700 MHz Wireless Changeover: If not now, WHEN?

In August 2008, the FCC proposed a rule change prohibiting all Part 74 devices (this includes wireless microphones, intercom, and monitors) in the 700MHz band shown above as early as February 18, 2009. We are still waiting for the FCC to issue the final rule, and thus a specific date. When the DTV transition was delayed until June 12, 2009 we thought maybe that would be the date. Now that has come and gone and we still have no guidance from the FCC for a ‘vacate by’ date. The new owners of the spectrum are urging the FCC to require Part 74 devices migrate out of the spectrum no later than February 18, 2010. It is not a question of IF a ban will be imposed but WHEN. Technical presentations to the FCC have indicated there is a strong possibility of interference between Part 74 devices and the new commercial and public safety uses. Public safety has already deployed networks in 40+ markets.

If you have equipment in this spectrum, there are several reasons you should be migrating out of the 700Hz band.

  1. You do not want to risk interfering with public safety life saving operations.
  2. Most 700MHz gear for the US market is outdated and you will benefit from new features and bandwidth.
  3. Replacement parts are already becoming obsolete as reputable manufacturers curtailed or eliminated US models operating in this range two years or more ago.
  4. The financial impact will be immediate if you wait till you receive interference or a “violation” notice.

Planning, budgeting and replacing over the next few months will mitigate the burden on your finances. Plus several manufacturers are offering trade-in rebates that expire in December 2009. Links are also shown for manufacturers that can change the frequency range or re-band certain models.

We often get asked, “Will the FCC really come looking for devices operating in the 700MHz band?” The short answer is YES. Unlike other countries, the FCC does not have a fleet of detector vans searching cross-country for violators. Enforcement will mostly be based on complaints received from the new owners of the spectrum. The FCC already has a presence at major events so it is reasonable to assume they will be monitoring the 700MHz band for unauthorized use. The FCC can also utilize selective detection/enforcement localized around a geographic or high profile area. It is extremely important to understand that FCC fines are steep, typically starting at $10,000. (Sending a junk fax or telemarketing to someone on the ‘Do Not Call’ list is $4500 per fax/call.) Should you ever find the Enforcement Bureau ‘knocking on your door’ you are well advised to cease doing whatever brought them there and avoid a repeat visit.

An example of the interference problems you may encounter in the 700MHz band already exists. Qualcomm bought TV channel 55 (716-722MHx) nationwide in a previous auction and have already deployed a video streaming service call Media Flo or Flo TV in 40+ cities/areas. That number is likely to double by the end of 2009 and significantly increase coverage in 2010. Other users of the spectrum are likely to deploy similar broadband transmissions like the Qualcomm signal shown on the left. If is close enough and strong enough you will not find a usable frequency in that channel.

Most users with 700MHz band equipment have/will upgrade to equipment that operates in a portion of the remaining UHF TV channels 14-51 working around DTV signals. Planning is critical to getting the right frequency range for your location.

© Professional Wireless Systems

David McLain | The Mixer Guy | CCI SOLUTIONS
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