Free to Air Satellite
Free to air satellite (FTA) is the term used to describe radio and television broadcasts that are made without encryption that allow consumers to enjoy the content without paying a monthly fee to decode the signal. Similar to the traditional TV and radio signals enjoyed for years by only using an antenna, free to air transmissions differ only in the scope of broadcast and the necessity for the consumer to have the right receiving equipment to receive the signal to route to a television, computer, or radio.
How Does Free to Air Satellite Work?
The primary concept behind free to air satellite content (FTA), is that the organizations broadcasting the material do not charge a subscription fee for the material. Other organizations may charge listeners or viewers for subsequent delivery of the content (via cable, Internet, or satellite subscription). In some companies, the delivery of these channels or content is optional, where in others it can be required by the government for the channels to be included alongside other content. In these cases, some or all of the FTA channels may be used by local, regional, or national government organizations for emergency notifications or broadcasts. Many of the free to view content channels broadcast as free to air via satellite may be digitally encoded due to geographic restrictions of the content. In these cases, the decoders for the material are typically available at a low cost to the individual consumer and won’t require a monthly payment for the decoder to remain operational.
How Do Consumers Pay for Free to Air Satellite Programming?
There are three methods that customers typically pay for free to air satellite programming: directly, indirectly, or a combination of the two methods. In the direct method, households either pay a license fee (TV licenses for BBC in the UK) or provide a voluntary donation for the content (think PBS’s annual fund raising efforts). The indirect model relies on sponsorship touting services and consumer products. Some of the larger television broadcasters that rely on this model are TV Tokyo, TV Asahi, and many of the Philippine TV channels like GMA, TV5, and ABS-CBN.
The CBC TV/ Télévision de Radio-Canada is an example of a station that relies on a combination of the two methods. The Canadian taxpayers partially fund the network which also leverages advertising income to help it compete with the other free television networks. Some of the content available in North America for free to air satellite use includes: CNC World News English, 3 ABN English TV, 3 ABN Proclaim TV, and many other channels.
How Do Free to Air Receivers Work?
Free to air (FTA) satellite receivers are designed to take unencrypted FTA satellite transmissions and deliver them to personal televisions or computers for viewing. The FTA satellite signals are normally encoded in the MPEG-2 standard (some in MPEG-4), and can legally be received without making a payment to anyone in most countries. The free to air satellite signals are transmitted in the UHF and VHF bands and require a satellite dish (C or K band dishes both work) and FTA receiver. If a consumer wants to receive broadcasts from multiple satellites, the configuration becomes more complex requiring both an antenna motor and LBNF.
How Do You Connect a Free to Air Satellite Antenna?
Once the C or K band dish is mounted and aimed appropriately, cabling must be run from the dish to the FTA satellite receiver. In most modern homes, there may be preexisting coaxial cable runs from previous installations of satellite television that can be reused for the FTA cable run. If not, a cable can generally be run (and mounted) to the cable box used for the home. In absence of any preexisting cable infrastructure, some planning will need to be made as to the best cable run and method to route the cable into the home. For those who do not like do-it-yourself projects, hiring a professional to mount the antenna and run the coaxial cable can save a lot of time (and potentially prevent injury!).
Once the dish and receiver are in place, the home user will now need to access the FTA satellite receiver options and choose the appropriate satellite for the TV or radio connection. Most services require regular firmware updates to ensure the receiver works and provides the highest level of service in the home. The receiver will have FTA satellite keys that must be entered manually and depending on your region may require other setting modifications to maximize the content that can be seen at home or where the FTA satellite service is being setup.
What is TVRO?
Another term used to describe free to air satellite and paid programming over the same equipment is TVRO (TV Receive Only). Unlike traditional FTA satellite channels, TVRO channels are encrypted. The TVRO digital content uses Digicipher II and the analog channels make use of VideoCipher II RS. All of the TVRO content is encoded as MPEG-2 or MPEG-4.
What are the TVRO Satellite Programming Bands?
TVRO content is primarily transmitted on the C and Ku bands. The majority of the content providers have been shifting to the Ku band; however, its use in the United States has declined over the past decade due to the shift by consumers to paid satellite or cable TV content delivery. In order to receive TVRO programming, the following equipment is required:
- Antenna motor (to receive content from more than one satellite)
- TVRO receiver or specific card for the computer.
- A C or Ku Band Dish (also referred to as the “Big Ugly Dish”)
- An LNB
World Wide Free to Air Satellite Broadcasts
There are a number of free to air satellite broadcasts across the world. The following are a number of the better known services available world-wide at the time of this writing:
Brazil FTA Satellite
The primary FTA satellite in Brazil is Star One C2 that includes 30 analog channels broadcast in the C band. These channels include all major TV networks to include Record, RedeTV!, Band, Rede Globo, SBT, and other channels. The satellite also includes five HDTV channels.
Europe FTA Satellite
Europe has traditionally provided a number of free satellite channels via FTA. There are more than 100 digital free to air satellite channels in Germany, and more than half of the Astra’s 19.2° east and 28.2° east satellite channels are FTA in addition to the Eutelsat Hot Bird (13°E). Unfortunately for consumers, there are a number of European channels that are not provided via the FTA broadcasts due to copyright reasons which would increase the overall cost of the respective channel to provide outside of a country’s borders. In these cases, the channels remain offered for free, but are encrypted and require a specific decoder in order to view the content (UK, AFN, and Dutch channels are some examples of content in this category).
Germany FTA Satellite
Germany has a number of FTA DVB-T services which change somewhat based on the region of the country. These include: ZDFneo, ZDFinfo, Das Erste, ZDF, 3sat, Arte, KiKA and Phoenix which are available throughout the country. Each of these services include a minimum of one of the regional channels with ARD’s: tagesschau24, EinsFestival, and EinsPlus available across regions in Germany.
Austria FTA Satellite
The major national networks in Austria are FTA satellite in addition to consumers being able to enjoy the numerous Germany FTA broadcasts. The regional broadcasts and ORF also have free to air options that are able to broadcast only content that does not have copyright issues. Although there are cable and paid satellite channels that include more movies, sports, and specialty channels similar to the United States, these are not broadcast as FTA and do not see as much viewership as the FTA satellite options.
Ireland FTA Satellite
The Republic of Ireland has 11 radio and nine TV channels broadcast via free to air over the DVB-T Saorview service. The analog PAL versions of the channels are scheduled to be closed on October 24, 2012. When this occurs there will be additional DVB-T multiplex launched adding additional channels to Saorview.
United Kingdom FTA Satellite
There are approximately 70 FTA TV and 25 radio channels in the UK available through the Freeview DVB-T service. These include up to four HD channels on DVB-TB and include a PAL simulcast of five of the channels through October 24, 2012 (BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4, and channel 5). If a region still relies on the analog broadcasts, the DVB-T2 multiplex is generally not available until October 24th.
New Zealand FTA Satellite
New Zealand has a number of FTA satellite offerings to include the national networks, Television New Zealand TV one and TV2, TV3, Four, Canterbury Television – CTV, Triangle TV and Māori Television, and Prime. Satellite reception for the broadcasts is available via Optus D1 which is branded as Freeview. Recently, TVNZ6 was released and is only available on Freeview in addition to a number of regional channels and coverage of parliament. The Digital Terrestrial edition of Freeview was launched in the later 2000s that supports HD broadcast.
North America FTA Satellite
North America has seen a large number of competing FTA satellite services over the past several decades. The first users made use of large, C-band dishes (nicknamed the “Big Ugly Dish”) which were several feet in diameter to receive transmissions in the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz band. With the change in most North American services to the Ku band, dish size has been able to be shrunk to less than a meter in diameter. The improvement in technology allowed smaller locations such as apartments to take advantage of FTA satellite reception.
North American Free to Air Satellite Sources:
ABC News Now on Galaxy 28 (89°W)
Amazing Facts Television, God’s Learning Channel are broadcast from the Galaxy 19 (97°W) satellite for Glorystar and Spiritcast Satellite Systems TV.
AMGTV and BYU Television on Galaxy 19 (97°W)
Christian broadcasters such as The Word Network, Emmanuel TV, Daystar Television Network,
Classic Arts Showcase on Galaxy 17 (91°W) and Eternal Word Television Network HD on Galaxy 15 (133°W)
English and foreign language broadcasters RT (TV network), MHz Worldview, Ebru TV,
Eternal Word Television Network on Galaxy 17 (91°W)
IRINN, Al Jazeera English and more up-linked by GlobeCast World TV on Galaxy 19 (97°W)
JCTV, Trinity Broadcasting Network, The Church Channel, 3ABN, The Hope Channel,
Jewish Life Television and University of Washington TV on Galaxy 18 (123°W)
Montana Public Broadcasting Service and other PBS Satellite Services on AMC 21 (125°W)
My Family TV on Galaxy 3C (95°W).
Music channel and This TV on AMC 15 (105°W)
NASA TV Multi-channel (NASA HD, NASA Public, NASA Media, NASA Education), TVU
NHK World HD on Intelsat 9 (58°W)
Pentagon Channel on AMC 1 (103°W)
Retro Television Network on AMC 9 (83°W)
Various sports wildfeeds across the satellites to include baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer.
Who are the Major Consumers of North American FTA Satellite?
The majority of the FTA satellite signals are on U.S. satellites with little free Canadian content available to those outside of the country. To take advantage of all of the content available, a consumer will need a motor and possibly multiple LNBs to receive more than a few channels of programming. Since the initial offering of Ku FTA content, the audience has grown from primarily ethnic-language audiences to include all potential consumer audiences. Today, FTA satellite in North America has evolved to the point of being a viable addition to a home entertainment system to supplement other content delivery systems and to receive specialized content.
South Asia FTA Satellite
There are approximately 50 FTA satellite channels broadcast in south Asia on the INSAT-4B satellite. The countries that receive this content include Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and portions of China, Myanmar, and Afghanistan. Hong Kong’s Television Broadcast Limited was the first FTA commercial TV channel when originally launching on November 19th, 1967 and may have been the first station to transmit over the air in Southeast Asia.
South Korea FTA Satellite
South Korea FTA satellite broadcasts include MBC and KBS (2 primary public broadcasts), EBS (TV and radio), and SBS (privately owned, free for viewers). These stations account for more than 80% of the advertising money raised in the country. South Korea was scheduled to transition to all digital FTA Satellite content by this year.
Australia FTA Satellite
There are five major FTA satellite networks in Austria: Network Ten, SBS, Nine Network, Seven Network, and ABC. Each of these networks will only have one channel in a geographic area of the country. Since digital TV has been adopted, they all now have one or many HD channels available across geographic regions in addition to the primary channel (simulcast in both digital and analog). There is also typically a community TV channel in the major cities, and other satellite-only channels such as Al Jazeera English, Press TV, Expo, TVSN, and NITV available for consumers to view for free.