Written by: Brad Duryea, Senior Design Engineer
What’s Going On, And Why Don’t My Wireless Mics Work Any More?
Most wireless microphones and in-ear monitoring (IEM) systems share the UHF-band airwaves with television stations, but historically there was plenty of available space to make this a harmonious relationship.
Over the last decade, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has sold large parts of this “wireless spectrum” to various commercial interests, in what are called the “spectrum auctions”.
Today, there is less than one-tenth the available space in which wireless microphones and IEM systems can reliably operate in Houston, and that may continue to shrink.
Most recently, many television stations have had to change their operating frequencies to move out of the auctioned off areas of the spectrum. This transition is known as the “TV Repack”, and it means that all of us are now living in very close quarters. Imagine sharing a tiny New York loft apartment with ten of your most outspoken relatives.
As a result of the newly-congested airwaves, Houstonarea wireless systems have become remarkably difficult to operate, and many systems are now entirely unusable.
What Are The Options?
Replace or upgrade your wireless devices with units that operate in the remaining clear spaces.
Go through an RF remediation process with an expert to squeeze the most out of your current system. This may be expensive and still might not solve everything, but the process can at least make sure the system is deployed well and that you’re following best practices.
Switch to wired microphones and IEM systems.
The biggest differences between high-end wireless systems and budget systems are:
The reliability of the radio link, especially in the adverse conditions we face today;
The number of simultaneous wireless channels you can use; and
Budget systems will be less stable and provide fewer usable channels than ever before. These should generally be avoided now, although there are certain cases where they may continue to serve their purpose.
Stable, reliable wireless equipment is expensive because there is far more engineering involved in making these devices work so well. This results in a better experience and more available simultaneous channels.
There are wireless devices designed for use in other areas of the spectrum that aren’t affected by the recent changes. Particularly, these are the VHF band and a couple of 900 MHz bands. Those bands may be a better fit in some situations, but they also have their drawbacks.
The rest of your wireless infrastructure (antenna types and locations, cabling, and RF signal management) have always been important, but they are even more essential now. It may be necessary to revisit these items to be sure you have the best possible foundation for well-behaved wireless.
As always, good frequency coordination (the science of making sure everybody “gets along”) is essential
The following TV channels should be available in Houston going forward:
DTV 16 482-488 MHz
DTV 18 494-500 MHz
VHF 12 204-210 MHz
There are some other channels, occupied by low-power TV stations, which may work for you
depending on where you’re located in Houston. However, it’s best not to plan on that.