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PMSE uncertainty continues as Ofcom defers band manager award

Despite multiple unresolved issues, leading industry figures are broadly supportive of the decision to delay the PMSE band manager award until 2012, writes David Davies.

UK: Despite multiple unresolved issues, leading industry figures are broadly supportive of the decision to delay the PMSE band manager award until 2012, writes David Davies. The Olympic Games – due to take place in London in the summer of that year – and the “outstanding complexities” of the award are the key reasons cited by Ofcom for the delay, which was announced on 15 April.

A PMSE (Performance Making & Special Events) band manager announcement was originally expected later this year, but following two consultation documents and separate discussions on the requirements for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, Ofcom has opted to defer the award for two years. The communications regulator – whose responsibilities have recently swelled to include all media services as a result of the Digital Economy Act – expects to announce interim arrangements by this July, and is mulling the possibility of taking responsibilities in-house (“our analysis to date suggests insourcing is technically viable and might be less expensive”).

The new Executive Summary – published in full on the Ofcom website (link below) – confirms that PMSE users will retain “primary access” to channel 69 until at least 1 July 2012 in all of the UK, and at least 1 October 2012 in London, Northern Ireland and the north-east of England. It also states that the sector’s principal new home of channel 38 will be “fully available” from 1 January 2012.

In a significant victory for the pro-audio campaign, Ofcom will also provide “greater security of tenure for PMSE users”, having accepted the argument that the original proposal of ending the band manager’s obligations to PMSE in 2018 did not accommodate standard equipment life-cycles of at least 10 years.

Less positively, the Executive Summary – published in full on the Ofcom website (link below) – offers no further detail on funding arrangements to assist the sector’s migration from the 800MHz band, stating simply: “Final decisions on the nature and level of this are a matter for the Government. We await these decisions.”

The powers-that-be may change after the General Election on 6 May, of course, but in general leading PMSE figures are encouraged by Ofcom’s latest epistle.

PLASA was among those preparing a bid for the band manager award, and CEO Matthew Griffiths says that the association “broadly welcomes” the change. “Clearly, we would love to have it all sorted out, but the reality is that 2012 is a major event and a huge priority for everybody from Government on down,” he tells PSN-e. Griffiths still envisages a bid when the award process is restarted and says there is “no doubt in my mind that an industry body as band manager is the right way to go”.

Alan March, business development specialist for Sennheiser UK and a member of the BEIRG Steering Committee on the spectrum issue, also believes that the delay is “probably a sensible move. The decision to review the ‘cliff-edge’ of 2018 for the band manager’s obligation to PMSE is also good news. As to whether the [interim band management] is done in-house or on a contracted basis, I am happy with either providing that whoever does it understands that we are there and makes sure we are taken care of at a price the industry can afford.

“It’s reassuring to see that all of the political campaigning and consultation responses have had an effect, but I would hate people to think that [the battle] is over. The precise nature of the interleaved spectrum has still to be confirmed, while cognitive devices would appear to be coming whether we like it or not; there is still much work to be done to ensure that harmful interference to PMSE is avoided.

“Pressure for access to UHF spectrum is only going one way, so the work must go on. This really is a long haul – in fact, spectrum issues make test cricket look like speed-dating.”

In a subsequent statement, BEIRG welcomed the latest move on spectrum tenure and channel 69 access, but added that it was “at great pains to point out that these developments have no bearing on the Save Our Sound UK funding campaign. As Ofcom have said, the Government has not yet made a decision on this matter.

“In addition, whilst we welcome these important statement on security of tenure for PMSE spectrum access, we are greatly concerned about its quality and quantity. This of course refers to the reduction in spectrum availability post-DSO and the potential influx of so-called ‘cognitive’ or whitespace devices, which have the potential to severely pollute the airwaves and make licensed PMSE applications effectively unusable.”

Image Credit: Chris Toulmin