White Spaces Roundup 2009 | B&H Photo Video Audio
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White Spaces Roundup 2009

By Ken Hamberg

The February 17, 2009 transition to DTV came and went. The sky did not fall. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, in cooperation with the Obama administration, authored and successfully introduced legislation in late January extending the final transition deadline to June 12. However, roughly 35% of the TV stations nationwide have already shut the lights on analog broadcasts.

As we've mentioned in earlier White Spaces updates, the end of analog broadcasting will vacate a lot of prime RF real estate, creating transmission opportunities for additional DTV stations. The unused portions of spectrum in between TV channels known as White Spaces have been extensively occupied for the past quarter century by wireless microphones, both licensed and unlicensed by the FCC.

In the interest of increased broadband penetration throughout the U.S., particularly underserved rural areas and secondary urban markets, the FCC decided in mid-November, 2008 to allow unlicensed wireless internet broadband devices to operate alongside wireless microphone systems and other devices currently occupying the White Spaces.

These devices, now called TVBD's (TV Band Devices), represent a significant manufacturing opportunity for high-tech honchos such as Google, Microsoft, Philips and others. The economic benefits of the FCC's decision to companies like these are pretty staggering to say the least, without having to invest a dime in infrastructure.

The audio, broadcast, entertainment and sports communities (particularly the NFL) lobbied long and hard against TVBD intrusion upon the White Spaces, citing dire transmission consequences in the form or interference and dropouts based on overly congested airwaves.

While their protests and advice were not ignored entirely, most of the FCC's November 14, 2008 rulings are comprised of operating restrictions and usage requirements proposed shortly after the spectrum auctions that took place earlier in March of last year. It's doubtful that an approved TVBD will appear in the marketplace before the first quarter of 2010.

Here's a synopsis of the FCC's most recent rulings regarding unlicensed fixed and portable TVBD operation in the television White Spaces:

TV Band Device Rulings

  • All TV Band Devices, excepting personal and portable units operating in client mode, must include geolocation capability and internet access to a database containing both protected public safety channels and available unused RF spectrum. The devices must access the database before operating. TVBD's operating in client mode must be directly controlled by a device that has geolocation and database capability.
  • Fixed devices are allowed to operate between channels 2 and 51, excepting channels 3, 4, and 37. Usage is prohibited on channels 14-21 in 13 major metropolitan areas. They're allowed to operate at a maximum of 4 Watts EIRP (effective radiating power) when used in conjunction with a power-boosting gain antenna.
The VHF and UHF Bands, Feb. 2009
  • Portable TVBD's may only operate between channels 21 and 51, excepting channel 37, and are specifically prohibited from operating on channels 14-21. They're allowed to operate at 100mW of power output unless used on adjacent TV channels in which case their output is limited to 40mW. Wireless microphones are allowed to operate at up to 250mW.
  • All fixed devices must register their locations with the database and be able to transmit I.D. information so that they can be located should they be causing interference. Both fixed and portable TVBD's are also required to exhibit reliable TV broadcast and wireless microphone sensing capability. Fixed devices must exhibit a spectrum-sensing threshold as low as -114dBm.
  • Portable TVBD's with spectrum sensing capabilities but not configured with geolocation and database access capabilities will still be permitted to submit prototypes to the FCC labs for testing and certification. The spectrum sensing-only devices will be limited to a 50mW output. Many, many portable ENG wireless microphone systems also operate at a peak output of 50mW. The tests, which will be conducted both in the lab and in the field, will supposedly be even more rigorous than those previously conducted, and the field tests will be open to the public.
  • All TVBD's must be tested and certified by the FCC laboratory before entering the market.
  • Wireless Microphone Rulings

  • Wireless microphone locations such as sports and entertainment venues may be registered with the database and that spectrum will be considered restricted and unavailable to other wireless services.
  • Channels 2-20 will be restricted solely to fixed TVBD use, but may be accessed by portable wireless microphone systems on an "itinerant" basis.
  • In 13 major markets, two channels between 21 and 51 will be allocated entirely for wireless microphone operation. TVBD's, fixed and portable, will be completely restricted from operating in these channels.
  • Channels 52-69, the so-called "700MHz range" in the UHF band, have been reallocated and either purchased by communications giants such as AT&T, Verizon and Qualcomm or reserved for public safety radio communication (channels 63, 64, 68 and 69). This spectrum is basically off-limits to any television broadcast, or any wireless services other than those provided by the owners. There are no longer any white spaces in this region, according to the definition. After the June 12, 2009 DTV transition deadline any remaining wireless interlopers will be required to vacate the 700-806MHz spectrum entirely, wireless microphones included. Think of squatters being removed from a newly purchased property.

700MHz Trade-in and Retuning Programs

For the benefit of our many wireless customers and to allay any nascent fears and concerns some of you may have, we've included a list of wireless mic manufacturers for whom B&H is a dealer that are offering either trade-in or factory retuning services for 700MHz systems and components.

  • - Follow the link below to the rebate information form. http://www.sennheiserusa.com/media/pdfFiles/Pro_700MHz_Range_Rebate.pdf
  • Sennheiser is offering retuning services for their 3000 and 5000 series of wireless systems in the 700MHz band, and tiered rebates for the Evolution Wireless G2 systems in the C range purchased between 1/1/2006 and 12/31/2008. The contact phone number is 860-434-9190. Valid through 12/31/2009, postmarked 12/15/09.

  • Follow the link below to the rebate information form.
  • http://www.shure.com/stellent/groups/public/@gms_gmi_web_us_pro/documents/web_resource/us_pro_700mhz_rebate_r2.pdf

    Shure is offering a rebate/trade-in program of up to $1000 on new Shure wireless systems and trade-ins of 700MHz systems made by either Shure or other manufacturers and purchased before 2/1/2007. The contact phone number is 800-257-4873. Valid through 5/31/2009.

  • - Follow the link below to the rebate information form.
  • http://www.audio-technica.com/cms/resource_library/files/714a05455102e247/700mhz_sub_form.pdf

    Audio-Technica is offering a rebate/trade-in program for purchases made between 2/1/2009 and 12/31/2009 of new Audio-Technica wireless systems and trade-ins of 700MHz systems made by either Audio-Technica or other manufacturers. The contact phone number is 330-686-2600; refer to the 700MHz trade-in program. Valid through 9/30/2009.

  • - Follow the link below to the rebate information form.
  • http://www.lectrosonics.com/PressReleases/whitespace/BlockChanges_Exchanges.pdf

    Lectrosonics is offering an extensive reblocking (retuning) program for their 700MHz systems and components, and a trade-in program for discontinued 700MHz Lectrosonics products made after 2/18/04. Contact the Service Department at 800-821-1121.

  • Follow the link below for retuning service information. http://www.electrovoice.com/pressreleases/860.htm
  • Electro-Voice is offering a rebanding (retuning) program for Electro-Voice and Telex 700MHz wireless systems and components. Contact their Customer Service department at 800-553-5992 ext.701.

  • Azden is offering accommodation pricing for new Azden systems below the 700MHz range on a "case-by-case" basis. The contact phone number is 800-247-4501.

  • After June 12, Samson's repair department will offer 700MHz retuning services as a warranty repair covered by their 3-year warranty program, if applicable according to the date of purchase. The contact phone number is 631-784-2201 or E-mail wireless@samsontech.com.

We hope that this information helps to resolve any wireless issues you may have, and we'll see you in June after the final DTV transition for another White Spaces Roundup.


Please email feedback on this article, or suggestions for future topics, to audiofeedback@bhphotovideo.com.

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