Phase 7 Re-Pack

Updated: Mar 12, 2020

Are your wireless mics and in-ear monitors ready?

Written by Mark Tarbet, President Ridge AV

It wasn’t that long ago we all lived through the wonderful experience of being forced to replace wireless mics and IEM systems. This was due to the FCC reorganizing the spectrum to make room for television stations broadcasting in “HD” and to accommodate the voracious appetite of an endless stream of new WIFI products. You may not realize that was just one step in a much larger process called the “Re-Pack”. What began in 2017 as Phase 1 actually has 10 Phases. We are currently wrapping up Phase 7 and starting Phase 8. You may wonder why there are so many phases. The answer is simply because all this change in spectrum requires complex choreography between spectrum users.

FCC Phase Schedule

Should you be concerned about these last phases of the Re-Pack? You bet ya! Especially those of you who chose to ignore this and gamble that your wireless mics and IEM’s won't be affected by all this change. Due to this phasing, your wireless gear that appears to be safe may not be safe because the choreographing has delayed another wireless user from powering up on your frequency.

For clarity: If you have wireless mics or IEM systems that operate in the 617MHz-652MHz or 663MHz-698MHz, you must cease using those by July 13, 2020. That is the law. Those who still play wireless roulette and gamble that your systems will be fine should understand that those soon-to-be illegal frequencies you are on are highly volatile as wireless manufacturers buy, sell and trade their now legal spectrum. To put this another way, being safe today is absolutely no guarantee that you are safe tomorrow, next week or next year.

The new “safe space” is between 470MHz and 608MHz

Getting out of the 600MHz band should be a priority for businesses and churches. You never know when a cell phone company will begin testing or using their “new” RF Spectrum which you are now illegally using.

This chart shows current activity by licensed owners in the greater Austin area.

The only safe spectrum for use by unlicensed wireless devices is between 470MHz and 608MHz, and we can use a tiny little bit of the “guard band” at 614MHz to 616MHz. This represents an overall decrease in useable spectrum space for unlicensed wireless devices by 84MHz in total; a lot less than many feared. This semi good news is offset by the fact that MORE wireless devices are being tossed into this part of the spectrum, and the net effect is we have to work with less spectrum.

For those who are relieved they don’t have any gear in the 600MHz band, don’t relax just yet! The Re-Pack isn’t just about the wireless band; it’s about the entire RF spectrum. Our portable, digital world of remote devices is eating up tons of space and causing this massive reorg or repack. With so much moving and changing, there will be ramifications down-stream as all this shifting occurs. This is the unfortunate part of being unlicensed and in a “shared” space. Your neighbor has as much right to use a certain channel as you do.

Spectrum use isn’t a problem that will go away with this Re-Pack. Our world is becoming more digital and more wireless. But there are some real and solid steps you can take to ensure your unlicensed wireless systems remain uninterrupted.

1. Get out of the spectrum that is above 608MHz.

  • Many wireless manufacturers are offering re-blocking or trade-in programs to help customers relocate. Ridge AV can help you find trade-in deals.

2. Perform or pay for periodic spectrum analysis to see what is out there, how close it is and to catch potential sources of interference.

3. As with any resource, be a good steward of it and conserve. Start by packing your wireless frequency use as tightly as possible:

  • Convert to digital wireless mics which are capable of compacting frequencies with excellent channel protection and protect against interference.

  • Use the same mic channels in a different part of your building or campus. With enough space and metal between them, mics on the same channel will not interfere with each other.

  • Use better antenna systems that are more directional to prevent picking up unwanted transmitters. This also helps with second bullet above.

4. Educate yourself on what is happening and when.

  • The FCC is the source of all of this. You can find their published policy regarding Wireless Mics and other devices here.

  • If you run into problems with other wireless owners, your local chapter of the Society of Broadcast Engineers can be a huge help as one of their missions is to coordinate frequencies and document that for their region.

  1. SBE Chapter 79 – Austin

  2. SBE Chapter 105 – Houston /

  3. SBE Chapter 69 – San Antonio

5. Finally, for you power users out there, those with 50 or more unlicensed wireless mics, the FCC has made way for power-users like churches and businesses to apply for a Part 74 Broadcast License! Along with being legal to operate transmitters up to 250Mw, your spectrum is now protected – by the government. And you will be listed and shown in the Government’s own “White Space List”.

The good news is this FCC Re-Pack is the absolute and final end to spectrum conflicts, and the world can now live in perfect harmony. Hopefully, you detected massive sarcasm in the previous sentence. Good luck!