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Managing the airwaves in a wireless world

actors mainNext time you are out and about, why not look  around and try and guess who is using radio spectrum?

Could it be the person talking on their mobile phone, or the police officer using their walkie-talkie?

Maybe it is the motorist being directed by sat nav or the planes overhead talking to air traffic control?

The answer is all of these people are using radio spectrum – but there are also thousands of other users who may not be so instantly identifiable.

For instance, the vicar preaching in your church, or actors and musicians performing on stage in the local theatre, are probably both using spectrum.

That’s because anyone who uses a wireless microphone is using spectrum.

PMSE users

ed-bio-photo-small-thumbOfcom Chief Executive Ed Richards explained more about the PMSE issue when he addressed a joint meeting of the Culture, Media and Sport and Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committees on 1 December.

Ed told MPs that including Channel 69 in the digital dividend presented a ‘huge opportunity’ for more efficient use of spectrum.

This in turn will enable new services around mobile broadband worth billions to UK consumers and businesses.

But Ed reassured the committee that the value of PMSE users had not been ignored: ‘We are very clear that the PMSE users are a very important group of spectrum users and there is no intention on our part anything other than to make sure their interests are appropriately protected. ‘

He said the replacement channels would meet demand and that PMSE users had been given considerable notice of the changes, which won’t come into place until 2012.

Ed also explained that while Ofcom believed money should be made available to help PMSE users with the move from Channel 69, the actual level of that funding was a matter for government.

This particular group of users is known as programme-making and special events (PMSE) users.

They currently use a part of the 800 MHz band of spectrum known as ‘Channel 69’. Around 95% of wireless microphones sold in the UK currently tune to this channel.

But in the next few years that is all about to change.

Why change?

In 2003 the Government decided to release a large block of spectrum for new uses.

This spectrum – known as the digital dividend – is being freed up as the country switches over from analogue to digital TV.

Our analysis found that including Channel 69 in the digital dividend would lead to billions of pounds worth of benefits for consumers.

For a start, it will mean lower equipment prices as well as improved opportunities for new generations of mobile broadband

But what will happen to PMSE users?

Ofcom has always recognised what an important role spectrum plays for PMSE users, as well as the significant contribution the PMSE sector makes to the social, cultural and economic well-being of the UK.

That’s why we have reserved a replacement channel for the PMSE sector – channel 38.

Like channel 69, it will be available across the whole of the UK and will provide PMSE users with the exact same benefits that they currently enjoy.

When will this happen?

Channel 69 will not be cleared until January 2012 at the earliest, and we are considering whether it should remain available for wireless microphones until the end of 2012.

The issue of Channel 69 and wireless microphone users has been misreported in a number of recent newspaper articles.

Ofcom has submitted letters for publication to the papers concerned to clarify what’s happening.

Letter to the Daily Telegraph

Letter to The Guardian

Letter to The Times

Funding will also be made available to minimise the disruption of replacing or modifying channel-69 equipment to work in this new spectrum.

Ofcom has consulted on the criteria for eligibility to receive that funding.

We are considering and discussing responses with the Government before deciding the funding package in late 2009/early 2010.

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