13 December 2007
PLASA's intense lobbying campaign pays off as Ofcom awards PMSE interleaved spectrum
PLASA, and other industry representatives, have welcomed Ofcom's announcement today that it will allocate spectrum to the Programme Making and Special Events sector (PMSE), and not subject it to a market auction as was previously announced.
PLASA has worked actively with BEIRG (British Entertainment Industry Group) and the wider PMSE Pro User Group, financing a major lobbying campaign to get Ofcom to recognise that the user base for wireless microphones and in-ear monitors is so diverse and diffuse that participation in an auction to secure access to spectrum would result in a market failure.
In its statement on its approach to awarding the digital dividend, Ofcom has recognised the special needs of the sector, confirming that most of the 'digital interleaved' spectrum (two blocks of spectrum 470-550 MHz and 630-806 MHz) will be reserved for PMSE use, with six 8 MHz interleaved bands in any one given geographical location available to DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television). This will, in theory, leave 26 TV bands, or whitespace, for PMSE use.
Whilst welcoming the announcement, PLASA and BEIRG are now keen to clarify other aspects of the intended auction.
Ofcom is proposing that where a demand for local TV can be demonstrated, new low power multiplexes should be set up. Spectrum for these services will be allocated by auction and the spectrum used to achieve this will be in the interleaved blocks, so by definition there will be a further reduction in capacity for PMSE.
More critical is Ofcom's proposal to allow cognitive radio devices to operate in the interleaved spectrum if proof can be provided that they will not interfere with either digital television services or PMSE equipment. These devices, also known as 'whitespace devices' and being developed by some of the biggest names in the computing industry, are not yet in production. Prototype devices submitted to the FCC (Ofcom's equivalent regulator in the US) have so far failed to demonstrate that they can adequately detect digital TV signals, let alone low power devices such as radio microphones. Both PLASA and BEIRG are keen to see further detailed consultation on this aspect of the proposal.
There also remains a question mark over the future availability of TV bands 61 and 62. These bands are currently at the top of the second digital interleaved block, however, moves in Europe to try to establish a 'pan european mobile sub band', include these two bands (790 - 806 MHz). Whilst nothing has been decided at this stage, there remains the potential for a further reduction in PMSE spectrum availability.
Additionally, there is no mention in today's summary of one of the key issues on which PLASA and BEIRG are seeking clarification - the length of time the PMSE sector will be able to access the 'analogue interleaved' in the run up to complete DSO (Digital Switchover). This subject was addressed in a separate document released by Ofcom in October and whilst the statement was not conclusive, it did potentially pave the way for continued access to some of the 'analogue interleaved' until at least the end of 2012, ensuring a smooth transition for the PMSE sector and that equipment requirements for the 2012 Olympics can be met.
PLASA believes that had the campaign not been fought, the industry would now be faced with zero spectrum access. Whilst it recognises and welcomes the key concessions Ofcom has granted to the PMSE community, PLASA is clear that the lobbying campaign has to continue if the industry is to secure access to as much spectrum as possible for as long as possible.
Notes to Editors:
PLASA is the lead professional body for businesses that supply technologies and services to the event, entertainment and installation industries. Operating from offices in Europe and North America, the Association provides business support services to its growing worldwide membership, writes industry standards, leads the development of qualifications and focuses on improving the business practices adopted by the industry. With over 1100 members worldwide, it represents one of the largest member networks in the industry.
PLASA also runs successful media and events divisions and is responsible for the industry-leading magazines Lighting&Sound International, Lighting&Sound America and Protocol and the PLASA Show in London, together with the European and North American regional PLASA Focus events.