Live from the U.S. Open: Libin, LaPlace Orchestrate Crowded RF Environment

The U.S. Open is always a bit of an RF challenge simply given the vast number of frequencies and devices that need to be coordinated. And then there are the local issues, which are always different depending on the number of TV stations in the area, the terrain (oceans are always an added wrinkle), and the number of local stations that want to broadcast from the course. The challenge this year at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia? A bit of everything: 20 TV station transmitters within three miles of the course, more than 750 users of wireless devices, and a broadcast compound that is located in one of the lowest points on the course.

Denise LaPlace and Louis Libin are coordinating the hundreds of wireless spectrum users at the US Open.

Denise LaPlace and Louis Libin are coordinating the hundreds of wireless spectrum users at the U.S. Open.

“We’re in a really bad place but we make it work,” says Louis Libin, who is heading up frequency coordination of more than 750 frequencies. “We test and test and test and then test the distance that someone can go before they have interference. So it’s all about putting the right people in the right place.”

One thing that has helped is that the practice range is located more than a mile away. “There is complete reuse of spectrum,” adds Libin.

Libin and his team have been working for the U.S. Open for years so they understand some of the workarounds to maximize spectrum use. Three surveys take place, but it really isn’t until everyone is on site that they understand how everything will fit together.

“We’ll change things by necessity when people come in as we find that some people can live in certain frequencies,” he says.

Channels 18 and 21 are the primary spectrum home for the big broadcasters like NBC, ESPN, the Golf Channel and their RF providers, CP Communications, and Broadcast Sports, Inc. But Libin is the first to admit that everyone is lucky that those channels are available and that in the future it will be harder and harder to rely on luck, especially as the government gets ready to auction off spectrum to the highest bidder.

“Broadcasters cannot compete against companies like Google, so we’re going to lose spectrum and need to find new places to operate,” he says.

A temporary solution, literally, is to apply for special temporary authorization to operate in the 1.4 GHz band. The 1.4 GHz spectrum band is managed by Boeing and set aside for aircraft telemetry.

“We’re lucky they said yes but that is not going to last,” he says.

The long-term solution? Libin sees a need for the industry to find 3 Mhz of spectrum and then pool financial resources to build equipment that move all of the wireless devices currently used on televised events to that safe zone.

“We make things work all the time by the skin of our teeth but it cannot be the vendors pushing it all alone,” he adds. “We are going to need our client to get involved.”