At Sennheiser’s recent Technology Day – hosted by Stage Audio Works on the 26th of February at The Venue in Midrand – customer development and application engineer Jonas Naesby shared some insights about wireless RF microphone technology and its potentially precarious position in South Africa.
“We have seen an explosion of wireless technology in Europe, and it is inevitable that the same will happen in South Africa,” he said. “This is because there are more and more wireless devices, which are playing increasingly large roles in everyday life – you have all these connected devices, this enormous Internet of Things, and they all require spectrum space in order to operate. Overall, there is a much bigger usage of the frequency spectrum that even 10 or 15 years ago.”
As Naesby pointed out, “There are a lot of industries that require spectrum space for their operations – some huge players, who have much more powerful money reserves than the pro-audio market and so can buy up spectrum space. That forces us to be innovative with our products and our strategies,” he said, and described how – these days – Sennheiser has seven full-time employees whose sole job it is to liaise with radio congresses around the world and to secure spectrum resources for wireless microphones.
The problem with this ‘scramble for spectrum’, as Naesby put it, is that “a wireless microphone needs a frequency. And so your frequency spectrum is basically a scarce natural resource, as there are a lot of different technologies out there fighting for the same space on the spectrum. We’ve seen that in many, many countries,” he noted – and explained that the ICASA’s new National Radio Frequency Plan 2018 has seen the spectrum space allotted for wireless microphone technology shrink problematically.
Indeed, in a 2017 response to a request for comments on ICASA’s proposed plan, the South African Communications Industries Association (SACIA) raised these very concerns, stating that “the current  stock of wireless microphones in South Africa operates in frequency bands ranging from 40 MHz all the way up to 952 MHz” and that the “proposed changes would have far-reaching implications for a broad range of end-user groups.”
Referencing these efforts to find a compromise, Naesby commented: “There is light at the end of the tunnel because there is a good dialogue, and hopefully things will change again soon – because if you only have a two megahertz range to operate within, it will pose challenges to the type of productions this country could put on.”
Expanding on the potential dangers of this policy direction, Naesby reflected on his experience of the European market – where Sennheiser have had to do extensive lobbying in order to secure protection for wireless microphone technology in recent years.
“We have done a massive job of educating regulators and politicians about the technology of wireless microphones and its social impact. Because let’s face it: it’s not about the wireless microphone, it’s about the content it creates. It’s about the tourism it creates – in terms of theatre, for example – can you imagine the West End operating without wireless microphones? And it turns out when you do the full maths on this – when you factor in the benefits that the entertainment industry brings to other industries like hotels and taxis, our industry has a bigger turnover than the entire mobile industry, it employs more people and it has a higher growth rate.”
For information about Sennheiser’s comprehensive range of wireless microphone technologies, visit www.sennheiser.co.za; while to learn more about the South African Communications Industries Association, visit www.sacia.org.za.