The End of Wireless Audio as We Know it

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

Originally published first on www.nycproductionsound.com

Whenever a year begins, I've always found it beneficial to reflect and prepare for the changes and challenges each new year brings. Today I’m going to focus on something invisible to most, that soon will become a very visible problem. However, with proper planning and awareness, the impact of a problem can often be reduced or eliminated entirely.

Let's talk about Wireless microphones aka “lavs” and the radio frequencies that use them.

In April of 2017, the FCC announced that a portion of the 600mhz frequency spectrum (614 - 698mhz) had been sold to T-Mobile for exclusive use in cellular communication applications. The 600mhz band up until now had enjoyed many years of popular use in a variety of wireless audio applications.
 

 

Too many filmmakers (not a privy to the secrets of the sound department) say, “A lav is just a lav." In reality, every piece of wireless gear, whether it be the WiFi in your apartment, the cell phone in your pocket, or that lav you just threw on camera for your latest run-and-gun doc, occupies a specific range of frequencies each according to its design specs.

Unfortunately, now thanks to the FCC auction things are going to start getting crowded fast.

The official transition period for the 600mhz band will be ending July 13, 2020. However, in certain markets, this change will be occurring sooner with adoption or testing to begin as early as 2018. Because of this, operators utilizing the 600MHz band will gradually begin to experience reliability and interference issues as the new frequency deadline approaches. 

Our friends over at Gotham Sound have created a great chart listing various FCC 600 MHz transitions by region and date. 

View The Chart

This change will affect approximately half of the UHF wireless microphone systems in existence, rendering them obsolete or in need of modification.

For starters check to see if the gear that you already own will be affected.

The list above is not meant to be extensive. Check your owners manual to see if your unit currently falls within the 614 - 698mhz bandwidth. If your unit slightly overlaps past the 614 MHz you can still use it. Just be sure not to use it past the 614MHz range once the frequency changes take effect.

 

Don't panic!

Here are a few options on what to do with your soon to be problematic wireless gear. 

Get Your Gear Re-Blocked

Certain manufacturers, such as Lectrosonics, offer a factory re-blocking service (for a fee) to ensure your gear will be compliant with the FCC change. Unfortunately, not all wireless microphone manufacturers are able to offer this service. Check with your dealer or manufacturer for more info.

Sell Your Unit Abroad

Frequency ranges soon to be obsolete in the USA are still legal to use in other parts of the world. Try listing your unit for sale on international production groups or auction sites like eBay to locate an appropriate buyer abroad. Always remember to use caution when selling gear to people you do not know.

Trade-in/ Buy New

A number of manufacturers have begun offering trade-programs for 600MHz affected gear. Listed below are some of the deals currently on offer. Keep in mind that these all feature an expiration date. 

Lectrosonics Wireless Rebate
Sennheiser Wireless Rebate
Shure Wireless Rebate
Audio Technica Wireless Rebate

Unpaid plug: Contact Nick Huston over at Gotham Sound for more info on current 600MHz new purchase offers. These guys are extremely knowledgeable and we cannot recommend them enough. Tell them Joseph sent you. 

The Future of Wireless

Unfortunately, there is no way to predict with 100% certainty what the future RF landscape will hold. Investing in something like a wide-band wireless system is a great way to maximize the performance and longevity of your wireless audio systems.  Wide band is especially useful in RF crowded environments. In markets such as NYC and LA, the benefits of wide band wireless will become even more apparent once the frequency restructuring is completed.

At NYC Production Sound wide band wireless is an innovation we have built into all our audio packages. We’ve chosen Zaxcomm for our wide band wireless audio needs but manufacturers such as Lectrosonics and WisyCom also make a great product.

Thanks for reading. Please send us a message if you have any questions.

- JW
 

Joseph Wolensky
NYC Production Sound
Owner & Production Sound Mixer

Phone: 646 820 7757

letsroll@nycproductionsound.com

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