Presenting shows and to guarantee speech intelligibility, event and theatre productions use wireless microphones. With the Digital Dividends 1 and 2, the creative sector has lost access to about 50 percent of the spectrum that it has traditionally had access to – a deficiency that massively restricts production. The substitute spectrum promised by the politicians is only rudimentarily available so far. Now there is support from the German Bundestag to secure long-term events.
Written by Matthias Fehr and Norbert Hilbich
The “Monitoring Report Culture and Creative Industries 2018” of the German Federal Ministry of Energy and Economics shows the Cultural and Creative Industry of Germany as second most important employer. The industry itself is hardly aware of the fact that it is an economic heavyweight. The industry is made up of many small and not a few large entities (such as the section of the IMT sector that concerns itself with securing access to more and more spectrum). But this supposed disadvantage is also its strength: The industry reacts very quickly to new trends and constantly offers the public new attractions. In particular, the theatre industry is a major attraction for the general public – but it is affected, too. Common to all events and staging is this: they depend on wireless production tools. Microphones, in-ear monitors, wireless cameras and the effect management is the largest group of these tools and have the highest quality requirements. In addition, there are direction and command radio systems, as well as security communication.
Digital Dividends and the consequences
The most important frequency band for event production and management is the UHF TV band, originally 470 to 862 MHz. In 2010 Germany introduced the Digital Dividend 1 (DD1) which reduced the band down to 470 to 790 MHz. The clearing of the band for the DD1 resulted in a disruptive, costly and unplanned investment for the Creative Industry: At the time about 90 percent of all productions took place in this range (790-862 MHz), because it was usable by general decree. Therefore, it required no Frequency allocation (license) by German Federal Network Agency – all UHF TV ranges below 790 MHz require this frequency license. A lot of productions had to be subsequently moved into the range 710 to 790 MHz.
In 2015, the Digital Dividend 2 (DD2) followed: The UHF TV Band has been reduced to 470 to 694 MHz and the range 694 to 790 MHz was also opened for mobile telephony. The wireless productions had to move again. In the remaining area, 470 to 694 MHz, it got tight. Here, the terrestrial television uses blocks of 8 MHz width – few in rural areas, but many in urban areas and along cross-border regions. Accordingly, it often turns out to be difficult to set up and carry out productions, trouble-free. And it is fortunate that mobile telephony in the area of the DD2 range has by no means been expanded everywhere: This gives the productions and, by definition, the people that are tasked with having to make sure that they can happen, a transition period that probably will be history by 2020. What happens then?
CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations) introduced new frequency ranges for wireless productions and in Germany this has been confirmed by the Bundesratsbeschluss 590/17 (Federal Council Decree). The range 1452 to 1492 MHz was opened for wireless production, in 2010, but later auctioned to mobile communications – once again a major problem for investments of our Culture and Creative Industry! Since then – and despite it’s allocation to IMT – this frequency range remains unused today in Germany, but is lost to wireless production.
Who can make a difference?
Based on this experience, everyone is looking forward to the current World Radio Conference (WRC), which is being held in October and November 2019 in Sharm el-Sheikh (the WRC meets approximately every four years). Since radio waves do not stop at national borders international agreements are necessary in order to ensure interference free radio usage. The WRC-19 could lead to new agreements which may again have consequences for wireless production.
According to the EU (see Lamy report of September 2014), as well as in statements from the German Federal Network Agency, the range 470 to 694 MHz is to be maintained to at least 2030 for wireless production. In a similar way the industry was appeased before the WRC-12, where, despite no official agenda item, it was decided to assign 700 MHz to mobile communications. Following on from this the German Federal Network Agency auctioned the 694-790 MHz range and from 2019 onwards it will be practically unusable for professional wireless productions.
Who is committed to maintaining production frequencies? First to mention is the APWPT (Association of Professional Wireless Production Technology) and its expanding membership. It was founded in 2008, in the year after the WRC-07, as the voice of the users and as a reaction to some of the above mentioned experiences.
Facts: In Germany, the frequency usage of events was recorded and evaluated over a period of around twelve years – each event monitored has a different frequency usage (graphic above). The trend: frequency usage is increasing (chart below) while the available spectrum is reducing.
The APWPT has established itself in international Committees as the body for securing spectrum for wireless productions engaging in complex and extensive technical studies in different frequency ranges, with the result that new frequency ranges have been opened.
The “SOS – Save Our Spectrum” initiative has been active in German-speaking countries but has now broadened its geographical scope. Its focus remains to be a go to information platform for politicians, authorities, journalists, equipment users and the General Public. It provides background information, interviews with users of wireless production technology and organizes information events. SOS with its information policy and APWPT with its technical expertise continues to bring the production frequency problem to the attention of the all concerned parties, organisations and individuals. Both APWPT and SOS share the same common goal; to finally resolve production frequency issues.
The German Bundestag delegate Dr Christian Jung (MP, FDP) has engaged with the production frequency situation and is helping to provide the industry with a solid future planning basis. This is intended to secure the necessary investments in the long-term and to ensure the continued existence of the industry. Jung is actively engaging across political parties and in the relevant institutions, such as the German Cultural Council, in order to enlist more supporters. In September 2019 he organized two events in the Bundestag: one meeting of rapporteurs on the topic “Frequencies for wireless productions” and a parliamentary breakfast – in each case with support from APWPT and SOS. In addition, Jung and his colleague Thomas Hacker (MP, FDP) have submitted a proposal to the competent committee of the Bundestag in which they demand the Master Plan to secure the cultural frequencies.
Germany: in which ranges is the use of wireless microphones possible?
Without frequency allocation (license) by the Federal Network Agency:
– high risk of interference: 32.475-38.125 MHz, 174-230 MHz,
– high risk of interference: 823-832 MHz, 863-865 MHz
– low risk of interference: 1785-1804.8 MHz, 1880-1900 MHz
With frequency allocation (license) by the Federal Network Agency:
Slow risk of interference: 470-694 MHz, 1350-1400 MHz (can only be
used inside buildings), 1452-1492 MHz (will be used by mobile radio
in the future), 1518-1525 MHz
Further information: https://www.apwpt.org/regional-information-1/germany
No third Digital Dividend
The aim is to provide users of wireless production tools with legally binding planning security to guarantee operations and growth, which has been given by policymakers to the mobile phone industry for years. However, it is also necessary that the industry itself gets more and more involved, together with APWPT and SOS. Excellent examples are the Stage Technology Conference, INTHEGA annual conferences, Prolight + Sound, Stage|Set|Scenery, Tonmeistertagung and many more. Each additional resource from the industry helps all of us immediately and noticeably! With each new piece of information it becomes clearer, that new technologies can enhance our tools in their practical use, but these are not a substitute for the required Radio frequencies (see also: https://www.apwpt.org/history/paris/2019).
APWPT and SOS would like to discuss, together with event managers, about more commitment towards the radio spectrum they use. Tis required in order to secure their business models, their growth and the artistic quality of the work for their productions and events.
The work of APWPT and its members in EU bodies has cleared the path for the deployment of new technologies for wireless productions. In parallel these new technologies have already been incorporated in the current standardization ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute). It will be interesting to see what the manufacturers will present soon based on these technologies and lately opened frequency ranges. Nevertheless, it must be clearly stated that additional frequency loss cannot be compensated for by modern technology (please see also chronology below). Therefore, APWPT and SOS demand: “No Third Digital Dividend”!
Chronology: Frequencies for wireless microphones
Stockholm 1961: The European Broadcasting Conference for the VHF and UHF television ranges sets the resolutions on terrestrial television use from 1959 and, in addition, to using it regionally, provides advice on the free use of these radio frequencies for wireless tools of the broadcasting program production. In 1970, this led to the recording of a Footnote in the International Radio Regulation of the ITU-R (International Telecommunication Union, Radiocommunication Sector), that wireless production tools of broadcasting are a user of the UHF-TV sector. This footnote initiates national frequency allocations for wireless microphones and similar tools in many countries – and the right of productions to use these frequency bands.
January 2007: In 2006, Germany was probably the first country to open the military and broadcasting frequencies above 790 MHz to promote the educational, artistic, cultural, and creative industries – which was a smooth transition because the frequencies were virtually interference free and undisturbed. The reasoning for the approval/license-free “cultural frequencies” was sustainable –consequently, the industry invested extensively trusting in long-term binding commitments – the inventory guaranteed until the year 2015.
November 2007: The World Radiocommunication Conference WRC-07 decides to open the 800 MHz range for mobile phones (IMT). The fact that the arguments of the cultural sector were not taken into account by the participating national radio administrations led, in 2008, to the foundation of APWPT as a political voice of the users.
May 2010: In Germany, the broadcasting frequencies above 790 MHz were auctioned to mobile communications – except a small gap that remains. The “cultural frequencies” were reduced to the frequencies below 790 MHz – unfortunately, not free of charge and approval/license is required.
January 2013: Due to a lack of budgets, not all cultural and educational institutions changed to frequencies below 790 MHz. The Federal Ministry of Economics had already presented a study on the reallocation of the Frequency range 690 to 790 MHz. This study was commissioned, despite the fact that the German Federal Council, the Bundesrat, at its 902nd session (November 2011) gave a statement on current and future frequency requirements of broadcast and wireless Production tools such as microphones: “The Federal Council makes it clear, that after the digital dividend the remaining UHF broadcast spectrum from 470 MHz to 790 MHz will also be needed for broadcast. Likewise, the usage of this spectrum must be given for command and reporting applications as well as event productions – especially in the case of qualitative more sophisticated microphone systems (Theatre, Opera) – because of the required stability and the low costs the access to the spectrum from 470 MHz to 790 MHz must be given.”
November 2015: The World Radiocommunication Conference allocates the 700 MHz band to mobile radio and expands the footnote FN 5.296 in the International Radio Regulation of the ITU-R of broadcast production tools outside of broadcast productions – general event technology. By this the ITU-R has taken into account frequency requirements of all audio tools in the UHF-TV range. This decision was signed by 85 countries. APWPT members participated in several national delegations or as an ITU member in this process. Many countries have already included these changes in their national frequency allocations for wireless microphones and similar tools.
September 2017: On September 22, 2017, the 960th meeting of the German Federal Council revised the frequency regulation in TOP 45. Among other things, new is the opening of the frequency ranges: 1350-1400 MHz and 1518-1525 MHz for the use of wireless productions. In addition, at this session of the Federal Council a recommendation from the Committee on Culture was agreed it reminds the German Federal Government on its commitment for long term guarantee of reliable secondary use of UHF frequencies through wireless production tools especially in urban areas.
March 2019: The German Federal Council, Bundesrat, approved in its 975th meeting on 15 March 2019 the following statement: “It must be guaranteed the long-term, national and European coordinated frequency planning with sufficient and interference-free frequency spectrum for users of wireless productions in culture, education, research, science, sport and churches.”
September 2019: The University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and APWPT present for the fifth time (since 2013), within the framework of the European Microwave Week (EuMW 2019), the current trend of frequency usage by wireless production tools. Over a period of about twelve years, in Germany, the frequency use of events was documented and, when available, the frequency coordination for these events were taken into account. On the basis of this carefully recorded and evaluated data, it becomes clear that the frequency use of wireless productions is increasing while at the same time the usable frequency resource is falling considerably – see also graphics above. The data clearly demonstrates that a crunch point is rapidly approaching.
From January 2020: Based on a decision at the WRC-15, the ITU-R will examine the future frequency use in the range of 470 up to 960 MHz. All APWPT representatives and its members must again, over several years and at considerable cost, take part in these studies to secure the industry’s wider interests. Possible scenario 2023: The WRC-23 decides on the existing use of frequencies and further cuts back the broadcast sector – with considerable consequences for wireless production tools.