A Taboo Topic Coming Forward

By | December 1, 2011 | Broadcasting, Editor's Note, Telecom

It may seem odd that satellite interference can be a bit of a taboo subject in the industry, given that the recent Satellite Interference Reduction Group (sIRG) event I attended provides an open forum for discussing new ways of tackling this issue. I suspect the true cost of interference is much higher than many would like to believe. Everybody is aware of the scale of the problem, but getting hard evidence of the true scale is not easy. But, we are talking millions of dollars here.

It almost feels like the industry has become a victim of its own success. The more satellites that go up, the more risk there is of interference. There have been some world events this year that have perhaps led to more interference, for example the political unrest in the Middle East, which has led to a resurgence of activities in Libya to control the media and get political messages out to a waiting audience.

All of these factors have contributed to satellite interference being, once again, front-and-center in the industry. It is hard to say whether this issue will ever be truly solved, but what was encouraging at the sIRG event was that there was optimism that new solutions and breakthroughs could be around the corner.

A lot of the debate is centered on ‘Carrier ID,’ a method used to identify the source of transmissions. Eutelsat’s recent announcement that Carrier ID will be integrated into transmission parameters for all SNG transmissions and new DVB broadcasts from June 30, 2012, has re-focused and re-sharpened the debate. Other operators have not been so quick to deploy a Carrier ID strategy, but Eutelsat’s announcement could have a domino effect, and lead to a more coherent Carrier ID strategy across the industry. Martin Coleman, executive director, sIRG, also hailed Eutelsat’s recent initiative noting it “a huge breakthrough” as sIRG looks to bring a more coherent Carrier ID policy across the industry. Technology vendors are also getting onboard, with new solutions potentially making it easier to implement an effective Carrier ID policy, and have a more efficient approach to dealing with interference.

Yet, there are issues. At the sIRG meeting, one of the initiatives mooted was a potential global database of unique Carrier ID codes together with the name of the associated satellite operator. The thought was, if there is interference, it can easily be identified by the affected operator, and that operator can then access the database and find the responsible satellite operator for that carrier. Contact can then be made and the problem of major interference will be more quickly mitigated.

It is a laudable idea in theory, as it could enable operators to identify very quickly sources of interference, but it remains to be seen whether it can be implemented, as both operators and customers would have to be far more open to providing this information than before. If there was a global database of Carrier ID information, who would manage it, and would all operators sign up for it?

The issue of military satellite interference was also touched upon at the sIRG event, and how much cooperation Defense Forces around the world would give to such initiatives is open to question.

It is hard to say how much this issue costs satellite operators. Losing revenue this way is a bitter pill to swallow. I imagine it is the same feeling pay-TV operators have when they lose revenue to piracy, or people illegally downloading and watching their broadcasts. It must be an endless source of frustration for satellite operators.

So, what happens next? In an attempt to lead the fight against interference, sIRG is trying to coordinate a more collaborative response from the industry. This issue is engaging some of the industry’s brightest minds. For the industry’s sake, we can only hope they succeed.

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