The Government Ate My Wireless
Originally Written for Live2Play Magazine
If you use wireless anythings (mics, in-ear receivers, instrument packs, telephones), your world is about to change dramatically.
At issue – America’s airwaves. And of course – money.
Though not much ado in the media ado department has been made yet, there will likely be a lot of hair ripping next year when prosumer users of wireless receivers and transmitters start to realize that their devices are not performing like they used to.
The reason: a government mandated switch of emergency service broadcasting to the small sliver of UHF bandwidth once used by pro audio and consumer wireless products. UHF airwaves, once a vast unexplored wilderness, are now jammed to the hilt – a bottleneck of frequency information that we have previously enjoyed for free and with little headache. But the government wants their bandwidth back – because when money talks (the digital television and cell phone carrier markets, in particular), free non-licensing users walk.
Before everyone gets their panties in a hitch about liberal governments destroying their freedoms and other such nonsense – lets get something straight. This has been coming for a long time. But like a lot of things, most people affected will only start to get the information or care about it at crises point, and well…here we are, a decade after this whole debate first started. We have actually enjoyed the benefits of wireless at a considerably small expense for a long time now. But chickens are roosting… or roosters are coming home. Or whatever…you get the idea. It’s time to pay roosting pipers.
How do you know if you’re affected? Frankly, if you’re using a regular UHF device of any kind, you will eventually be, as more and more of the frequency range becomes designated for other uses over the next few years. For NOW, the specific range that will be unusable is 746 to 806 MHz. While you may still be able to send and receive signal in these ranges, you will also notice that you will be susceptible to local emergency signal hits that are sporadic and difficult to monitor. Low battery life will make the problem worse. Basically, your signal will be sketchily interrupted by transmission bursts. And you won’t be able to tell when it’s coming.
Expect an onslaught of prosumer development over the next few years to help deal with the problem. High end systems are currently starting to roll out capsule replacements and conversions, but there hasn’t been much going on in the lower consumer market game yet – probably because most companies who sell these products are hoping to just sell new units instead of doing conversions, which ultimately could save some people a lot of money anyway. But they are going to wait until you are in a panic to start marketing this stuff, so be prepared.
If you use wireless for anything, you’re going to want to check your units and start planning ahead. If you just invested in a big expensive UHF system, my psychic says there are conversion costs in your future.
And if you’re a health club or a small sound company with a stable of older cheap wireless systems that you’ve bought over the course of the years, start budgeting for a rebuy of all of your systems. When the complete UHF ban hits, this won’t be a use some of your old stuff and add a few new units thing – it will be all or nothing. Of course, the frustrating part of it is no one knows exactly when that will happen.
In the meantime, just know that a lot of the older soon-to-be useless units are still out there and going to be sold. They will probably be offered at prices too good to resist. But who knows how long they will be useful, so buyer beware. Do your research. Ask questions. And don’t trust just any sales guy at your local Guitar Center for straight answers. People are gonna want to get rid of these things and they’ll be looking for uninformed suckers.
Check out Line 6’s new Relay G30 system. (Big ole hat tip to Rev Bill for all his expertise on the subject). Recently heralded as the best selling guitar wireless system in the U.S., and a company on the frontlines of the conversion process, Line 6 offers up this great unit that functions at the 2.4 gHz consumer frequency space (ISM band).
With every new unit offered comes better battery life and more attention to sound quality. Personally, I consider any new unit a real investment on the battery expense side. And who doesn’t want to try to make the planet a little bit greener?
Those of us who use wireless daily know that there is really nothing better than being loosed from the world of wires. It’s been an awesome magical gift from the sky. Guitar purist chatter about tone suck aside, the greatness of wireless will prevail through the growing pains. So relax and keep your eyes and ears peeled. The market will soon be flooded with great products offering up affordable solutions so you will still be able to get your freedom on.