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Ofcom hangs fire until after Olympics

No wireless mics decision till torch is out

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Ofcom has decided to hold off making decisions on wireless microphones until after the Olympics, but won't be paying replacement value of the kit it makes redundant.

Back in December 2007 Ofcom proposed that a new band manager should be appointed, to licence out the Program Makers & Special Event (PMSE) frequencies. But since then an ceaseless round of proposals and consultations have delayed things and now the Olympics are looming and the regulator has decided (by way of a lengthy statement [pdf]) that nothing's going to happen until the games pack up and leave London.

The proposals now include a beauty contest to select the band manager, who would be at liberty to rent out the spectrum for any purpose as long as the PMSE crowd gets priority. The band manager will have to pay an increasing licence to bring the spectrum up to market rates, though Ofcom agreed to pay restitution to companies who'd need new kit when the frequencies get reorganised.

That last issue has attracted most attention recently - the companies concerned arguing that the replacement kit needed is new, so paying resale value of existing kit isn't fair. Now Ofcom has passed the buck, explaining that it can only pay for more efficient use of spectrum, and any more cash will have to come from the Treasury.

But PMSE users will be allowed to remain in Channel 69 (854MHz) until July 2012 at least, with the final cut-off date to be decided next year and dependent on the plans of the buyers of the nearby Digital Dividend spectrum.

Meanwhile channel 38, the new home for PMSE users, will be available from 1 January 2012 just about country-wide, which gives the industry seven months during which both channels (69 and 38) will be available. Ofcom reckons that many users will be able to migrate before then, but maintains that channel 69 will have to be cleared by July - the Olympics opening on 27 July with its attendant demands for spectrum.

Ofcom will be parcelling out spectrum for the games, in London and elsewhere, with great swathes of radio spectrum available. Analogue TV will be switched off, and the buyers of that frequency won't take possession until after the games, so there should be space for enough wireless cameras, microphones, and associated kit for the whole world to see how well London hosts the games, for better or worse. ®

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