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Wireless Systems and the Digital Conversion

The Immediate Concern: The Digital Switchover
Before the switchover to digital television and the FCC’s decision to auction off a chunk of the UHF band, analog television was broadcast in in a broad band of the UHF spectrum spanning from 470 MHz to 806 MHz. UHF wireless systems also operate in this band, in a handful of frequencies including the 600s and 700s. Because of the FCC’s decision to auction off the 700 MHz banda range of frequencies from 698 to 806 MHzall digital television broadcasts will transmit at below 698 MHz starting in June, leaving the 700 MHz band to emerging technologies and public safety uses.

The good news is that the change wasn't a surprise. The FCC announced its decision to auction off this range of frequencies way back in 1998, meaning major manufacturers have had ample time to prepare and design around the restriction. As such, new wireless systems operate in frequencies outside of that 700 MHz band, meaning that only legacy users have the potential to be affected by the switch.

But what if you’re still using one of these older units? The good news is that your unit will not be rendered completely obsolete come June 12th, nor will it become FCC-mandated contraband. Although the FCC has stopped providing new licenses for wireless devices operating in the 700 MHz band, it has not set forth any rules on how to treat these current licensed users in this band, and no one is exactly sure when that will happen. That means that users with wireless systems in that 700 MHz band will still be able to use their gear without the Feds showing up at the door.

The bad news is that you’ll likely need to transition to a newer system rather than later. Because the frequencies of the 700 MHz band have been sold to companies like Verizon, who will be using it to improve their network, legacy users will soon be fighting a lot more people for the same bandwidth. This will eventually translate into more interference and problems for users of older wireless systems. “Conventional UHF wireless systems will be much more difficult to use in the future, and for most people they will probably be unusable within a period of a few years,” says Don Boomer, Product Manager for X2 Wireless. “The closer to a big city you are, the harder it is going to be.”

Interestingly enough, users of newer wireless technologies (those operating outside of the 700 MHz band) may actually experience a slight performance bump after the June switchover. This is because during the transition, many television stations were broadcasting both analog and digital signals, which effectively doubled the number of transmitters inhabiting the lower ranges of the frequency spectrum. Many users in dense areas found that they needed to locate new channels or frequencies to operate on during the switch. On June 12th, half of these transmissions will cease again as analog television takes its last breath, and a number of frequencies will be vacated, theoretically making it easier for wireless users to find a signal.

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