Satellite interference: still a problem

07 Mar 2006

Satellite interference is one of those things that everyone complains about, but few do anything to fix it. The Satellite Users Interference Reduction Group (SUIRG) has been trying to tackle the issue, and progress has been made, but it's been slow going.

No surprise, when you think of the sheer scale of the problem. SUIRG is averaging something like 4,000 reports of interference incidents a year - with hundreds or even thousands more that are believed to go unreported. According to the latest SUIRG stats, as reported by Karl Rossiter (chair of CASBAA's technical committee and CTO of Zieland Infrastructure) in the March 2006 issue of Line Of Sight, almost 40% of it is caused by equipment malfunctions. Nearly 30% is caused by human error or cross-polarization. And 21.7% of it happens for no known reason.

None of this is news to anyone in the satellite business - not least since SUIRG has been putting out similar data for the last couple of years. Neither are the root causes of various interference types. Reports from SUIRG, CASBAA and the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union have repeatedly summed up the situation clearly: crowded space segments (especially in Asia), cheap, poorly made uplink equipment, poor maintenance and lack of proper training for installers are the most cited culprits.

The problem has always been how to get everyone on the same page. Guidelines and procedures for uplinks and equipment installation, compliance and skillsets vary from market to market, and there's also no single certification process for equipment or operators.

SUIRG is doing what it can for now, chiefly by calling attention to the issue, distributing information on problem equipment, providing training materials and developing skills training for satellite uplink operators, including the industry's first Universal Access Procedure for satellite uplinking (developed in conjunction with ISOG's Rogue Carriers Working Group). Last year SUIRG launched a Global Uplink Registry in the hopes of building a database of companies meeting certain criteria for reliable, interference-free uplinks.

This year, according to Rossiter, SUIRG will focus on three particular areas: interference source identifiers, training certification procedures and protocols, and clarifying unknown interference sources. Part of that will include an interactive online uplink training course developed by e-Blended Learning Solutions and BeaconSeek. The course, Rossiter says, will support multiple languages, tutorial support, and 'immediate and progressive assessment:' Moreover, SUIRG will oversee proceedings and certification, and participants can elect to be practically assessed in a real live uplinking environment.

How effective all this has been and will be is hard to say. Aside from the fact that these are relatively recent initiatives that will take time to gain traction at the local SNG/VSAT level, the satellite interference issue is a bit bigger than just a bunch of untrained technicians installing rickety VSATs. Complicating things has been the mixed signals from satellite players in just how big a deal interference really is. Some say it's costing them money. Others say it's an occupational hazard of the business and will never be eliminated anyway - particularly in a crowded market like Asia, which is served by 27 different regional and global operators, more than any other region in the world.

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