Clear-Com FreeSpeak II – Full Duplex Wireless Comms that Just Work
by Chris Dodds.
For years, simple and reliable full-duplex wireless communications has been somewhat of a holy grail for Intercom manufacturers. So, what is ‘full duplex’ I hear you ask? Full-duplex intercom refers to an intercom system that has the capability to talk and listen at the same time, just like a telephone. No need to talk, then pause whilst the other party responds – and no chance that some of the communication might get lost if someone talks over you.
In the past, the only way to achieve fullduplex comms was to use two frequencies – one for ‘talk’ and one for ‘listen’.
In a multi-beltpack / multi-user system that would become difficult very quickly, as each user would need a separate frequency to talk back; a twenty-user system would require at least twenty-one channels, which in a crowded RF spectrum becomes impractical.
These types of systems and topology formed the basis of the iconic BTR wireless system from Telex and explained why it was generally limited to a few beltpacks – and required coordination with TV stations, Radio Mics, and In-Ear Monitoring systems.
So as someone immortal probably once said, there had to be a better way.
Back in the early 2000s a group of intercom engineers in the UK began experimenting with a technology called DECT to see if they could improve on the current state of play in wireless intercom. DECT had its basis in the wireless telephone space and forms the basis of many domestic and commercial PABX wireless solutions.
Back in the early days DECT was limited to telephone quality and solutions had to be found to use multiple ‘time slots’ to achieve intercom quality; but the team succeeded and the first generation of FreeSpeak was born. It was expensive and far from perfect, but it showed that there was another way.
Fast-forward a few years. After Clear-Com joined the HME family back in 2010, there was a mood to reinvigorate the FreeSpeak concept.
In 2014, Clear-Com released the FreeSpeak II. A completely redesigned beltpack, along with a new antenna transceiver, was released. The industry acceptance was significant and shortly after the products release, The P.A. People was awarded the communications contract for the Inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2015.
The production crew did not include full-duplex on the original specification, but as the artistic component of the event developed, and after we had been appointed as contractor, it was determined that a full-duplex solution would constitute a significant advantage for the Ceremonies.
The P.A. People turned to FreeSpeak II as its solution. Over 80 packs were deployed with twenty antennas and the system worked flawlessly.
Fast-forward again. The Olympic Games are widely regarded as the pinnacle of competitive sporting competition. What many may not know is that the demands on athletes are replicated by the demands on the technical systems that support them.
In 2018, for the first time the Committee of the Pyeong Chang Winter Olympic Games decided that it was time to upgrade the venue sports presentation and results intercom systems, from a traditional two-way radio solution to a full-duplex system. Again, The P.A. People was on hand to provide a solution based on the Clear-Com FreeSpeak II system.
At fifteen Winter Olympic venues, we deployed 400 FreeSpeak II beltpacks, over 100 antennas and 30 splitters as a mixture of systems integrated within a Matrix frame and stand-alone FreeSpeak II Bases. That’s a lot of FreeSpeak II at one event.
Recently, FreeSpeak has received another upgrade, which has significantly improved its performance and flexibility yet again. In response to a growing requirement for networked solutions, Clear-Com have released a fully networked antenna solution for FreeSpeak II.
The upgrade consists of a new AES67 card for the Eclipse range of Matrix Intercom frames and a new IP antenna transceiver allowing the IP system to run up to 10 beltpacks per antenna. Extensively tested by DORNA, the organisation behind the Moto GP competition, the new IP solution has found wide acceptance in the twelve months since its release.
FreeSpeak II can now operate with the original antennas and splitters or with the new IP based antennas. Beltpacks can be user-configured to work with either infrastructure.
You can use it either fully integrated with a matrix, OR stand alone with a base; it has traditional antennas and splitters (simple to use and no network required) OR it has IP antennas with 10 devices per antenna and works on a network; it is scalable – you can use a few packs or a hundred; it is the Industry standard with literally thousands and thousands of systems deployed worldwide
FreeSpeak II just works. From the largest theatrical productions to sports presentation to corporate events, it is available for hire from The PA People either as part of a full comms system package, as a standalone system to integrate with your kit, or simply some extra packs or antennas for your own FreeSpeak II system.
Chris Dodds is the Managing Director of The P.A. People (proud owner of the world’s largest Clear-Com rental inventory and a FreeSpeak user since 2004.)
CX Magazine – May 2019 Entertainment technology news and issues for Australia and New Zealand – in print and free online www.cxnetwork.
© CX Media
Further reading from CX Magazine’s Wireless Feature – May 2019:
Shure Reveal Twinplex. Mission: Take on DPA – by Julius Grafton
Wireless Voodoo – Not a Dark Art – by Fraser Walker
In-Ear Monitoring – by Sennheiser’s Adam Karolewski
Clear-Com FreeSpeak II – by The P.A. People’s Chris Dodds
Signal Out of the Noise – by Simon Byrne
Is that a wireless intercom in your pocket? – by Jand’s Jeff MacKenzie
Antennas for Wireless Microphones – by Jand’s Jeff MacKenzie
The Politics of Wireless – by Simon Byrne
Wireless Recordings – by Andy Stewart
From the archive – Wireless Mics were a feature in Connections Magazine, March 1999:
Radio Microphones (Sub-titled “How Did I Get Stuck With This Job!”) by John Matheson (includes a wireless systems Buyers Guide and Radio Spectrum Guide for Australia.)
Published monthly since 1991, our famous AV industry magazine is free for download or pay for print. Subscribers also receive CX News, our free weekly email with the latest industry news and jobs.