By now, most of you have heard the news that the FCC is phasing out most of the 614-698 MHz portion of the radio frequency (RF) spectrum for use by wireless microphones and television broadcasters. Something similar happened in 2010 with the 700 MHz spectrum, so by July 2020, 614-698 MHz will no longer be a legal operating range for most wireless microphones. And in some areas, those changes are occurring right now, and will continue to occur on a known schedule between now and July 2020.
The change to the "700 MHz" band in 2010 was disruptive, but the next round will be even more so. When these auctions take place, wireless companies like T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, etc. buy large swaths of RF bandwidth in order to deliver their services. Those services include wireless data and voice traffic, Internet of Things (interconnection of business and household devices to the Internet) and may include 5G wireless services that will attempt to give us driver-less cars and more.
What makes the current repacking even more difficult is that once again, television broadcasters are being moved from yet another portion of the RF spectrum and wireless microphone users are being asked to share even less space since there is no new RF spectrum being opened up in the previous 470-804 MHz range. So instead of sharing 470-804 MHz with broadcasters like we did until 2010, the RF spectrum for broadcasters and casual users like UHF wireless microphones will become limited to 470-608 MHz, a loss of over half since 2010.
In response, some companies have opened up the previously popular VHF ranges (169-216 MHz), 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz, but in order to address the reduction of available wireless spectrum, manufacturers like Shure and Audio Technica have also created new systems that allow more simultaneous wireless microphone systems to operate in less of the RF spectrum. These new radios are more selective and less sensitive to outside sources than ever before.
We believe that these and similar systems will provide the best foundation going forward for reliable wireless microphone use, especially in deployments for multi-venue environments and for medium to large users in house of worship, corporate, event and educational environments.
The Shure QLXD (from $973) and ULXD (from $1320) systems offer operating densities of up to 60 simultaneous systems, depending on your location, and the 4th Generation Audio Technica 3000 Series (from $549) up to 20 systems per 6 MHz TV channel (up to 40 total). At the time of writing, we have been told that the new Sennheiser Evolution Series G4 300 and 500 series systems will be generally similar to the Shure and A-T systems just mentioned, but we are yet unaware of those exact specifications.
As tough as it is to look at another round of replacements for all of you with existing "600 MHz" systems, many wireless microphone manufacturers are offering rebates to help limit your pain and ease you into their systems. For more information on rebates (generally $50-$500 per channel, depending on the new wireless you select), click here for Shure, here for Audio-Technica and here for Sennheiser.
Or call us with questions. We have helped our clients replace anywhere from a few to 30, 40, and 70+ wireless microphone systems with new frequency sets compatible for both today and beyond July 2020. The new RF landscape is tough for users of multiple systems, so please let us know how we can assist you in this transition.
Shure QLXD, ULXD, and Audio-Technica 4th Generation 3000 Series will serve you well for the foreseeable future, and are as good a decision as you can make at their respective price points. We expect to be able to say the same about the Sennheiser Evolution G4 300 and 500 series.