Spectrum - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the British Entertainment Industry Radio Group


—  Demand for PMSE services is continuing to grow, whilst PMSE access to spectrum is being further eroded.

—  Access to sufficient quality and quantity of spectrum is vital to the continuing operation of the PMSE sector.

—  PMSE's eviction from the 800MHz has caused significant disruption to the sector.

—  Future sell-offs of the 600MHz or 700MHz bands would lead to market failure in the PMSE sector.

—  The PMSE sector delivers financial, cultural and social benefits to UK citizens and consumers; it is essential that these benefits are balanced against the potential financial windfalls of selling-off spectrum.


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, houses of worship, and 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, adding significant value to production. As an Independent Report commissioned by Ofcom notes, there are productions that are simply "not possible without using wireless technology".[16]

The entertainment industry contributes at least £15 billion annually to the UK economy. This is a growing industry with an ever increasing importance for the UK economy and cultural reputation. For example, in 2009 (the last figures available) revenues and attendance at London theatres reached their highest ever. Gross box office revenue was over £500 million, with over 14 million attendances at shows.[17]

This submission addresses 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. BEIRG believes the benefits that PMSE brings to consumers and the economy must be considered of equal value to the financial gains which may be made by auctioning the spectrum. This submission also addresses the future demand for spectrum by broadband providers, and the dangers posed to PMSE by white space devices, which are seen by some as a means to increasing mobile internet access.


Ofcom has decided to clear the entire 800 MHz band (UHF channels 61-69) of television signals and PMSE services so that it can be released via auction for new services, such as mobile broadband. The Government supports this decision. Whilst some spectrum capacity in lower UHF channels has been maintained for PMSE use post-Digital Switchover (DSO), the clearance of PMSE services from their previous nationally available dedicated channel, channel 69, has caused a great deal of disruption to the industry. The 800MHz band auction will also reduce the level of interleaved spectrum available for PMSE use. PMSE users have become increasingly concerned about whether there will be sufficient spectrum available to them post—DSO.

As a disparate and diffuse community, the PMSE industry is unable to compete financially at auction against multinational telecoms companies for access to spectrum. However, the social and cultural benefits of this industry are immeasurable. As the Committee has recognised, in the Terms of Reference for this inquiry, it is essential to strike a balance between raising funds for the Treasury and ensuring that the best outcome is delivered for citizens and consumers.

Not only is quantity of spectrum vital to ensuring the continuance of the PMSE industry, the spectrum must also be free from interference. White space devices pose a real problem for the PMSE industry. These devices seek to make use of interleaved spectrum, which PMSE relies on for its continued operation. The PMSE sector is extremely concerned that there are moves to introduce these devices into the spectrum currently used by licensed PMSE users, before any "real life" testing has taken place and before Ofcom is in a position to guarantee that existing licensed users will not be negatively affected.

White space devices are an unproven technology. If they are permitted into the UK market in line with current proposals they will, in all likelihood, cause interference to licensed PMSE applications and consequently undermine the UK's ability to produce quality content because they will render 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.

This submission addresses the following points in the Terms of Reference:

—  Whether the upcoming auction can provide value for money for tax payers and how that should be balanced with benefits for consumers; and

—  The possible impact on alternative users of spectrum.


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

2.  In December 2006, Ofcom consulted on a deregulated channel 69 retained for PMSE use. BEIRG opposed deregulation: without official licencing of frequencies, PMSE users would have no statutory protection from interference. Ofcom announced, in December 2007, that channel 69 would not be deregulated; instead it would continue to be licenced and awarded to a band manager with responsibilities to the PMSE industry.

3.  Then in February 2009, Ofcom announced a change in policy and that channel 69 would be cleared for auction. As a disparate and diffuse community, the PMSE industry is unable to compete financially at auction against multinational telecoms companies for access to spectrum. Recognising the importance of the industry, but also the constraints it faces in competing with telecoms companies, Ofcom decided on the policy of a band manager with responsibilities to PMSE. These constraints still exist for the industry.

4.  Channel 69 has been an essential component of PMSE use of spectrum, being the only channel available UK-wide. Ofcom estimates that 95% of PMSE equipment tunes to channel 69. The clearance of channel 69 has resulted in significant costs and disruption to PMSE users. PMSE users were originally expected by Ofcom to fund their forced move.

5.  BEIRG led the "Save Our Sound" campaign aimed at securing funding for the move, and limited funding has since been secured for certain PMSE users. However this move has still put a significant financial and administrative burden on owners of wireless equipment:

—  Only 55% of the cost of replacement equipment is being funded;

—  Only those who held a channel 69 licence between February 2008 and February 2009 are eligible to claim funding; and

—  There is a heavy burden of proof of ownership, despite some equipment having been purchased many years ago.

6.  Channel 38 will be the new dedicated PMSE channel. This is still not available UK-wide, due to radio-astronomy activities in Jodrell Bank (Cheshire) and Cambridge. As a consequence of the requirement to protect radio astronomy from interference, channel 38 is currently unusable for PMSE in large areas of the North East, the Midlands and East Anglia.

7.  Clearance of the 800MHz band has caused significant financial and operational disruption to the PMSE industry. Despite being a compliant and conscientious user of spectrum over many years, the PMSE industry's ability to continue operating is being threatened.

8.  Ofcom's recent publication "Future access to interleaved spectrum for programme making and special events"[18] has considered whether, post-DSO, there will be sufficient level of spectrum available for PMSE to meet its requirements. BEIRG is extremely concerned about the availability of good quality interleaved spectrum available to PMSE. BEIRG is currently undertaking a full analysis of the deficiencies of future spectrum availability. In the course of this, it is necessary to consult other stakeholders and industry experts. As a result, this analysis will not be completed before 7 June. BEIRG will provide a copy of this analysis to the Committee upon completion.

9.  It is essential that PMSE has access to a sufficient quantity of spectrum in order to ensure that all sizes of events can operate at locations throughout the UK. It is also essential that the quality of this spectrum is protected by ensuring that in all instances it is free from interference.


10.  BEIRG believes any future users of the 800MHz spectrum must be prevented from interfering with existing licensed users in the adjacent bands. Ofcom must make every effort to ensure that new use of the 800MHz band is as clean as possible, as soon as possible. Given the disruption already faced by the PMSE sector, any further disruption would be unacceptable and unsustainable.

11.  Ofcom must ensure that any new services in channel 69 do not interfere with the 863—865 MHz band ("channel 70"). Applications that operate in the 863—865 MHz band include hearing aids, wireless headphones, and touring guide systems all of which must be protected from damaging out-of-band interference.

12.  Following PMSE's eviction from channel 69, many users have been advised by Ofcom,[19] Equiniti[20] and the PMSE band manager JFMG[21] that channel 70 is available to them as an alternative to channel 69. Indeed, many ex-channel 69 users have equipment which is still able to operate within channel 70. Ofcom must protect those users who are now migrating to channel 70. If no protection is available, it is essential that Ofcom makes every effort to warn users that channel 70 will become unusable once new services come online. Until they have undertaken testing to ensure that channel 70 will not suffer interference from adjacent users, Ofcom and its agents must not continue to advise users to move to channel 70.

13.  BEIRG believes that in the case that new service operators do cause interference to adjacent users; this must be considered a suitable condition for their licence to be revoked. Existing PMSE spectrum users must be protected from interference caused by new technologies within the 800 MHz band.


14.  Without access to spectrum PMSE professionals would not be able to produce the quality of show required for live events such as the Olympics, festivals, West End shows or Saturday night live entertainment. These events contribute to the £15 billion annual contribution which the entertainment industry makes to the British economy. Not only would this revenue be lost, but the negative cultural and social impact would be great. Britain would no longer be able to produce the content which is exported worldwide, and would be put at a significant disadvantage when competing for international events.

15.  Ofcom is currently consulting on long term future access to UHF Bands IV and V.[22] Having already faced severe disruption, the PMSE industry is now totally reliant on access to clean spectrum in UHF Bands IV and V. Any future move to reallocate this spectrum away from PMSE and broadcast use would likely lead to market failure. A return to wired microphones would mean a reduction in production qualities, and a significant scaling down of live events.

16.  As with the 800MHz auctions, those likely to acquire spectrum released from UHF Bands IV and V would have significantly greater financial leverage than the disparate and diffuse PMSE sector. If a decision is made to sell-off further UHF spectrum, then Ofcom must continue to acknowledge the inability of the PMSE sector to compete at auction. The PMSE sector neither possesses the required financial resources, nor is there a mechanism to coordinate bidding for the collective needs of this community. Were spectrum in the 700MHz band to be auctioned, new dedicated PMSE channels must be awarded to the band manager with specific responsibilities to PMSE.

17.  Modern live events are continually increasing in size, and consequently the size of their production is increasing, meaning that PMSE demand for spectrum is strong and growing. Any consideration of the long-term future of UHF spectrum must take into account the increasing access that PMSE requires to spectrum, which is driven by high consumer demand from PMSE professionals and audiences.

18.  Developments in technology in the late 1970's had a massive impact on the type of shows which could be staged by theatres. A range of new tools in set construction, automated scenic control, greater sophistication in lighting and its control and the development, understanding and use of High Fidelity live sound along with radio mics of better quality and reliability, added hugely to artistic freedom and helped creative teams to present the highest quality live performances. These developments lead to the creation of the "mega musical".

19.  Shows such as Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Lion King, Miss Saigon and Mama Mia today could not be staged without the use of these now important tools. The West End relies on shows of this sort for its continuing economic success. Musicals regularly occupy almost half of the mainstream theatres in the West End.

20.  In London the rise of the mega musical started at a time when the annual audience attendance figure for all types of theatre was estimated at eight million. With the rise in popularity of the mega musical attendance figures rose to 10.2 million in 1986 on to 12 million by 2004 and currently stand at 14.1 million. As their popularity increases, so does the demand for access to spectrum. Without access to sufficient levels of interference free spectrum these shows, and the economic and cultural benefits which they produce, would be lost.

21.  At the same time as demand is greatly increasing, PMSE access to spectrum is continually decreasing. As more channels have been cleared of broadcast services, the maximum amount of channels available for PMSE use is declining. This trend is illustrated by the following graph:


folio 51.eps

22.  Alongside the decline in available interleaved spectrum for PMSE, there has also been a fragmentation of available spectrum across the UK for PMSE users. This manifests two distinct problems: there are a number of areas in the UK which have severely reduced quantity of spectrum available; and that across the UK PMSE spectrum access is becoming increasingly fragmented, presenting logistical and financial barriers to touring productions.

23.  From the information provided by the updated JFMG look-up tool,[23] indoor venues such as Sunderland, Edinburgh and Richmond will be clearly restricted in the amount of spectrum available. The same scenario is likely to apply to the outdoor usage as this is much more restricted by DTT protection issues. An initial view of the quantity and continuity of available spectrum for some of a sample of 17 larger arena/outdoor venues suggests that locations such as Chelmsford, the Isle of Wight and Glasgow will have great difficulty staging large scale concert productions.

24.  The fragmentation of spectrum also has the potential to cause severe damage to the industry. Lack of continuity of spectrum access means touring production companies require duplicate sets of equipment to tune to different channels in different geographic areas. For many companies this will likely prove economically unviable and will force them to cease operating. Ofcom must recognise that the reduction and fragmentation of available interleaved spectrum could greatly reduce the capacity of the PMSE industry to continue to produce world class content across the UK.

25.  Until the fate of UHF Bands IV and V have been decided, there must be no further moves towards selling off the lower cleared band (600MHz). In the event that the 700 MHz band is earmarked for auction, and PMSE is cleared from this band, PMSE must be granted access to the 600MHz band. Without this access, the PMSE industry would be without access to spectrum, which is essential to its ability to produce world-class content.


1.  White space devices (WSD) pose a risk to the interference free access to spectrum which is essential to the PMSE sector. WSD are proposed to act as a new communications technology that could be used for mobile internet access without a requirement for a wireless telegraphy licence. Ofcom currently expects that WSD will use the same interleaved frequencies as PMSE. BEIRG, and many other respondents to Ofcom's consultations on WSD,[24] are extremely concerned about the level of harmful interference which these devices could cause existing licensed users.

2.  Any interference with PMSE will disrupt content production at its live source. As a consequence, the value and benefits this content generates will be significantly reduced or lost at the beginning of the value chain. Any interference, irrespective of its transience, is harmful to PMSE, particularly for live professional performances. No audio distortions or disruptions are acceptable to contemporary audiences.

3.  BEIRG has severe reservations that any form of white space device will be able to operate in the same spectrum as PMSE without causing harmful interference. To date no "real life" testing of WSD has been undertaken. BEIRG continues to lobby Ofcom to undertake "real life" testing. BEIRG would gladly participate, or facilitate participation by other members of the PMSE community, in such testing to ensure that the most rigorous protection parameters were developed.

4.  For example, in "Implementing Geolocation", Ofcom proposed that "we will immediately deal with the problem by removing the relevant frequencies and areas from the database which we will require database providers to reflect within one hour".[25] For many PMSE users such as theatres, live TV broadcasts, live music and large political and industrial events, this proposed hour turnaround would be disastrous. For any of these events, an hour can encompass the entire event.

5.  Even if action could be taken more quickly to prevent interference, it can only be corrected after the event, under Ofcom's present implementation model. It is essential for the PMSE industry that interference is prevented in the first place, rather than simply addressed after the event.

6.  If Ofcom allows WSD access to interleaved spectrum, it must ensure that PMSE and television broadcast and the consequent benefits they bring to UK citizens and consumers, are not damaged by setting weak interference prevention standards and allowing inexpensive devices to enter the band that will not only interfere existing licenced services, but also with each other.


1.  BEIRG urges the Committee to recommend that Government halts any auctioning of the 600MHz spectrum band until the future of UHF Bands IV and V is determined.

2.  BEIRG further requests that that the Committee works with colleagues both at home and abroad to push for a harmonised decision on UHF Bands IV and V throughout the European Union.


The Committee has accepted that there must be some balancing between the potential for financial gain through these auctions, with the enriching of the lives of UK citizens and consumers. The PMSE sector provides vast cultural and social benefits to citizens and consumers in the UK, whilst also comprising a vital component of the £15 billion a year British entertainment industry.

The PMSE sector has suffered a great deal of disruption as a result of the clearing of the 800MHz band. For this sector to be able to continue operating, it is essential that PMSE has access to sufficient quantity and quality of spectrum in the long term. Having already suffered significant upheaval, security of spectrum access is now required to ensure confidence in the industry, and its continued contribution to the financial and cultural success of the UK.

June 2011

16   http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/technology/research/sectorstudies/entertainment/entertain2028.pdf section 7.1 Back

17   Society of London Theatre Annual Attendance and Revenue figures (last available) Back

18   http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/bandmanager09/statement/pmse-future-access.pdf  Back

19   http://media.ofcom.org.uk/2010/08/05/ofcom-explains-how-government-funding-package-for-wireless-microphone-users-will-work/  Back

20   http://www.shareview.co.uk/clients/Ofcom/Documents/OfcomFrequentlyAskedQuestions.pdf p.15 Back

21   http://www.jfmg.co.uk/pages/equip/Radiomics/dtv.htm  Back

22   http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/uhf-spectrum-band/summary2/condoc.pdf  Back

23   http://www.jfmg.co.uk/jfmgecom/wireless/public/microphonedso.aspx  Back

24   Including Vodafone, BBC and JFMG. http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/geolocation/?showResponses=true  Back

25   http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/geolocation/summary/geolocation.pdf a6.22 Back

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Prepared 3 November 2011