Satellite TV

Satellite TV systems enable viewers to receive free to air and/or pay TV channels in remote locations where land-based television reception is either poor, or non-existent. In fact, Australians have had free to air Satellite TV since 1985. The free to air service broadcasts programming from the 7, 9 and 10 networks plus has five ABC and four SBS services, and there are no monthly fees.

Satellite TV Overview

With an increase in the number of off-road caravans and people opting to travel to more remote locations this is an area of satellite technology that is gaining increasing popularity and use. All channels are broadcast in digital format, which means you get crystal clear pictures and CD quality sound on every channel. This is wonderful stuff and its actually not that expensive!

Satellite TV systems vary in price depending on which type of system is purchased. A complete system may cost you anywhere from $1,300 right up to $3,200 however they all give the same channels and the same picture quality - so shop around, this is one area where you may not actually get what you pay for.

For most people buying a complete system is the ideal hassle-free way of getting up and running with a guaranteed working solution. There is no denying that this technology can get a bit confusing but thankfully there are now a quite a few companies offering a total solution to suit just about anyone's individual needs and preferences.

An alternative option to buying "ready to go" satellite systems is to purchase individual components yourself. Obviously, this would really only be an option if you are savy with electronics but the parts are available and you may find it cheaper to DIY. Unfortunately, there isn't sufficient room in this article to go into the specifics of the DIY option, but there are plenty of people who are willing to share their experiences and tips with you in various forums, including the our Forum.

Satellite Service Providers

Free to View (FTV) services are provided by Aurora Satellite TV. The channels in Aurora’s system are free in the sense; however, they do need a smart card to access the channels because they are scrambled. This service was established to provide “free to view” television for those people living in the outback and those regional areas without line-of-sight of transmission towers or repeaters. To receive your FTA channels, you will need an Aurora Subscriber Smart Card.

Additionally, if you wish to access PayTV channels through Foxtel or Austar, you will need their smart card as well as their official decoder. They are provided as part of their installation and contract agreement and will not issue smart cards on their own.

Austar also uses Irdeto encryption, which means, the Austar smart card will work in licensed Irdeto decoders. This gives you the option of using a third party DVB-C cable receiver along with an Irdeto CAM (Conditional Access Module) with an Austar subscriber card. The customer can leave their Austar equipment at home and use their portable Satellite TV system and Austar smartcard.

Satellite TV Equipment

To receive free to air satellite TV and radio channels you need a satellite dish and digital satellite receiver. There are many equipment choices available to you, with a range of quality receivers and different sized dishes. Note - the actual television screen/monitor does not need to be anything more than a standard everyday tv set, however normal televisions are often bulky and require additional attention in both packing and space. The new LCD screens available with built-in speakers is a good solution and can also be used as your computer monitor if required.

Satellite dishes come in a large range of sizes but for travellers where portability is a crucial issue, you should ensure that you shop around for one that is suited for your intended use. Now that C1 is operational, the 60cm dish is perfectly adequate for travellers.

Although there are many foreign language channels available free to air on a number of satellites visible to us in Australia, the international satellites usually require a larger dish upwards of 90cm, and more generally a 2.3m dish is required, which is simply impractical for travellers.

So, whether you by a complete system or purchase separate components, you need all the following to be able to receive and view television broadcast via satellite:
  • Satellite Decoder Box

  • Satellite Dish

  • Universal LNB (low noise block down converter, otherwise known as "thingy that points to the middle of the dish")

  • Coaxial cable

  • Signal strength meter

  • Assortment of connections

  • Tripod for mounting satellite dish

  • Aurora smart card for FTA

The Satellite Dish

This is usually assembled and mounted on a tripod (or quadpod) in the open air. Connections in the cable allow the installation of the signal strength meter close to the dish for ease of tuning. Inside your caravan (or similar) the decoder would be connected to an internal F pin plate and to the television via AV leads. The initial set-up is similar to the installation of a VCR or pay TV decoder box.

It is important that there are no obstructions such as buildings or trees interfering with the transmission line between dish and satellite. Once the approximate azimuth and elevation are roughly obtained the dish is adjusted until the signal strength meter indicates maximum strength. The LNB needs to be turned to the correct angle, which will be indicated, by the tuning tone and pattern on the television. If all goes to plan and the tuning pattern and tone are obtained the available programs are then received by operating the auto tune on the decoder box. With a bit of practice the actual tuning of the dish can be done in about 5-10 minutes.

Understanding the "Bands"

Generally speaking, there are two frequency ranges, otherwise known as "bands", in which satellite transmissions are broadcast.


This is a lower powered wide beam (approx. 1/3 of the earth). Due to the energy being dissipated over such a wide area a larger dish is required to capture enough signal to be usable, typically 1.8M solid or 2.3M Mesh dish is the minimum required. As this beam-type has such a wide coverage area, many of the free services can be found here, however such large dishes are not generally practical for travellers.


This is a higher frequency, higher powered beam and with its ability to be formed into very high powered spot beams, the Pay/subscription networks can mainly be found here. The reasons for this because for one, they are able to use much smaller dishes (typically 65cm-1M) these of course being easier and cheaper to purchase and install, but also because they can target their subscriber base using finely tuned spot beams allowing maximum power in their key regions.

Because of this, there is not too much on Ku band that is free. One or two channels on some of the satellites. However, there is a service called 'Aurora' also known as RABS - Remote Area Broadcast Services, transmitted from Optus B1. This is a free service but is on a weak beam and requires a minimum dish size of 1.2M (solid) or 2M mesh.

What Satellites do I use?

Australia's main satellite services has been provided by the Optus B-3 satellite located at 152.0°E. The new Optus C1 satellite is at 156.07°E. The C1 signal is 220% more powerful than the B3 signal. C1 is 37,273km in geo-stationary orbit on the equator above Papua New Guinea.

The Foxtel/Austar and Aurora Free to Air (FTA) are now all on C1. The added power of C1 now means that a 60cm dish works well throughout Australia (improved portability for campers). There are at least 20 Radio stations available including ABC FM, SBS radio, BBC, QTAB, JJJ, ABC Parliament and News, and many music channels.

If there is more than one satellite that you want to receive then instead of a fixed dish the next better option is to have a motorised system which with the push of a remote control button, the dish will track the satellite arc and stop on the satellite of your choice.

Satellite Future Directions

The use of satellites to remote control "assets" anywhere in the world from a computer has revolutionised many businesses. Fleet operators can track their vessels and vehicles via satellite with small terminals relaying information through the internet to desktop applications. Taxi drivers are now more safer with access to email and message services relayed to and from their vehicles via satellite and now, recreational drivers can send and receive information from their vehicles via an internet managed satellite system.

Satellite technology is improving the speed and reliability of sending and receiving all sorts of video, data and audio content regardless of distance from infrastructure, which ultimately means that residents and travellers will find a steady increase in communications/entertainment capabilities regardless of distance from towns or cities.

Broadband by satellite, high speed internet, video conferencing, multicasting, voice over internet protocol, and mobile broadband are all new growth areas where satellite technology is changing our lives in both business and recreation. Mobile broadband is already achievable wherever you can drive a 4WD, which is fantastic news for Australians. Essentially, you can now have any broadband related services at your fingertips simply by installing a small satellite receiver to your vehicle - some receivers will work only whilst stationery, whilst others are being designed for continuous use even whilst travelling at high speeds. The only criteria is a clear line to the satellite(s) used by the service provider.

One of the major drivers of satellite technology is its inherent strength as a broadcast medium. Safety alerts, regional information and other targeted messages could well be sent direct to drivers in their vehicles around the country via satellite multicasting. We can certainly expect to gain access to more reliable information when on the road through new services provided by either government or private services using multicasting in the future. Once such device is the SPOT Satellite Messenger, which when synchronised with the ExplorOz Tracker service provides a reliable and real time tracking service.

It really does appear that any product coming onto today's market using satellite technology is worth a good look.

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Created: October 2006
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