Unintended consequences: will digital TV make your wireless mic stop working?

Wireless microphones like these Sennheisers work using radio spectrum sandwiched between the domestic analogue TV channels. When the government sells off that spectrum in 2013, those mics will stop working.

There’s a fascinating article by Dominic White in Saturday’s Australian Financial Review about the looming crisis for Australia’s wireless microphone users.

Wireless mics, like the ones used by film crews, stage managers and rock musicians, work by using radio spectrum that is set to be sold off by the federal government (most likely to mobile phone companies) in 2013.

Why is that? The reason is that Australian TV is finally going digital. Digital TV uses far less spectrum than analogue TV, and the result is that the federal government can take back that lucrative spectrum to sell to the highest bidder. It’s an attractive proposition to telcos, who can use it for 4G mobile phones. The problem is, that old analogue spectrum used by the TV stations had small gaps between the channels, which wireless mics used for their transmissions. As White reports:

The proposals would mean that 85% of the 130,000 wireless audio devices used in Australia – which operate in the gap between TV stations – would be made obsolete, according to the Australian Wirelss Audio Group.

The Sydney Opera House alone could face a huge bill as a result of the change. The 200 wireless devices it uses, which cost about $10,000 per kit, would have to be replaced with microphones tuned to lower frequencies.

“We rely critically on wireless microphones,” technical director David Claringbold told the Weekend AFR.

“Our devices are in operation fro seven in the morning til midnight every day to make dramas, musicals and all kinds of performances run smoothly.”

The AWAG wants the federal government to use some of the windfall gain from the spectrum sale to compensate users. It estimates that “$32 billion of economic activity and 140,000 jobs in Australia” are reliant to some degree on wireless microphones.

I’m not  I agree with that figure, but hey, it will certainly make a big difference to audio hire firms, who will have to replace every single wireless Beta-58 and wireless guitar pickup in their rigs.


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