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Satellite or Satellites?

DISH started with a single satellite but know has a fleet of them in orbit
All satellites used for broadcasting TV signals are in geostationary orbit
More satellites mean more channels for DISH customers

There are probably quite a few people that picture one big old satellite up there beaming all that great programming down to millions of DISH customers, and although that was the case at one time, there have been very significant additions to the company’s fleet of satellites since I first signed up in 1998.

As the company added more channels, including high-definition channels, the need for more satellites became obvious. One satellite can only transmit a certain number of channels, depending on the number of transponders that it has on board.

Once a satellite is “maxed out” and all the transponders are in use, the only sensible solution is to launch a new satellite. DISH now has a fleet of satellites that are in geostationary orbit at about 23,000 miles or so, which keeps them in one place relative to the Earth. This allows for alignment of the dish antenna for reception from a particular satellite.

My installation used to receive signals from three separate satellites. My old DISH 500 antenna was able to receive signals from both the 110 and 119 satellites at the same time using what is known as a “dual LNB,” and another dish antenna receives signals from the 61.5 satellite.

The newer dishes like those that were installed as part of the Eastern Arc upgrade can receive three satellites, making the need for multiple dish antennas a thing of the past.

The numbers, such as 110 and 61.5 represent the longitude on Earth that the satellite is sitting directly above. All satellites in geostationary orbit must maintain their position above the equator in order to remain stationary relative to the Earth, so all of them are at zero degrees latitude.

With multiple satellites and new dish antennas that can receive signals from more than one satellite at a time, it is not as simple as it once was for consumers to install their own systems. Free professional installation is available just about everywhere in the U.S., so getting hooked up with DISH is pretty easy.

You can schedule your own DISH installation right online.

Some Technical Details: The Geeky Stuff

DISH’s first satellite, EchoStar I had a total of 16 transponders
The large, unattractive C-Band dishes are outdated and not often seen these days
EchoStar XI is DISH’s newest satellite, and was launched last July

DISH launched its first satellite, called EchoStar I in 1996 and positioned it at 119 degrees west longitude. It had a total of 16 transponders and was later moved from the 119 position to the 148 position. That was the satellite I aligned my new dish with back in the fall of 1998 when I installed my DISH 5000 system.

Since then, a number of new satellites have been launched and with advancing technology came advancements in satellites. The newer satellites have double the number of transponders, giving them a total of 32 for broadcasting television programming to subscribers.

Those of us who remember the old gigantic satellite dishes that were once required can easily see how far the technology has come since those days.

Those old C-Band dish systems operated on a frequencies between 4 and 8 GHz, and were a bit on the ugly side. Their size made them a challenge to locate without making your house look like some kind of government communications installation.

The newer satellite systems that allow us to use the much smaller and less obtrusive dish antennas operate in the Ku-Band which designates frequencies in the 12 to 18 GHz area. Both the old C-Band systems and the new systems operate within the range of frequencies known as microwaves. Not unlike the signals produced by a microwave oven to cook food!

The most recent satellite launched for DISH was EchoStar XI, which was actually launched from a ship at sea by a company called, appropriately enough, Sea Launch. It was launched last summer and is set to replace EchoStar VIII in the 110 degree orbital slot.

The Future: How Will Satellite TV Evolve?

Satellite is one among many ways for consumers to receive pay-TV service
Some consumers have very little choice for service due to their location
The next logical advance for satellite would be to allow two-way communication

Judging from the commercials on TV these days, there is no shortage of competition when it comes to pay-TV options. The two big players in the satellite market are DISH and DirecTV, but there are also a host of cable TV companies out there and now even the telephone companies are joining in the race by introducing TV service via fiber optics, like Verizon’s FiOS.

There are those that have very few options available to them despite all the pay-TV services that are out there. Some rural areas are not wired for cable TV because it is just not cost-effective to run lines for many miles for just a small number of customers. Consumers in that type of situation are good candidates for satellite television as long as they have access to a area that will allow the dish antenna to have an unobstructed path to the spot in the sky where the satellite is located.

What the future holds for the satellite industry is not certain, but it is certainly open for speculation. One of the major problems the satellite companies have had from the beginning is that it is a one-way medium. In other words, you can receive programming from a satellite, but there is no way to communicate back to it. That is why cable TV has always had the advantage when it comes to on-demand programming. Cable is a two-way medium, as demonstrated best by high-speed internet service that’s delivered via cable TV lines.

The satellite companies may develop new technology in the future which would allow for two-way communication, and that’s probably something that some scientist in some laboratory is probably working on right now.

Two-way communication with satellites is not a new development by a long shot, but adapting that technology to make it work in the satellite TV industry is the challenge. Consumers expect to pay a reasonable price for that kind of service and there’s plenty of competition out there providing incentive to push satellite to the next level.