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Wireless Redux
Posted on Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shure Systems Prep Carolina Panthers for 700 MHz Changes


CHARLOTTE, NC, October 20, 2008 — It may just be a little more than a month into regular season play at Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers, but thanks to the efforts of SE Systems, the NFL team is already prepared to face challenges coming next year, when wireless communications within the 700 MHz frequency band as we know them will undergo a major transformation.


Charlotte-based SE Systems, which implemented Bank of America's original wireless blueprint back when it first opened as Ericsson Stadium on September 14, 1996, returned earlier this year to upgrade its plan as part of a complete systems rejuvenation taking place throughout the venue.


"For 12 years, the Panthers used the original Shure UHF wireless systems we installed here," Cliff Miller, founder and owner of SE Systems relates. "They still worked perfectly, but we took them out of service in order to meet the new realities sure to follow the 700 MHz auction held earlier this year."


The 700 MHz wireless spectrum auction — officially named Auction 73 — was launched by the FCC on January 24, 2008, to sell the rights to operate in the 700 MHz frequency band in the U.S.  The 700 MHz band, once the domain of analog television broadcasting for UHF channels 52 through 69, was also used by wireless microphone installers like Miller, who set up multiple channels of Shure UHF wireless systems to meet the needs of the Panthers in 1996.


With the last transmissions made by incumbent users of the 700 MHz band scheduled by FCC decree to cease by February 17, 2009, Miller faced the prospect this year of placing a winning bid for his own space or clearing those specific airwaves at the stadium. The first choice being far from practical given the heavyweight nature of the competition and the scale of his project, he turned once again to Shure, which outfitted him this time with UHF-R® wireless systems for his handheld and lavalier mics and PSM®700 personal in-ear monitors.


"With the new Shure UHF-R wireless systems, we basically adopted a clear-cut avoidance policy when it came to the 700 MHz band," Miller says explaining his switch, which dropped him well below the frequencies in question. "We gained a lot of new useful features and capabilities in the process, and the transition was seamless. The impact of this auction is going to bring change, and it will be significant. This is a topic that should be at the forefront of everyone's mind right now within our industry."


Miller deployed UHF-R channels for use with four handheld transmitters sporting Beta 87C capsules and a pair of Shure's new UR1M Micro-Bodypacks. Conversely, a pair of PSM® 700 transmitters serve four beltpack receivers. A total of four helical antennas from Shure were used with the systems, two for the wireless handhelds and Micro-Bodypacks, and the other two for the PSM ®700s.


Brought out regularly for functions on the field ranging from singers of the national anthem to halftime entertainment, the systems provided features like transmitter/receiver auto-sync and low and high power transmitter settings. With all system receivers residing in a control room also revitalized by Miller and his SE Systems team, monitoring functions are performed from a single location.


Working on game days in what Miller politely calls a "quite hostile" RF environment, where at least two full spreadsheets are needed to map frequency coordination, the UHF-R auto-sync feature has been a lifesaver for SE Systems already, coming to the rescue when someone unauthorized grabbed a frequency assigned to them just before a game and a change needed to be made on the fly.


"About two hours before a game not long ago, we noticed we were getting interference on one of our channels," Miller says, recounting the incident. "Given the time frame, with UHF-R's auto-sync feature it was a lot easier for us to just make a change ourselves rather than hunt down the offenders. Another feature I've come to really appreciate is the high and low power setting on our transmitters. It's important to realize that RF output is as important as audio output in these situations so that you don't wind up overdriving your receiver if you're closer to it. Now we can change the power on our transmitters to match our distances. We are just rock-solid with RF now; it’s working great for us. We're clearly ready for whatever comes our way in February of next year when the 700 MHz band changes hands."


The FCC's 700 MHz wireless spectrum auction was given very specific rules covering the process of the sale of what was in reality the 698-806 MHz portion of the wireless spectrum divided into five blocks. Bids were anonymous and designed to promote competition, with the aggregate reserve price for all Block C licenses penciled-in at approximately $4.6 billion. The aggregate reserve price for all five blocks being auctioned in Auction 73 was just over $10 billion. Bidding for Block D, which failed to meet its reserve, will be used for a national public safety network. Auction 73 concluded with the highly-publicized open access C-Block going for $4.74 billion to Verizon. The entire sale netted $19.592 billion.

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