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High-powered luvvies given new radio home: 'But DON'T disturb the neighbours'

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Production companies will be allowed to operate 10-watt radio links in Channel 38, now that Ofcom has established it won't annoy the radio telescopes operated by nearby countries.

Having shuffled the rest of the Programme Makers and Special Effects (PMSE) out of their existing home in Channel 69, in preparation for flogging that off as part of next year's 4G auction, Ofcom has been left with the high-power users (using audio links above 50 milliwatts), who couldn't be relocated for fear that transmissions would jump the English Channel and upset radio astronomers abroad.

But now Ofcom has decided that's not a problem, so it is consulting on bringing the high-power users into the bottom of the new PMSE channel, Channel 38 (606-614MHz), and wants feedback on the idea by 22 January.

Our own radio astronomers stopped running observations near Channel 38 back in 2011, once it became clear the luvvies would be moving in, but within 400km of the English coast there are four radio telescopes who could suffer. Low-power PSME kit - wireless microphone and headsets - only runs up to 50 milliwatts, so foreign radio astronomy isn't a problem. Those devices have all been relocated with Ofcom coughing up the readies to cover replacement kit using Channel 38. But the high-power users haven't had any cash as they had no home to go to.

High power users sometimes hit 10 watts in 200kHz channels of analogue which can't go digital because of the same quality and latency issues that prevent the entire PMSE industry adopting digital radio. There isn't a huge requirement for such links; in 2011 there were only 218 of them and none was used for long - one example being the Golf Open when commentators needed to be near the action, but get quality audio back to the club house for transmission - but when they are used there's generally no alternative.

Ofcom reckons using the whole of Channel 38 is too dangerous, but as the channel is sub-divided into 14 audio channels anyway it should be safe to permit the lower two (606.7 and 607MHz) to ramp up the power, so that's what the regulator is proposing. In the meantime, high-power users will be allowed to hang around in Channel 69 until the 4G spectrum is awarded, but they'll have to get shift off pretty promptly thereafter if they're not going to seriously upset the new owner.

Given the tight timescale, the consultation (PDF, less interesting than it sounds) runs to 22 January, with a decision on the matter expected by the end of that month. ®

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