Shrinking Space in RF Poses Challenges to AV Integrators

Picture your desk—you have a computer, a phone, a few folders with information about your latest project, a photo of your dog, all carefully arranged in their own designated space. Now cut the size of your desk in half—you can still fit everything in the space, it’s just a lot more cramped.

Such is the case with the wireless spectrum as the FCC continues to auction off pieces designated for TV broadcast and wireless microphone systems. Currently, wireless systems have access to the 470 to 698 mHz frequencies, but on March 29, 2016, this range will get smaller as pieces are auctioned off to mobile broadband companies.

So what does this mean for integrators? To start, with fewer frequencies to work with, integrators need to future proof their systems by choosing reliable and efficient wireless systems.

“Right now, if you are designing or putting together a concept for an install, you need to choose systems that are spectrally efficient. You have to look for attributes that can serve your install, with a wide tuning coverage,” explained Nick Wood, category director for wireless systems, Shure.

Another key to future proofing your wireless systems is finding alternative spectrums to use. Over at Audio-Technica, Jackie Green, VP of R&D and engineering, said the company started future-proofing its wireless systems as early as 1997. “We didn’t want to create a product that wouldn’t be useful to end users later on,” she explained. “At the same time, we started looking at alternative spectrums. Unofficially, it was becoming clear that parts of the spectrum were going away, and that we needed to come up with new ways to deal with that.”

Because A-T started looking early for new frequencies, they were able to test which ones were effective for wireless systems early on. More recently, A-T has invested in the 6 gHz range, creating the Spectrapulse, an install-based wireless system that utilizes that range.

“Right now that spectrum is mostly open,” she explained. “The other thing we need to look at is as we feed on leftover communications and technologies, it may be necessary to move into wireless mic systems above 10 gHz. Some communication companies out there looking for something above that already.”

Software is also important, said Wood, since it helpful to have a full set of tools to navigate the available wireless space. “Software is important to get everything to work harmoniously,” Wood said. “If possible, integrators should do a site survey to understand the RF environment.”

The FCC did provide some good news for the AV industry though, first by revising the rules to what constitutes a wireless operator.

“They’ve defined it more broadly,” he said. “Before we had to be involved in broadcasting in order to be involved in this category, but now they’ve become more inclusive to involve music, performance, and HOW.”

There is also room for wireless users to expand to new frequencies following the March auction, which will give wireless systems designers the opportunity to branch out. “The FCC has identified alternative spectrums outside of this range. Not all of them are immediately available, but the fact that they are under construction is a good sign,” said Wood.