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What Pastors Need to Consider: Looming RF Spectrum Changes

What Pastors Need to Consider: Looming RF Spectrum Changes

The Mt. Vesuvius effect relates to impending changes regarding usage of the RF spectrum. Changes that will affect wireless transmission, including wireless mics worn by vocalists and pastors. Here's what you need to know.

First let’s take a look back to better understand how to procede.

Way back in '79 79 AD that is, when some of our industry veterans were just getting started, Mt. Vesuvius erupted, completely destroying the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and killing an estimated 16,000 people in the process.

No doubt you've read about this in history class or seen a documentary about it.

What you may not know is that Vesuvius had erupted several times before, including several larger ones such as in 1,800 BC where several bronze age settlements were wiped out. Minor eruptions happen every few decades or centuries and continue to this day.

And yet, today an estimated 3 Million people live within the potential kill radius of this dangerous volcano, despite the fact that it will have a major eruption again someday.

How is this possible? I call it the Vesuvius Effect, or "It can't Happen to Me." It is part of our human nature, apparently.

Replacing Worn/Obsolete Equipment

I recently received a call from an integrator looking to find a way to continue using old software with old hardware. As he described it, "the hardware still works fine, but we can't get the software to run any more."

This was equipment we stopped making at Lectrosonics more than 10 years ago and had supported up until a few years ago when the whole 32/64 bit transition came around. After that, it became very daunting to continue support due to the USB driver problems and other software issues.

The only way to keep this particular customer's gear running would be to keep an old PC around running an old OS. And we all know that just recently, Windows XP was dropped from support by Microsoft.

Even still, I felt for him and his customer because this has happened to all of us: perfectly good hardware becomes obsolete when it can no longer be updated, accessed, set up, controlled, or monitored.

What I couldn't understand, though, was why they had not budgeted for hardware upgrades on a reasonable time frame. As we all know, most hardware today runs on software, and software requires fairly constant updating for minor issues. Then, every few years, a major update is required. As pointed out above, sometimes there is a major shift or external change that causes a whole class of devices to be rendered obsolete.

But even the hardware itself can be a ticking time bomb, just waiting for the worst possible moment to fail.

Take power amplifiers for example: the power capacitors inside only last so long. 10-12 years is a good rule of thumb for major overhauls or replacement. Sure, it might seem like a "power amp doesn't have any moving parts and should last forever" but unfortunately this is not true.

And if common sense (otherwise known as the manufacturer's recommended replacement schedule) is ignored then it just might go "poof" right in the middle of a church service, a presidential debate or a big rock show. Not something any of us would want. Although we might smile inwardly for the presidential debate one.

RF Spectrum

So let's get to an issue that is near and dear, or at least near to our hearts: RF spectrum and wireless microphones.

Starting in the late 1990s, we all came to know that there would be a transition in TV broadcasts from analog to digital during the early 2000s. At the same time, some of the spectrum (the 700 MHz band) would be sold off in a series of auctions.

Through most of the decade between 2000 and 2010, there were numerous articles in the trade magazines, information on web sites and advice from manufacturers about which bands to avoid.

As we got to about 2007, the information campaign ramped up. Manufacturers began shutting down US sales of 700 MHz wireless gear.

Owners of this equipment were prompted to sell it off or retire it since it would be become illegal to operate at some point (finally it was in June, 2010).

Manufacturers began offering rebate programs and service plans to help equipment owners, rental houses and users make the transition. In other words, it is safe to say that basically everyone in the industry knew that the volcano was going to explode, and we even knew when.

Most listened to this advice but many did not.

In December 2014 (3.5 years after the deadline to stop using 700 MHz equipment), I was on a panel at the IMFCON (Music and Film Festival conference) talking about the importance of frequency coordination.

Someone in the audience asked about a situation where all his wireless mics seemed to work fine until show time then they began taking strong interference. It turns out he was using 700 MHz equipment, and the LTE service in his area blew those mics off the air once all the people showed up with their smart phones.

RF Spectrum, Again

Now, we are again faced with another loss of spectrum, this time the band between 614 698 MHz about 84 MHz worth.

What does this mean for all of us?

First, educate yourself on the issue by reading the various articles or attending the various workshops or panels on the subject. Then, plan accordingly. The bottom line is this: we will need to vacate this spectrum between now and 2020. The good news is that we have a little bit of time (about 3 years) to plan accordingly. The bad news is that this is really happening, and you and I can't ignore it.

What can we do, exactly?

I would suggest retiring the oldest equipment that is in the 600 MHz band and replace it with gear down below 608 MHz. Next, I would suggest putting a broader replacement plan in place in preparation to sell off or re-tune (if applicable) any equipment that tunes anywhere between 608-698 MHz. Newer gear from the major manufacturers offers wider tuning bandwidth, better filtering and a host of other nice features to make our lives easier.

Same goes for other types of equipment, right along with our own personal levels of training and preparedness don't let old gear, old software or old ideas be the cause of some future problem.

Regardless of the specific issue at hand, we all need to stay on top of things that can or will affect us, even if it seems like they might be off in the future somewhere.

In other words, don't get buried in the ash.

This article is courtesy of sister website Prosoundweb.

TAGS: News Audio Audio
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