FCC Announces Trial Database for Wireless Microphone Users

Background
Following television’s transition to digital broadcasting, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ordered that a specific portion of the broadcast spectrum be vacated. Performing arts organizations were among the users who were ordered to discontinue use of wireless microphones in the 700 MHz Band, but to accommodate the needs of the many unlicensed users, the FCC announced that two safe haven channels would be set apart for shared use by unlicensed TV band devices, including wireless microphones. These two safe haven channels are expected to provide a total of 16 frequencies, which may be sufficient for an individual institution; however, the usage of nearby venues must be taken into account in order to determine whether the aggregate usage might exceed the two channel allowance. Other potential wireless microphone users would include other arts organizations such as theaters and opera companies, but also houses of worship and any other institution that uses the “white space” between TV channels.

Participate in Trial Database NOW

To help prepare for the arrival and impact of new white space devices, the FCC has announced a public trial period of a TV band database that will remain open through November 2, 2011. All interested parties are encouraged to participate in the test database and share feedback, ask questions, and report any technical difficulties. Full instructions and access to the test database can be accessed here.

The trial database is not testing interference protection, but rather the functionality of the database itself. To participate, orchestras and other wireless microphone users must contact an authorized database system and provide their geographic location, after which the database will return a list of channels that are available for operation by the device for its specific location. This public trial is designed to ensure that the database system can correctly identify channels that are available for unlicensed TV band devices and properly register those facilities entitled to protection.

Sound engineers and operations personnel are urged to test the database! Although individual institutions can experiment with the trial database, venues where large numbers of unlicensed wireless microphones are used can apply to the database as a collective group during this trial period as well. All information entered into the testing site will be erased at the conclusion of the trial, so please remember to share your feedback and usage with the League by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Coming Soon
In addition to participating in the trial database, orchestras should ascertain now the number of other wireless microphone users that share the same range of broadcast channels.  Once the FCC has concluded the trial database and launches an official version, it is important to note that only those users who will exceed the safe haven allowance will be permitted to register in the new database to come.  Therefore, it is strongly recommended that wireless microphone users work together to determine their total usage and plan on applying for additional channels as a collective group. These groups or ad hoc coalitions need not be incorporated or formalized – there would simply need to be some system put in place to share anticipated usage for up to a year, submit the group’s request 30 days before the first performance, and let all participants know which channels are permitted by the database.
Details are subject to change and the procedure is still being formulated, but venues will only be able to request the exact number of channels needed.  The channels themselves can be swapped, but the number of them that are needed will have to be precise, with some demonstration that the safe haven allowance is insufficient.  Once approved, will be notified whether they can use the channels they requested, and they will need maneuver around others sharing that space as usual. 

  • Orchestras that expect frequency usage to exceed the safe haven channel provision should plan to register their needs with the database on their own. (Remember that all requests must be made 30 days in advance and can be submitted up for up to a one year period if known).
  • Orchestras that do not expect to exceed the safe haven allowance and also do not anticipate crowding by other users in the vicinity of the broadcasting range will simply need to stay within the designated safe haven channels.
  • Orchestras that do not expect to exceed the safe haven allowance but that operate in frequency-congested areas should coordinate with neighboring wireless microphone users and discuss forming a collective for the purposes of database registration.  It may be helpful for groups that can coordinate their information quickly to test their experience in the trial database before the public testing period ends on November 2, 2011.