Broadcast RF’s Nick Fuller calls on Ofcom to safeguard the radio frequencies used by broadcasters
As a specialist wireless camera provider to the TV industry, we at Broadcast RF are heavily reliant on the availability of suitable frequencies for our wireless systems. Unfortunately, the section of the frequency spectrum most suited to wireless cameras and mobile links is ideal for a variety of other uses – the most popular being mobile phones.
Rising demand inevitably leads to increasing prices as the licencing authority (the UK government) realises there is money to be made from the frequency spectrum. Broadcasters have gradually been squeezed out of the band as the demand for mobile phone spectrum has increased, and the deeper pockets of the phone companies have enabled the acquisition of swathes of spectrum previously reserved for programme-making and special events (PMSE).
For PMSE providers, although there is still just about sufficient spectrum available for their normal week-to-week requirements, larger events now almost always require the borrowing of additional spectrum from the likes of the Home Office or the Ministry of Defence (MoD). This borrowing is co-ordinated on an event-by-event basis and is entirely dependent on what use the primary occupier has for spectrum at or around the location of the broadcaster’s event.
As wireless cameras, with their ability to capture live pictures from areas that are inaccessible to conventional cabled cameras, become an increasingly popular tool in a broadcaster’s armoury, the demand for PMSE spectrum is growing just as its availability is shrinking, with inevitable results.
The past few years have seen a plethora of live UK events on our TV screens. In addition to the annual broadcasts of Formula 1, the Open Golf and the London Marathon, we have had the royal wedding, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the 2012 London Olympics and, this year, the first three stages of the Tour de France, followed by the Commonwealth Games.
All these events relied on mobile camera technology to provide the intimate live pictures the viewer has come to expect. Imagine watching the London Marathon without the motor bike-mounted mobile cameras. You would see the start, then two hours later the finish, with maybe a couple of minutes of intermediate coverage as the runners passed through short sections of the course covered by a remote OB with cabled cameras. That’s all.
4K is likely to further increase the demand for spectrum bandwidth as wireless 4K cameras start to appear and broadcasters make more programmes in the format.
We know Ofcom understands the need to grant long-term secure access to PMSE spectrum. If this doesn’t happen, live broadcasting in the UK will have to change for the worse.
Nick Fuller is technical project manager at Broadcast RF