Director of Engineering, Free TV Australia and Vice-Chairman of ITU-R Working Party 6A
Electronic news gathering applications have been operating terrestrially in bands allocated to the broadcasting service (in the case of wireless microphones) and the fixed and mobile services (in the case of portable wireless cameras) for many decades.
Heightened public interest in international news has increased the need for coverage and, hence, the need for electronic news gathering applications. Because of this, the decisions taken at WRC-07 under Resolution 954 need to be updated.
Coverage of news events can involve several electronic news gathering crews attempting to cover the same situation in a geographic area. This requires several radio-frequency channels to operate simultaneously, often over the same radio path, because the timeliness of capture and delivery of content has become more critical in today’s shortened news cycle.
Electronic news gathering is an activity that increasingly extends across national boundaries. Electronic news gathering equipment may be used in a range of situations. At one extreme, it may be used at known locations and scheduled times, for an estimated duration, in which case the details of the electronic news gathering coverage can be planned well in advance. At the other extreme, it may be used at very short notice at unknown locations for unknown durations, in cases such as breaking news or disaster.
With the growth in the use of frequency bands between 500 MHz and 10 GHz by several radiocommunication services, the possibility of increased congestion and interference in the same geographic area from other services may hinder electronic news gathering operations in some frequency bands. Co-siting requirements of multiple electronic news gathering links, while covering an event, need to be met.
Studies undertaken in the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) have resulted in four methods which may address harmonizing frequency bands for electronic news gathering. These fall into three groups:
rationalization of the spectrum used by electronic news gathering;
harmonization of tuning ranges within frequency bands for electronic news gathering;
a combination of both rationalization and harmonization.
The terms are understood as follows:
Rationalization means using available technology to maximize efficient and flexible use of frequencies. This implies using standardized equipment and advanced technologies to ensure the most efficient use of frequencies when equipment is deployed. Obviously, the use of equipment must be in accordance with the administrative regulations.
Harmonization means global or regional agreement to employ harmonized spectrum use in specific bands.
Some administrations consider that, depending on the specific electronic news gathering application, spectrum rationalization may be more productive because it will give foreign broadcasters or electronic news gathering operators knowledge of, and access to, the required spectrum in a given country or region.
The term “tuning range” for electronic news gathering means a range of frequencies over which radio equipment is expected to be capable of operating. Within this tuning range, the use in country A of radio equipment from country B will be limited to the range of frequencies identified nationally in country A for electronic news gathering, and the equipment will be operated in accordance with the related national conditions and requirements. This does not preclude the use of other applications in the same frequency range nor establish priority over any other use of these bands.
These tuning ranges are recommended good practice. They are preferred but not obligatory. The recommendations offer an important advantage in that they provide advice and guidance to equipment manufacturers. A table of preferred tuning ranges would include ranges that could be used in some countries but not in others. This is not a cause for concern – there is no need for access to all preferred tuning ranges to be possible in all countries. What would be important is that a country should seek to make available a number of channels in a preferred tuning range for each type of electronic news gathering application – both audio and video – for cross-border deployment by electronic news gathering crews.
Which tuning ranges could an administration propose for cross-border use by visiting electronic news gathering crews? One possibility would be to propose part of the spectrum resource assigned for use in national electronic news gathering. This would imply the need to coordinate cross-border use by visiting crews with national use, most probably on a case-by-case basis. Another possibility would be to propose tuning ranges for cross-border use that would not be used for national electronic news gathering applications. This would imply coordination with other existing national users, again most probably on a case-by-case basis.
Official notice by an administration of the tuning ranges available for cross-border use by visiting electronic news gathering crews would necessarily include details of the relevant administrative and temporary licensing arrangements. What if guidance on these tuning ranges is “hidden” in an ITU-R Recommendation and is not easy to find? This is not a concern if administrations are aware of, and generally, follow ITU-R Recommendations.
A recommendation in the Radio Regulations (if that is the chosen solution) could refer to one or more ITU-R Recommendations. Such recommendations would not be mandatory.
Electronic news gathering applications are unfortunately assumed to be newcomers in the bands allocated to the broadcasting, fixed and mobile service. In practice, many administrations have been making assignments for electronic news gathering applications for many years. By now, electronic news gathering has become part of the audio-visual, security and entertainment landscape for many administrations.
Administrations make individual decisions about national assignments for electronic news gathering. At WRC-12 administrations also have the opportunity to identify preferred tuning ranges for cross-border deployment of electronic news gathering. Studies have focused on the bands already used for electronic news gathering applications. These studies have found that spectrum tuning range requirements to facilitate cross-border electronic news gathering may be considerably less than host administrations’ national requirements.
It remains to be seen which frequency bands or tuning ranges administrations at WRC-12 will prefer for cross-border deployment of electronic news gathering.
The author thanks John Lewis, Consultant in international spectrum management, for his advice.