The Spectrum Squeeze is Tightening – We Need to Work Smarter

Jackie Green, President & CTO at Alteros

One of the most enjoyable parts of my job as CTO of alteros is the opportunities it presents to travel to events all over the world and meet many of the very talented people whose business it is to make audio happen, in any environment.

I recently had the honor of participating in the Advanced Audio Symposium, presented by the DTV Audio Group and SVG in Detroit, where I met many old and new friends; professionals at the forefront of the field of sports mixing.

As usual, the focus of my talk was on the on-going problem of spectrum squeeze in our industry, as it’s certainly an area that’s becoming increasingly alarming. Just take the 600MHz frequency band. As you may remember, in 2017, T-Mobile spent around $8 billion on 600MHz licenses around the country. The wireless carrier is now deploying its gear at a much faster rate than the original schedule for ten phased steps. Last fall it announced an agreement with FOX’s WWOR (New Jersey) to re-locate early, clearing the way for 600MHz spectrum operation. In June it said its 600MHz LTE network has lit up in more than 900 towns and cities across 32 states, and in July, T-Mobile announced agreement with CBS-owned WLNY-TV to repack the latter’s 600 MHz spectrum in New York more than a year earlier than the FCC deadline of August 2019.

SVG Jackie Green Presenting

The news and the spectrum is changing constantly. In fact, while we were discussing spectrum at the DTV symposium, Verizon announced that its Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) network, which will operate in the 70MHz band, was now live nationwide.

Barely a day seems to go by without news on something else happening in our spectrum. More is yet to come, as other carriers including US Cellular, regional carriers, Comcast and Dish have also spent big on 600MHz licenses. For sure, the demand for mobile services is increasing, with no end in sight.

My point is that the issues affecting wireless microphones at large-scale productions are now changing on an almost day-to-day basis, and this will certainly not stop with the 600MHz loss. At the moment, we are experiencing something of a “lull before the storm” as TV stations aren’t yet firing up in their new 500MHz spectrum. When they do, the spectrum left for wireless microphone operation is going to become very crowded and even more of a challenge in which to operate.

This means all wireless microphone users, including broadcasters are going to need to work in an even smarter way than before, and use every tool in the toolbox. It means that users should be picking the right tools – and the right partners – to do the job and to stay doing it reliably despite the continuing spectrum changes. One way to work smarter is to employ alternative spectrum gear. For example, we used two different alternative spectrum products for wireless microphones at the DTV Advanced Audio Symposium this year — a 2.4GHz system from Audio-Technica and the Alteros GTX Series 6.5GHz system. The fact is, end users need to stop being afraid of utilizing alternative spectrum gear.

Maybe 10 years ago there were still questions about whether alternative spectrum products could meet reliability and sound-quality requirements — but those days are long gone. Essentially, we need to find room in the spectrum to keep wireless microphones operating, and that means using all the available spectrum locations and tools. Wireless microphone users should work with manufacturers who have proven they have the technical ability to create new and better high-quality technical solutions to address the shrinking and increasingly demanding spectrum.

Experience and success in digital and higher frequency designs is going to become more and more essential because the spectrum changes are not stopping. Eventually, we will need to be able to advance and operate in a sort of “convergence” with the technologies being employed by mobile and wifi devices. Alteros is happy that we have successfully started on the path to future solutions.

Certainly, my topic resonated with other industry professionals at the symposium! Indeed, it was an extremely valuable event, attended by people that share a passion for providing great audio in conjunction with the rigors of live sports broadcasting. As speakers at the event clearly demonstrated, it’s an exciting challenge to organize these high-profile, large-scale sporting events that often take place outdoors in all types of weather, with unpredictable event action, very challenging acoustical conditions with screaming fans in the background — and all being broadcast live to millions of viewers glued to their device of choice.

What’s more, those providing the content experience — including the audio — must ensure it is going to work across different “consumption platforms” such as mobile phones, tablets, TVs, TVs with sound bars, and large screen systems with surround sound. We can also now add to this the incredible new immersive and surround sound tools, IP-based networks, and “smart devices” for tracking the action.

We can only imagine the challenges of ensuring consistency of the sound quality across and for all those platforms, and holding it all together between the various broadcasters at these large events. It’s not just real-time sports action; it’s real-time engineering production, and the people that make this work aren’t afraid to tackle the most difficult problems. They just roll up their sleeves, put their heads together, and get it done — again and again.

SVG Panel 2018

For me, it was fascinating to be able to speak to a large number of these incredibly committed and talented people at the symposium, and discuss the challenges they face on a daily basis.

There is always a “however”, of course, and I would like to compliment Roger Charlesworth, Executive Director of the DTV Audio group and organizer extraordinaire, for posing a closing topic to the symposium by asking: “Where are the women?” I am often the only woman, or one of very few women, at industry conferences — and it was no different at the Advanced Audio Symposium. There were only two other female representatives present, one each from Turner Sports and CBS, so I’d like to call them out and virtually high-five them, for helping to break the mould. Here’s hoping we’ll start to see more women presenters at future events.

SVG Jackie Green Presenting

“All wireless microphone users, including broadcasters are going to need to work in an even smarter way than before, and use every tool in the toolbox. It means that users should be picking the right tools – and the right partners – to do the job and to stay doing it reliably despite the continuing spectrum changes.”