Radio Microphone Licensing
On this page we have produced a summary of what we understand to be the current legal situation with regard to the licensing of Radio Microphones within the UK.
The information presented on this page is our interpretation of the regulations published by OFCOM and in no way should these be taken to be up-to-date or accurate. Those intending to use Radio Microphones should consult the OFCOM website or contact them directly to ensure compliance with the current regulations. Live Systems Ltd will accept no responsiblity in respect of individuals, companies or organisations making incorrect licensing decisions based on the information presented on this page.
Wireless microphones can be classified into three different transmission types – VHF, UHF and Digital.
VHF Radio Microphones
VHF (Very High Frequency) based systems are an older, analogue radio mic technology and are seldom used these days. They are usually based around a crystal and as such, have a fixed frequency. VHF, in terms of radio mics, refers to the range 173.800 Mhz to 217.000 MHz. Only certain fixed frequencies are available to be licensed. We will not discuss VHF systems any further as they are rare these days.
UHF Radio Microphones
UHF (Ultra High Frequency) based systems use a frequency synthesis technique which allows them to be configured for a range of frequencies and are therefore much more adaptable. UHF radio mics operate in the range 470.000 Mhz to 865.000 MHz. The UHF band is shared between a number of users including DTV and mobile network operators. As such, only certain frequencies may be available for PMSE use dependent on the geographical area you are operating in.
Digital Radio Microphones
Digital Systems use a digital carrier signal. Most digital system operate in the 2.4GHz which is de-regulated and does not require a license. There is a lot of other traffic in this band however, such as WiFi networks, and range can be more of an issue.
Professional digital systems operate in the lower UHF ranges that offer better RF efficiency and performance. These systems require the same licensing as standard analogue systems.
Radio Microphone use is regulated in the UK by OFCOM and is now administered by them directly (OFCOM PMSE). OFCOM are responsible for managing all parts of the radio spectrum available in the UK and providing licenses to users of the different parts of the spectrum. Radio microphone systems fall into the category of Program Making and Special Events (PMSE).
OFCOM regulate who can use what frequencies and where they can be used in order to prevent disruption to service for users of transmitting equipment.
Radio Microphones may be used in different parts of the frequency spectrum. Some frequencies are de-regulated and may be used without a licence. Others require the user to obtain a licence from OFCOM and will depend on the type of use, duration and location.
A certain part of the frequency spectrum is set aside for operation without a licence. We refer to these as De-Regulated Frequencies. Any device operating within this band can be used without a license providing the device conforms to the appropriate equipment specifications. Currently the deregulated UHF band is located in the range 863.00 to 865.000 MHz. There is also a band in the range 2400 – 2483.5 MHz, often referred to as the 2.4GHz band.
Naturally, it would seem like a good idea to run your radio microphones within this band as no license fees would be incurred. However, many other devices use this band: cordless phones, radio controlled toys,s walkie-talkies, taxi companies – to name but a few. As you can imagine, there is a relatively high risk of interference from other sources in the de-regulated bands and this makes them a non-starter for serious radio microphone applications. Additionally, this band is quite small and most systems will only support a maximum of 4 simultaneous systems here. Some manufacturer’s have now released radio microphone systems in the 2.4GHz band. This may also provide problematic as it is used by wireless routers, handsfree telephones and other similar devices.
Licensed Frequency Bands
Where a licensed frequency is required, there are two main types of licenses which can be applied for – Shared frequency and Coordinated frequency.
UK Shared Frequency License
Shared frequency bands are available for both VHF and UHF systems and comprise a block of frequencies which are available for use throughout the UK both indoors and outdoors. Users who obtain a license for these frequencies will normally purchase the licence for a year and this allows them to use these frequencies anywhere in the country during this period without recourse to JFMG. As the name suggests, however, these same frequencies are shared by any other user holding a shared frequency licence and so, although much better than using the de-regulated frequencies, there is still some risk of interference from other users.
For UHF Systems the shared frequency band has traditionally existed in TV Channel 69 (854.00 to 862.000 MHz). However, due to the changes as part of the Digital Dividend Review and the move to Digital television, channel 69 has been removed from use for radio microphone users from Dec 2012. A new replacement band has been made available – Channel 38 – and operates in the range 606.000 to 614.000 MHz. Users who already own equipment that operates in Channel 69 must either replace or upgrade their equipment to operate in the new Channel 38 band as systems are not normally able to tune across such a wide bandwidth.
Also, as part of the European Commission’s efforts to harmonise PMSE spectrum across Europe, the bands 823 to 832 MHz and 1785 to 1805 MHz have been added to the UK Shared Frequency License.
Coordinated/Fixed Site Licence
Coordinated frequencies offer a solution to situations where interference is not a option. Coordinated frequency licenses are for specific frequencies for a specific period of time and at a fixed location. No other user is allowed to use those frequencies allocated in that location for the specified time period. This guarantees the user interference free operation. Care should be taken when selecting frequencies as not all frequencies are available at all locations. This is particularly important if you have a touring production where you will have to apply for licenses for each venue\location.
In order to be used legally within the UK, radio microphones must conform to MPT 1350 (UK) or I-ETS 300 422 (ETSI). Equipment not conforming to these specifications is illegal for use within the UK. Additionally, there are limitations for output power. Handheld transmitters are limited to a maximum output power of 10mW. Bodypack transmitters, like those used with lapel microphones, can have outputs of up to 50mW to allow for absorption of the signal by the body.
Don’t get caught out – Get Licensed
For many years, the policing of the airwaves had been rather poor and although the legal penalties were potentially quite severe, many users simply tuned their equipment where they wanted without any thought to licensing – whether they knew they needed it or not. Then, when the government announced that they were clearing out a large part of the UHF spectrum with the aim of selling this to the mobile network operators, many PMSE users were suddenly left with equipment that would not tune to the new frequency sets and would be illegal for use if not inoperable alongside the mobile networks. However, those that did have the correct licensing in place became eligible for a government sponsored compensation scheme which went a good way to covering the cost of users updating or replacing their equipment. Those who had never purchased a license were not eligible though and many have had to update their equipment out of their own pockets.
While it may still seem tempting to stick in the license-exempt bands, there are several good reasons to buy a license.
- You have access to frequencies which are allocated exclusively for PMSE use and have reduced risk of interference.
- You are better protected from future changes to spectrum allocation which may require equipment upgrades.
- The government has a better picture of the number of PMSE users in the country and may be less inclined to make changes that affect you.
If you would like any further information on this subject then either contact us or go to the OFCOM website at OFCOM PMSE Licensing