FCC Incentive Auctions Commence: Wireless Frequency Bands Slashed


It is said that technology doubles in speed and is halved in size every 18 months. We are now manufacturing nano technology with electronic components nearing the size of the atom. These fast-paced technological advances seem to be overrunning the current communication bandwidth. With an available bandwidth of 30 Hz to more than 300 GHz, one would think there would be enough room for all forms of wireless communication. Bear in mind, we are dealing with geo-satellites, industrial/scientific/medical communication devices, commercial/armature radio, cable television relay systems, satellite television broadcasts, Wi-Fi, cellular phones, and the list goes on.

There seems to be a great deal of confusion as to what’s happening with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and all wireless communications. Currently, the FCC is going through the process of auctioning off yet another segment of crowded bandwidth for wireless communication devices, much of what is used by the pro audio industry for live concerts, performances, and the broadcast industries of film and television.   

If you recall, in 2009, the FCC abruptly proclaimed a ban on the 700 MHz bandwidth, which presented a serious problem for companies like Shure and Sennheiser, because they had a number of wireless devices in the market that were, in effect, now useless. Upgrade/cross-grade options were offered so as not to leave the customers completely at a loss but overall, the whole process was painful for companies and consumers.

Auctioned off to the highest bidders

Unfortunately, the 700 MHz bandwidth was not enough and, now, the 600 MHz is on the auction block. Luckily, the FCC announced in 2012 that this next bandwidth auction is to take place in 2016, which should have provided enough lead time for pro-audio manufacturers to make ready and explore new technologies. Currently, we are amid the auction / reverse auction period. The incentive for the reverse auction is for communication companies to reconfigure or combine with other companies to free up bandwidth in exchange for compensation. The new bandwidth is to be auctioned off to the highest bidders for television broadcast and cellular data streams. Once the dust settles, we’ll know exactly how much of the 600 MHz block is being used. If you happen to own a system in the 600+ MHz range, you won’t be completely shut out. A 39-month transition period will begin May 29 (or later), allowing you to continue to use your system. You will need to consult with the FCC over time to ensure your bandwidth is still available within your area.

The sweet spot for wireless microphones, instruments, and in-ear monitors is UHF (470 to 698 MHz). Because the main sources of interference are local TV stations with fixed locations and known RF signal levels, wireless microphone manufacturers are able to predict the number of systems capable of operating in a specific location. The UHF band is home to both licensed and unlicensed wireless microphone operations. The advent of digital systems offers extremely precise transmission and reception with fewer artifacts. The more advanced systems are now offering frequency hopping, which automatically scans the airwaves for open channels and switches seamlessly to the least congested bandwidth.  If you are in the market for a new UHF wireless system, digital is highly recommended, which may cost a little bit more than an analog system. The performance boost is worth it. 

“The frequency band differs by country and DECT isn’t a worldwide standard but, in the United States, the band is 1.92 to 1.93 GHz.”

As an alternative to the crowded UHF bandwidth, many pro audio wireless companies have announced the exploration into other bandwidths. Shure has just announced that two of its leading digital wireless systems, ULX-D and QLX-D, are now available in VHF spectrum. These VHF options provide users with 42 MHz of tuning bandwidth in spectrum that is as predictable and as usable as today’s UHF TV band. The company has also announced its DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) line of products. The frequency band differs by country and DECT isn’t a worldwide standard but, in the United States, the band is 1.92 to 1.93 GHz. Since DECT was developed for telecommunications, wireless systems may compete with cordless phones in this frequency band. DECT Technology employs a TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) standard and makes operation achievable without having to coordinate frequencies, since the technology accomplishes this on its own.

The FCC’s announcement of narrowing the bandwidth is not great news. However, wireless pro-audio companies are rising to the occasion with new technology that works better and faster in alternative frequency brands. The FCC will most likely snatch up more bandwidth in the future, and how long before it happens is unknown. All we can do is wait for the inevitable and hope that Pro Audio R&D can keep up with the rapidly changing times.



To my understanding, the once shunned VHF band systems are becoming a viable alternative amidst the dwindling available UHF frequncy transmitting/receiving systems. What what was dengrated amongst the wireless companies and community, VHF is actually robust and may well serve (alienated) wireless users.

Here you guys go again. Trumpeting a "Safe Alternative" for wireless systems. I can guarantee you that nothing is "Safe" when it comes to dealing with the Fed. They will pat you on your back with one hand, while stealing your wallet with the other. I've lived in the DC Metro area all my life (60+ yrs) and I can tell you the Fed is broke. Both structurally and financially. There are trillions of dollars in the corporate sector and the Fed wants as much of it as possible go give to their "buddies (i.e. lobbiest)" and are willing to sell out the country to get it. Those broadcaters are going to need more bandwidth (8K, 16K, 32K TV is coming and it physically won't fit in the HD/4K bandwidth). Eventually the entire UHF band will be sold off and unless the wireless mic industry pools together and buys a "piece of the action", they are going to be squeezed out. In 2008, I had to install a large wireless system for a church (Sanctuary and 3 small Chapels, it cost $50,000). Each area needed their own set of channels since they were in service at the same time. I decided to opt for the 900Mhz range. It is now 8 years later and we are about to be without 250Mhz in the UHF band (550-800Mhz). Those mics are still operating flawlessly (fortunately Sennheiser still supports the 3K/5K system). The Fed isn't going to sell this range since there in no use for it with those trillion dollar corporate guys (wave length is too compressed). Get smart all you wireless mfg and stop telling your clients how safe (for the time being) they will be if they buy this frequency now. By the way, if was very generous of the industy to offer $200 trade-in for each 'banned" system in exchange for a brand new legal system.  Let's see, for this church, that would have come to $1,600 ($100/ch) towards another $50K system. What a deal!! And you want us to do this all over again?