Everything You Need to Know About the 600 MHz Transition

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held an Incentive Auction on April 13, 2017, in which wireless carriers acquired significant bands of spectrum. In anticipation of the transition, all wireless mic operators must vacate the 600 MHz band by July 13, 2020. However, the FCC has already warned RF mic operators that they must cease operations in the 600 MHz service band immediately if they could cause interference to the new spectrum licensees, and some organizations have already received notification letters from carriers.

Video: Do You Need to Replace Your 600 MHz Wireless Microphones?

What does this mean?

With the new rules the FCC implemented on July 14, 2017, the operation of wireless microphones and similar devices is restricted to certain bands of the spectrum that are currently used for television broadcast. This means some buildings, such as conference centers, churches, theaters, and sports and entertainment centers, may need to upgrade their equipment.

The issue is that if a cellular carrier in your area starts using the frequency before this deadline—like T-Mobile has already announced plans to do so to prepare for 5G—then you must stop using the frequency. You may notice your mics will begin to pick up interference, or you might get a letter from the FCC telling you to stop using the frequency.

Some frequencies that were available for wireless microphone use prior to the auction will continue to be available after the transition period, including:

  • VHF and UHF frequencies on television channels 2-36, which fall below 608 MHz
  • Certain frequencies in the 600 MHz guard band: 614-616 MHz
  • Certain frequencies in the 600 MHz duplex gap: 653-657 MHz for licensed use or 657-663 MHz for unlicensed use.

Something to keep in mind is the densification of available frequencies. Having been booted from the 700 MHz band in 2010 during the DTV transition and now from the 600 MHz band, wireless audio equipment users can expect the 500 MHz band to be about 20 percent more crowded.

What do I need to do?

If you currently have wireless microphones or other systems operating in the 600 MHz spectrum, replace it as soon as you can. If you wait until 2020, you risk being kicked off the frequency by wireless carriers, who will be taking over the spectrum soon as they begin to test and build their 5G networks. The FCC permits the wireless providers to displace “protected” low-power stations with just 120 days’ notice, and current occupants are already receiving notification letters from T-Mobile. Since wireless mic operators are not in the FCC’s “protected” class, they will receive no notification that a carrier is about to begin operations in their market.

A/V contractors need to be talking to customers and telling them to update their transmitters and receivers and see if they need to update the mics and sound system as well. If you are about to order a wireless audio system for a project, be sure that the transmitter and receiver operate in a range that will likely be open for a while, such as 2.4 Ghz. It is also advised that you choose digital over analog receivers and transmitters. A digital signal can be encrypted and is less likely to face interference. It is much easier to use, can immediately pair up and will automatically change frequencies if there is interference. This means you may need new mics since they are usually paired together.

Need help with the transition to new wireless microphones? View our pro A/V solutions.