devices of varying power, both fixed and mobile. The FCC's answer is to have a database of users, channels and frequencies in each market, coming Real Soon Now. There are also FCC plans for a way to sign up for and reserve spectrum for certain times and/or days, up to a year in advance. Just how well this will work is anyone's guess, as it appears to require proactive advanced planning by users and gracious cooperation. Users can also upgrade their mics to get more audio channels into their allotted TV channels. The future looks like even more spectrum will be changed from TV stations to other uses, probably leaving less for things like wireless mics.

Some door prizes were awarded after a snack break. Winners were:
-Shure polo shirts (to be delivered later): Hubert Oliver, Rob Baum, Steve Malott
-Frank Laico PNW retrospective DVD (to be delivered later): Dave Ellis, Ken Malott

Van also described two Shure digital wireless product systems, and how they answer the challenges of the whitespace transition. First was the ULX-D system, second was their flagship Axient system. Shure has new app software to help users control, use and manage their wireless systems, the Wireless Workshop (now in public beta) and the Spectrum Manager. The Axient system, while expensive, has a very deep list of sophisticated high-tech features, such as remote control of transmitters, battery analysis and automated frequency hopping, as well as working with the software and FCC databases to track usable channels.

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