17 May 2022

Back of the net! Meet our team behind the scenes at the FA Cup Final

Millions of people in the UK and worldwide tuned in to TV coverage of Saturday’s FA Cup Final at Wembley – and Ofcom was on the scene to help make sure the broadcast went without a hitch.

The match, between Liverpool and Chelsea, was one of the biggest events in this year’s sporting calendar. And broadcasters use an array of equipment to make sure those global audiences are able to tune in to the big match.

Some of the kit they use – for example wireless microphones and cameras, in-ear monitors, and communications equipment such as walkie-talkies – operates at different frequencies on the radio spectrum. And it’s vital that all of these individual pieces of equipment operate safely and without interference.

To make sure of this, Ofcom has a team on site at lots of major sports and cultural events like the Cup Final. Our Programme-Making and Special Events (PMSE) team is responsible for checking equipment used by broadcasters and venue staff, to make sure they don’t interfere with each other, or with any other technology used on or near the venue.

On Saturday, our spectrum planners Justin Whillock and Des Vitalis were tasked with this.

They were at Wembley long before kick-off – and even way ahead of the squads - arriving in the morning to start work. It takes hours of testing checking to make sure all the equipment can be used on the day, with each item needing Ofcom’s approval.

The frequency plan for an event like this is coordinated ahead of the day, which allows broadcasters the time required to program and prepare their kit. As a large event, the FA Cup Final has a radio frequency requirement for audio and visual links from a helicopter.

Once on site, our team works with broadcasters and other equipment users to verify that their equipment is correctly tuned as set out in the frequency plan. They cover nearly every inch of the stadium, with spectrum analysers and laptops at hand, constantly searching for equipment or operators and then quickly establishing whether they are licensed.

We focus on proactively looking for potential sources of interference, as there is precious little time to resolve things reactively once the event has started

Given the amount and nature of the kit they use, mobile film crews score highly on our interest levels, but our team were glad to say that this year's event ran smoothly, the weather was truly glorious, and it was great for them to meet broadcasters, put faces to names and share some stories.

Thanks to the work of Justin and Des, broadcasters from the UK and overseas were able to use their kit safely and smoothly, making sure viewers didn’t miss out on seeing the match – including those nerve-wracking extra time and penalties, no less.

What is spectrum?

You can’t see or feel radio spectrum. But any device that communicates wirelessly needs spectrum – such as televisions, car key fobs, baby monitors, wireless microphones and satellites. Mobile phones use spectrum to connect to a local mast so people can make calls and access the internet.

Why does Ofcom manage spectrum use?

Only a limited amount of spectrum is available, so it needs to be managed carefully. Certain bands of spectrum are also used for different purposes. For example, mobile companies use different parts of the spectrum to TV companies. So, it needs to be managed to prevent services interfering and causing disruption to people and businesses.

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