Broadband - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the British Entertainment Industry Radio Group (BEIRG)

  BEIRG is an independent, not-for-profit association that works for the benefit of all those who produce, show, distribute and ultimately consume content made using radio spectrum in the UK. As such it advocates the interests of the Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE) sector in the UK.

  The PMSE sector is responsible for both content production and content delivery for live and recorded entertainment. It plays a critical role in the ongoing success of the British Entertainment and Creative Industries. It consists of a wide and diverse community, both professional and amateur, including broadcasters, theatres, freelance engineers, rental companies, schools and houses of worship, organisers of events large and small, all of which use spectrum to relay sound and/or picture data across relatively short distances. This allows, for example, wireless microphones to be used on stage in musical theatre, and at events such as Live 8 and the Olympics. These wireless technologies are used extensively in the production of entertainment content, to the extent that they are either essential or add significant value. As an Independent Report commissioned by Ofcom notes, there are productions that are simply "not possible without using wireless technology".[10]

  This submission does not address the Government's proposals relating to broadband access as facilitated by wired infrastructure, but rather how the Government is proposing to increase the radio spectrum available for next generation mobile (wireless) broadband and the impact of these proposals on the PMSE sector. It is also written in anticipation of certain companies using this opportunity to push the "cognitive" or "white space" device agenda, devices that may be intended for mobile internet access.


  Ofcom has decided to clear the entire 800 MHz band (UHF channels 61-69) of television signals and PMSE services so it can be released for new services, such as mobile broadband, via auction. The Government supports this decision, as confirmed in the Digital Britain White Paper. Whilst Ofcom has decided to retain some spectrum capacity in lower UHF channels for PMSE use post-Digital Switchover (DSO), the current timescale for clearance is aggressive and will severely disrupt PMSE services, to the extent that their continuation is under threat. We therefore believe that the Government should take all necessary steps to minimise disruption to PMSE, including extending the timetable and ruling-out clearing the band on a regional basis. We would like the committee to consider including these recommendations in its report.

  "Cognitive" or "white space" devices pose a different problem for PMSE. These devices seek to make use of unused interleaved spectrum—the white space—in real time by continually scanning the airwaves for the presence of licensed users' devices. The theory is that when they identify unused white space they can operate. The fundamental problem is that to date, trials in the USA by the Federal Communications Commission show they do not work properly. These devices are touted by companies such as Google, Dell and Microsoft as a new communications technology that could be used for mobile internet access without a requirement for a wireless telegraphy licence. The main concern for the PMSE sector with regard to these applications is that it has been proposed by Ofcom, supported by the Government, that they will operate on those frequencies due to be reserved for PMSE.

  Cognitive devices are an unproven technology. If they are permitted into the UK market in line with current proposals for device specification and spectrum access, will in all likelihood cause interference to licensed PMSE applications and consequently undermine the UK's ability to produce quality content by rendering radio microphones, in-ear monitor systems and talkback effectively unusable. This will devastate the live music, theatre and film and TV production industries, amongst others. As we do not believe that it is possible for guarantees to be provided that cognitive devices will not, under any circumstances, interfere with licensed PMSE applications, we strongly believe that cognitive devices should be deployed in alternative bands that would not be 'shared' with PMSE applications. We would like the committee to consider including this recommendation in its report.


  1.  The PMSE sector currently operates in the interleaved spectrum in channels 61-68 on a secondary basis, and channel 69 is dedicated for PMSE use UK-wide. The vast majority of radio microphones and in-ear monitor applications in the UK operate in these bands.

  2.  On 13 December 2007, Ofcom decided to clear channels 63-68 of television transmissions and clear channels 61-68 of PMSE (as well as those channels in the 600 MHz band) so they could be released via auction, as per the spectrum liberalisation agenda. At the same time, Ofcom decided to award channel 69 and most of the remaining interleaved spectrum to a band manager with obligations to PMSE.

  3.  Timescale-wise, Ofcom's 2007 position was that PMSE access to the cleared spectrum would be terminated on a piecemeal basis as each region switched to digital broadcasting. Ofcom attempted to provide some security by allowing PMSE temporary access to channels 63-68 up until the point when new users needed access to the spectrum, with six months' eviction notice.

  4.  The timescale suggested by Ofcom in 2007 for clearing PMSE from the DDR spectrum would create major problems for the sector, including manufacturers who need time to develop new equipment, those who use its services, and also threatened the "broadcastibility" of the Olympics. In addition, it was difficult to envisage the new owners of the cleared spectrum wishing to deploy their services prior to the completion of DSO and hence the spectrum being available UK-wide. Consequently, BEIRG lobbied hard to extend temporary PMSE access to the entirety of cleared spectrum (both 600 and 800 MHz bands) UK-wide until at least after the Olympics in 2012. This position was supported by the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG)[11] and the arguments backed-up by statements from T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and O2 in August 2008:

    (a) Vodafone stated that "The current proposed timing of summer 2009 for the auction of cleared spectrum is not realistic, nor is it necessary given that the spectrum will not be available for launch of mobile services until towards the end of 2012."[12]

    (b) T-Mobile stated that "Whilst Ofcom is correct that some areas of the UK will be switching off their analogue TV signal before 2012, the fact is that any nationwide operator or broadcaster would not consider offering a nationwide service until after London analogue TV signal is switched off in 2012, irrespective of the date of auction. Mass market equipment for mobile operators is unlikely to be available until 2012 at the earliest, and so there is little value in having access to this spectrum earlier than this date."[13]

    (c) Orange stated that "In any event, it is not clear why there is such a rush by Ofcom to award the spectrum "in the interests of citizens and consumers'. Without any equipment available, there can be no services. The spectrum will not be released in London until 2012, hence cannot be used until after this date."[14]

    (d) O2 stated that "National access to spectrum would be needed by mobile network operators to deploy mobile broadband services".[15]

  5.  Ofcom have since recognised the importance of continuity of PMSE access to the cleared spectrum, taking into account the need to allow sufficient time for an orderly migration of PMSE from the cleared spectrum and ensuring that a sufficient stock of suitable equipment is available for use for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.[16] Consequently, Ofcom proposed in their consultation on clearing the 800 MHz band to maintain PMSE access to channels 31-35, 37 and 61-69 until DSO is completed in the UK until late 2012.[17] However, things have since changed.

  6.  The Government stated in the Digital Britain Report that it "is committed to the timely release of 800 MHz spectrum and will work with Ofcom to understand and meet the technical challenges. It has already endorsed Ofcom's proposal setting out plans to clear channels 61, 62 and 69. The Government will facilitate this re-planning and will meet the costs incurred by broadcasters and PMSE users as a result of these changes".[18]

  7.  Further to the Government's position set out in the Digital Britain Interim Report and subsequent White Paper, it appointed the Independent Spectrum Broker (ISB) to resolve the Mobile Network Operators' spectrum holdings and allocation issues, potentially involving a recommendation for the Government to direct Ofcom to take certain action relating to the clearance, release and packaging of the 800 MHz band (now channels 61-69 inclusive).

  8.  In light of these developments, Ofcom changed its position and has only provided guaranteed PMSE access to the 800 MHz band until 1 January 2012 rather than late 2012. We understand that this was done so as not to contradict any possible future Government intervention to accelerate the clearance of the 800 MHz band, potentially on a regional basis. Subsequent to this, Ofcom asked the following in its consultation on PMSE funding: "How would a decision to clear PMSE from channel 69 on 1 January 2012 affect you? What could we and the Government do to provide for an orderly migration in these circumstances?" These questions have fuelled our concerns that the timetable for PMSE clearance will be adjusted again to the detriment of the PMSE sector.

  9.  The vast majority of wireless microphones and in-ear monitors in the UK operate in the 800 MHz band. Ofcom have estimated that 95% of all wireless microphones in the UK are designed to tune to channel 69. In order to clear the 800 MHz band of PMSE, all the relevant equipment that operates in this band in the UK will need to be destroyed or retuned. In order to continue providing valuable services, PMSE equipment-owners will need to replace or modify existing 800 MHz equipment with equipment that operates in the remaining (ie post-DSO) interleaved spectrum and/or channel 38. Demand for this new equipment and modification services will need to be met by manufacturers and other relevant parties. Ofcom have recognised that this process will take time and therefore proposed a migration period of three years.[19] The PMSE Pro User Group has stated that it would take longer than this; at least three years for development plus a further seven years for market penetration.[20] Aside from arguments about how much time is required to migrate PMSE users from the 800 MHz band in an orderly and efficient fashion, there are currently significant barriers to this process even getting underway. In this regard, it is important to distinguish between PMSE users of "channel 69" and PMSE users of channels 61-68.

  10.  Ofcom proposed to clear channel 69 of PMSE and include it in the 800 MHz auctions rather than award it for PMSE use in February this year. Ofcom has since announced that channel 38 will be cleared of radio astronomy and awarded to the band manager as a replacement and stated that "users can therefore now begin to move from channel 69."[21] However, due to the needs of significant groups of PMSE users, this is not the case; they cannot move from channel 69 because use of channel 38 is restricted. Channel 38 is used for radio astronomy services centered around Jodrell Bank (Cheshire) and in Cambridge. As a consequence of the requirement to protect radio astronomy from interference, channel 38 is unusable for PMSE in large areas of the North East, the Midlands and East Anglia. In addition, there are areas across the UK where channel 38 can only be used indoors in order to protect terrestrial TV from interference in neighbouring channel 37.

  11.  As a consequence of these severe restrictions on the usability of channel 38, all those who need their equipment to be useable UK-wide (mobile/travelling productions) or specifically in those restricted locations (fixed venue) have no option but to continue to use existing channel 69 equipment and if they need new equipment to invest in new channel 69 equipment.

  12.  Whilst Ofcom have said that they will engage with radio astronomy users to try and reduce the restrictions on PMSE use of channel 38, the current position is that radio astronomy's use of channel 38 will continue until 1st January 2012. BEIRG's understanding is that it is in the Government's gift, and not Ofcom's, to expedite the clearance of radio astronomy from channel 38. In addition, the restricted use of channel 38 to indoors only due to the need to protect television transmissions in adjacent channel 37 will remain until the digital switchover (DSO) is completed in each region, culminating in London in mid-2012.

  13.  The upshot of the current situation laid out above is that a large number of PMSE users of channel 69 will not be able to migrate from channel 69 until 1st January 2012. These are UK-wide users (mobile/travelling productions) and fixed venue users in the affected areas.

  14.  If the situation remains as is, with PMSE retaining access to the cleared spectrum (including channel 69) until 1st January 2012 only and channel 38 only clear of radio astronomy by this date, for all the affected users and owners of channel 69 equipment above, the migration to channel 38 seems to be expected to take place overnight. Quite simply, BEIRG does not see how this would be possible. Ofcom's position is that three years will be required for an orderly and efficient migration to take place and the PMSE Pro User Group considered that it would take longer.

  15.  But the question of clearing the 800 MHz band of PMSE does not just relate to migrating from channel 69 to channel 38. In order to clear the 800 MHz band of PMSE, users will need to migrate not just from channel 69, but also from channels 61-69 inclusive, where the vast majority of PMSE equipment in the UK market operates.

  16.  In respect of channels 63-68, Ofcom has stated that the PMSE sector was provided with notice at the beginning of the DDR on 17 November 2005 that these frequencies were under threat.[22] In respect of channels 61 and 62, Ofcom decided on 13 December 2007 that 'this spectrum would be removed from PMSE use.[23] However, whilst Ofcom had announced that these frequencies would not be useable for PMSE, no certainty has been provided as to which frequencies in the post-DSO interleaved spectrum will be available for PMSE. Ofcom has provided general "reassurances" about the overall availability of interleaved spectrum, but has not provided data which shows the definitive configuration of the post-DSO interleaved spectrum and will not be able to do so until mid-2010 once the international negotiations for reorganization of DTT have been completed. As a consequence of this lack of certainty, the PMSE sector has no option but to continue to manufacture and invest in equipment that operates in the spectrum due to be cleared of PMSE and is not able to migrate into replacement bands.

  17.  Under current plans, migration of PMSE users from the interleaved spectrum in channels 61-68 into the post-DSO interleaved spectrum cannot possibly start until mid-2010. Even then, it is not clear that users will be able to migrate because the post-DSO interleaved frequencies may not be available in the locations where users wish to operate their equipment due to discrepancies in configuration between analogue and digital television transmissions and channels 21-30 and 41-60 will still be used for analogue TV up until the point where DSO takes place in each region. As per the transition time required for migration from channel 69, we expect it to take at least three years for the PMSE sector to migrate from channels 61-68.

  18.  If PMSE access to the 800 MHz band is terminated before the sector has been able to replace all existing equipment with alternative equipment that meets the current operational needs of end users then its ability to offer the wide range of products and services to citizens and consumers of the UK will be severely restricted. Under current proposals, this is what will happen.

  19.  We believe that a decision to prematurely clear PMSE from the 800 MHz band would disrupt the PMSE sector, particularly travelling productions that need to use more than 8 radio microphones. The need to swap equipment as they move from venue to venue as dictated by having to adapt to the variation in frequency allocation will add to costs significantly and potentially render them financially unviable. We also believe clearing the 800 MHz band of PMSE will threaten the availability of sufficient stocks of PMSE equipment for the Olympic Games.

  20.  Whilst we do not believe that it would be possible to clear the 800 MHz band of PMSE by 1st January 2012 because of the timescales involved in the development, production and distribution of sufficient equipment to re-equip the vast majority of the PMSE sector, the following conditions would help to expedite the migration of PMSE:

    1. Certainty about which interleaved frequencies will be available for PMSE use post-DSO—without this certainty, manufacturers cannot develop, let alone supply equipment -and users cannot determine their needs

    2. Ensure that funding provided to those eligible covers the full costs of replacing all existing equipment that will be rendered redundant as a result of DSO/DDR with like-for-like alternatives, including that which tunes to channels 31-37 and 61-68 as well as 69. This will help to ensure that equipment owners can afford to replace existing equipment. If PMSE users can afford to replace existing equipment and funding is provided upon approval, this will stimulate manufacturers in terms of commercial imperative and help facilitate an early migration, but also early preparation for the migration (ie users will have the equipment ready to use at the time the spectrum becomes available to the extent that it can accommodate their operational needs).

    3. Maximise the availability of channel 38 as soon as possible (as availability of channel 38 is increased, it will become more suitable to meet PMSE users operational needs and hence increase the proportion of users who would be willing to migrate).

    4. Ensure that there is a reasonable period of dual like-for-like availability of (a) channels 69 and 38 and the (b) pre-DSO and post-DSO interleaved spectrum. Without this dual-availability, there is a considerable risk that manufacturers will experience order backlogs, thus increasing the risk of regulatory and market failure. However, the need for dual availability could be lessened by allowing equipment owners to stockpile replacement equipment and use existing equipment in the meantime, which in turn would need to be facilitated by providing like-for-like funding upon application.

    5. Provide funding as soon as claims are approved (to facilitate early migration to channel 38 and/or the post-DSO interleaved spectrum for those PMSE users for which this is convenient).

    6. Equipment that operates in the cleared spectrum must not be surrendered until replacement equipment can be deployed in the same way.

    7. The funding mechanism would need to be put in place as soon as possible.

    8. Consideration of direct capital injections to manufacturers to ensure that they have the resources to develop and produce sufficient equipment to replace all that will be affected.

    9. Security of tenure in those frequencies until at least 2026. Certainty increases the incentives to invest in, develop and produce more efficient applications for the mass market that operate on channel 38 and the post-DSO interleaved spectrum. It will also increase innovation, which will lead to more efficient use. In this regard, we would recommend allocating channels 38-40 for PMSE use on a more favourable basis than "secondary use".

    10. Licensing arrangements for channels 38-40 must mirror current arrangements for channel 69, the licences for channels 38-40 must not be any more expensive than those currently issued for use of channel 69 and users should not be required to purchase a channel 38 licence until channel 69 expires.


  1.  "Cognitive" or "white space" devices pose a different problem for PMSE. They are being touted by companies such as Google, Dell and Microsoft as a new communications technology that could be used for mobile internet access without a requirement for a wireless telegraphy licence. The main concern for the PMSE sector with regard to these applications is that it has been proposed by Ofcom, as supported by the Government, that they will use those frequencies due to be reserved for PMSE.

  2.  In respect of "cognitive" or "white space" devices, the Digital Britain Report stated the following:

    (a) "a number of companies have argued that the so-called wireless white spaces (interleaved spectrum) provide an opportunity for exciting new wireless services such as enhanced wi-fi in the UK. These have potential in rural areas to deliver broadband connectivity."[24]

    (b) "There is broad agreement that the opportunities offered by cognitive devices should be further explored, although there are concerns about the scope for interference to licensed users operating in and around the interleaved spectrum and ongoing questions about technical constraints. Whilst recognising those concerns, the Government also believes that there are significant opportunities for innovative services to be delivered, that would further the achievement of Digital Britain."[25]

    (c) "The Government will therefore encourage Ofcom to carry out the necessary technical work and testing to establish the parameters for use and will support Ofcom to achieve the international harmonisation that is required."[26]

  3.  Ofcom concluded a consultation process in the Spring of this year on licence-exempting cognitive devices using interleaved spectrum.[27] PMSE applications such as wireless microphones have been deployed in the interleaved spectrum for decades and are essential for the production of live and recorded entertainment including the Performing Arts, Broadcasting, News Gathering, Film and Independent Production, Corporate Events, Concerts, Night Venues and Sports Events.

  4.  Any interference with PMSE applications will disrupt content production at its live source. As a consequence of this interference, the value and benefits this content would normally generate through its consumption via a variety of media and exposure to a much wider audience will be significantly reduced or lost at the beginning of the value chain. Moreover, any interference, however short in duration and irrespective of whether it is transient, to PMSE applications is harmful, particularly for live professional performances. No audio distortions or disruptions are acceptable to contemporary audiences.

  5.  Whilst we accept that, in principle, any device which definitively does not and will not cause any interference to licensed users should be able to use the same spectrum as those licensed users on a licence-exempt basis, we have severe reservations that any form of cognitive device will be able to meet these conditions. Indeed, cognitive devices could destroy the PMSE sector's ability to produce content unless it can be guaranteed that they can not, and will not, cause interference to licensed PMSE users of the radio spectrum under any circumstances. We do not believe that it is possible to provide such a guarantee. Cognitive devices are unproven and have failed repeatedly to detect and avoid interfering with PMSE, specifically wireless microphones, as evidenced by the tests carried out by the FCC.

  6.  Ofcom must take these points into account when considering whether cognitive access to the interleaved spectrum should be permitted at all. Based on current evidence, it will risk devastating live and recorded content production without guaranteeing any discernible benefits to citizens and consumers of the UK. Further risks are that (1) devices that do not meet the requisite technical specifications may be used in the UK nonetheless or (2) the devices could be adjusted[28] to remove the interference-protection functions.

  7.  In light of these risks, we believe that Ofcom must consider restricting cognitive devices to bands where there are no incumbent PMSE applications; whilst we do not believe (and indeed current evidence suggests) that they can coexist with existing radiomicrophones and other short-range licensed wireless devices, deployment in alternative available bands will not preclude future coexistence with new technologies or applications.

  8.  If Ofcom do insist on allowing cognitive access to the interleaved spectrum, they should not squander the benefits of PMSE and DTT to UK citizens and consumers by setting weak interference prevention standards and allowing a flood of inexpensive devices to enter the band that will likely interfere not only with incumbent services, but also with each other.

25 September 2009

10 section 7.1 Back

11 Back

12 page 7 Back

13 page 10 Back

14 page 5 Back

15 pt. 20 Back

16 para 5.64 Back

17 question 13 Back

18 page 78 Back

19 question 15 Back

20 page 4 Back

21 section 7.16 Back

22 section 5.115 Back

23 section 5.114 Back

24   Digital Britain Report, page 80 Back

25   Digital Britain Report, page 81 Back

26   Digital Britain Report, page 81 Back

27 Back

28   In a way analogous to mobile phones being 'unlocked' Back

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