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Wireless: FCC Announces Details of the 600 mHz Takeover

By Bill Evans / April 22, 2014

We have new wireless news. For once some of it is good news. At least in the short term

1) The auction is on. Sometime in 2015. It’s a complicated process and it is not going to be a quick one. There will be two auctions. A reverse auction in which the folks who want the bandwidth (cell companies) offer a price that goes DOWN with each round of bidding (to encourage broadcasters to take an early bid) followed by a forward auction where the prices rise with each round as long as the demand outstrips the supply.

2) After the auction comes a “repacking” process. This is where the FCC will basically force broadcasters who do not sell into more compact areas of the spectrum in order to clear the greatest amount of space.

3) After the repacking comes a transition period. Broadcasters will have as long as 39 months to vacate the spectrum after the auction and repacking.

4) Unlicensed “legacy” users (including wireless mics and monitors) will be allowed to continue operating during the transition period. Note this does not mean that every part of the 600 band will remain usable for the entire period. The 39 months is the upper limit of any transition time.

So if we do the math and figure the auction starts in mid 2015 it is likely that the auction and repacking will extend well into 2016. And even if we get, say, half of that 39 month transition, most of are are likely ok until sometime in 2018 and maybe even into 2019. That’s five years.

So, your existing 600 mHz gear will—it appears at this point—continue to serve for about as long as the average rental company takes to depreciate their gear purchases.

And there is tech stuff happening that could extend it well past that time frame. It is all about the mid-band gap and the bumper guard spectrum.

This spectrum is about data, not phone service. And data spectrum is split into separate uplink and downlink segments and the two can’t interfere with each other. So each chunk will have a segment of about 6 mHz separating them. The one between the uplink and downlink is the mid-band gap and the one between uplink/downlink chunks is the bumper guard. There is a good chance we will be able to operate in those pieces of the plectrum even when this is all said and done. Those watching the process and dealing with the FCC expect the mid-band gap and bumper guard to be between 6 and 10 mHz each.

But don’t get complacent. We are not the only ones who will be looking to use these bits of spectrum. The “white space” devices that were part of the original 700 mHz fight are just starting to hit the market and the tech companies making them will be battling for exclusive or at least priority use of the bits left over after the auction.

Bottom line. Wireless is going to continue to get harder and probably more expensive as spectrum become harder to come by. Looking for job security? Learn how to wrangle wireless frequencies…

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