Are You Ready for June 12, 2010?

By Brent Handy
Contributing Writer
September 13, 2010

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My last article about analog wireless was a bit "gloom and doom". My mistrust of the FCC, special interest groups and our politicians grew as I watched the "game" play out over the last five plus years. In my mind, wireless was doomed. As it turns out, not all wireless is doomed this year. Only some of the systems have been doomed. Some of the remaining systems may be doomed in the future.

Digital systems in the GHz band are the safest bet. AKG, Brace Audio, Lectrosonics, Line6, MiPro, Sabine, Sennheiser and Zaxcom make digital systems that are probably future proof. They operate in the GHz range. Compared to the MHz range, the unregulated GHz range is wide open.

What happened? Why are we in a big mess? The FCC decided to make us all move to DTV, shuffle the stations around, auction off the vacant airspace and call it a day. The FCC underestimated the sheer volume of users, the depth of dependence upon wireless systems and the economics of the wireless industry. (Theoretically, anyone without a license has been breaking the law by using wireless systems. Every church and ministry with wireless has been breaking the law. Manufacturers and retailers have been breaking the law.) Since the FCC was completely disconnected from the very thing it was regulating, operating by the laws of the 1960s governing only 90 licensed studios and broadcasters, it made detrimental decisions based on it's own inaccurate data and the data from cash wheeling special interest groups wanting to own the airspace vacated by the broadcasters. This has affected millions of systems, hundreds of thousands of users and facilities.

The FCC recognized that an error had been made and decided that it was the manufacturers who were to blame. The manufacturers agreed to pay off.....uh, I mean pay a large amount of money to the FCC as a form of a blanket customer license. This license would protect all users from prosecution and allow them to continue to use their wireless systems. Now the FCC has begun to entertain the thought of issuing licenses to users of multiple systems.

History is the foreteller of the future. The US government is very good at incrementally expanding the reach of laws and regulations beyond their initial intent. The FCC has been toying with a new version of the Fairness Doctrine. Many Christian watchdog groups are fearful that the FCC would lump all wireless system users into the same lot as the high power radio stations. Wireless systems are just low power, low-range radio stations. It could happen.

In 2010 the FCC released some needed clarifications for wireless system operators, retailers and manufacturers. Let's look at what the FCC is doing to us now.

June 12, 2010 is the day all wireless systems operating in the 700 band (from 698MHz through 806MHz) must cease operations. It is now illegal to manufacture, sell or buy these systems for use in the USA. The 700 band has been reserved for Public Safety and other licensed wireless service providers. If you continue to use your systems, you will have substantial interference. More importantly, you may cause substantial interference issues for someone else. Imagine your pastor's mic causing an ambulance driver to miss directions. Not a good thought.

Read all you ever wanted to know and more here:

I live and work in the Kansas City area, where substantial population of the 700 band began just after January 1st. Churches began experiencing reception problems and placed frantic calls immediately. We have been busily scanning for unoccupied space. We were able to get some of them going temporarily. All of them will be forced to buy new systems or stop using wireless. Unfortunately some of these churches are taking huge economy-induced hits in tithing/giving. They spent their money once for their systems and have no funds to buy them again. Had they purchased from a reputable and informed dealer, they would not be in this spot. That is another subject for another time.

Verify that your system will not be in the trash dumpster here:

The FCC has designated specific bands for UHF wireless system use. These bands are not reserved. That is a big difference. The FCC has stated that we should expect to encounter interference. In all honesty, this is a nothing new. We have no guarantees now. Some of you will have to replace your systems, even if they are in perfect working order. It will be illegal to operate outside of the designated bands. Consult the Shure and Sennheiser websites for the best frequency options in your area. These two manufacturers are at the forefront of this battle and have put forth the most effort to educate the government and the wireless customers at large.

Wireless frequency and system finders are here:

Your best bet for interference free operation is to use a frequency agile wireless system. These systems allow you to select from multiple frequencies. Some of these systems can be networked. Networked systems can be managed from one computer or one receiver. Some of these systems have built-in scanning functions, allowing for the simultaneous selection of frequencies for all of your systems. Some of these systems allow you to synchronize your transmitters by holding them next to the receivers, eliminating the need to tune them by hand. In the heat of the battle on a Sunday morning, this comes in handy.

Once you have purchased your new frequency agile systems, or you have determined your existing systems will work, you will need to monitor the TV channel changes in your area. Again, there is talk of another FCC auction of bandwidth, relocation of broadcasters and possibly the removal air broadcasters completely. If at all possible, invest in a computer-based RF scanning system. These systems work with your existing computer. They consist of software and an USB aerial interface. This is a new world now where air space goes to the highest bidder. RF management will be hour by hour, day by day and week by week, depending upon your location and user density.

The FCC is still trying to figure out how they will keep TV stations, our wireless systems and future internet and phone gizmos from interfering with one another. There has not been one successful attempt thus far. The FCC will have a "moan and groan" hotline in place for you to report your interference instances. All of these instances would be placed on a database and administered by a yet-to-be-determined administrator.

Many churches are having a hard time making it. I recently heard a troubling statistic about the churches here in the KC area. Pre-recession, 8% of church members tithed/contributed, whereas 2% contributed in 2009. Perhaps churches will find new freedom from wireless and will re-embrace the wired microphone or headphone. Perhaps churches will scale back and designate money to things of eternal significance. If I had a dollar for every time I have seen stationary people using wireless when wire would have sufficed (and outperformed the wireless they were using), I would be typing from a beach in Hawaii. I wish I was there. I am tired of the snow.

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