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Satellite Interference – Issues of Concern

By Martin Coleman, Executive Director, the Satellite Interference Reduction Group (IRG)

At the recent Satellite Interference Reduction Group (IRG) Annual Workshop in Singapore, we gained a really valuable insight into the current status for much of the industry. The various initiatives to combat satellite interference, organized by IRG, the Global VSAT Forum (GVF) and other groups have been running for some time, but it is only now we are truly seeing the real impact, but there is a long way to go. 

Where Is the Industry Up to? 

According to Steve Smith, SES, 85%-90% of customer issues are related to RF Interference.  Only a small amount of satellite capacity is affected at any time by interference, but for those affected it can impact their services and is a concern for overall quality of service.  Satellite Operators therefore try to resolve all cases as quickly as possible. 

One of the biggest initiatives currently is the implementation of Carrier ID. We are certainly a lot further on than we were even 12 months ago, however there is a phenomenal effort still ahead. Steve Smith, SES summed it up in a nutshell: “The modem vendors have done their job, monitoring systems are almost there. Now, the Satellite Operators need to start planning and preparing to implement CID.” 

There is a great deal of choice when it comes to buying new equipment with CID enabled, with all the major modem and encoder manufacturers having implemented it into their equipment. Of course, Comtech, Newtec, Ericsson were all involved from the outset, and were extremely instrumental in getting the new Carrier ID standard and all have products released with both NIT and DVB-CID. The rest are following on well, with a plethora of new products and implementations being announced from companies, such as Work Microwave, Harmonic, and Novelsat, amongst others. We are also aware of other upcoming implementations likely to be announced by the time we get to IBC in September. 

The area of monitoring has also seen a great deal of activity recently with the major providers able to monitor and detect CID. Recent examples include the CID Detection System launched by Crystal Solutions at CommunicAsia, with other systems from SAT Corporation, Zodiac Aerospace, and Siemens Convergence Creators. 

As for the Satellite Operators, their role is to not only implement CID on any carriers they transmit, but also work on CID detection capabilities. If you take a snapshot of those represented at the workshop, it seems extremely reassuring. During a morning of roundtable discussions, we asked a number of pertinent questions relating to CID roll-out. From those discussions, we discovered that out of a total of eleven Satellite Operators represented, eight have already begun planning or implementing CID, and of the remaining three, one is planning implementation within a year. That leaves only two who are not yet thinking about it. Those who are implementing CID are also already promoting it to their customers, to ensure they have the right equipment and have CID enabled, however bearing in mind this was an IRG Workshop, it stands to reason those attending are already aware of the work and initiatives being promoted by the group, and are either on board of getting there. Whilst it is comforting that so many were there, it still leaves many others who are not yet engaged and for any initiative to be successful, it really needs them all on board. The WBU-ISOG resolutions requiring all Satellite Operators to start implementation by January 2015 should certainly help get that ball rolling, but given we are already half way through 2014, those who have not yet begun really need to start that planning process, and step up! 


Throughout the workshop, the discussion kept returning to VSATs. Not surprising, as according to statistics gathered by Newtec’s Thomas van den Driessche from the Satellite Operators, 40% of interference cases are caused by VSAT, causing more than 50% of service outage time.  

VSAT systems don’t have CID and there are so many providers that although some are making good reliable systems, the market is flooded with poor equipment. For the user, it is often about finding the cheapest, which makes that situation even worse. Type Approvals came up as one of the most important areas, but we also need to ensure the users are demanding it, so a lot of the process comes back to educating the users as to why they should care. 

The other big issue with VSAT systems is that there are so many legacy systems out there and even to the point where some systems may not even be used anymore, but as Andreas Voigt, Eutelsat pointed out they could be unplugged then someone comes along, thinks that’s not right and plugs it back in, thereby causing a whole host of issues. 

It is clear therefore that something needs to be done. The VSAT providers are resistant to the idea of CID, but if not that, we need a solution. The statistics, which have been collated by Newtec’s Thomas van den Driessche, as part of his role as Chair of the VSAT (Statistics) working group, have now been presented to the Global VSAT Forum (GVF), which was keen to gain that insight to present to its members. Seeing the reality of interference caused by these systems, it is hoped to get those providers on board with solving the problem. The issue is that how we do that is yet to be discovered, but by starting those conversations, and getting their support, we can begin to find solutions, which suit the VSAT providers, the Satellite Operators, and crucially the users. 

One suggestion put forward by Andreas Voigt of Eutelsat was to build up a fund for decommissioning old VSATs, something which would need to be led by GVF.  

The Satellite Operators in the room unanimously called for the users to now play their role and for IRG to help educate them to make that happen. Currently there is very little support from the users, despite the fact that it was originally the broadcasters who asked the Satellite Operators to solve interference. This is partly due to a lack of understanding of their role in the initiatives, such as ensuring they have CID and switch it on, training their operators, and checking any new equipment has been tested. 

There are some users getting it right, such as the BBC and PSSI, which are both very active in the interference campaign and putting the time and effort into educating themselves as to what is needed.  

Intentional Interference 

Over the last few years there has been a measured increase in the amount of intentional interference, which is undeniably difficult to solve. Of course, CID doesn't help in these instances. Geolocation is the most effective, and often only way to identify the source, and methods are improving dramatically. Siemens Convergence Creators has just launched its one-satellite geolocation solution, SIECAMS ILS ONE, which provides reliable localization of interference signals without the need for an adjacent satellite.  

We also need to improve Geolocation standards, processes, and reporting in order to make the identifying the source much more efficient.  

The user is again crucial in putting more pressure on the jammers. The BBC has started a “name and shame” campaign to discourage jamming, so it will certainly be interesting to see how that plays out. 

Can we combat it in future? 

The majority of interference cases still come down to human error and / or equipment failure. If all satellite equipment were type approved and if all legacy equipment decommissioned, and if on top of that all operators were well trained, then the majority of interference issues would simply disappear. Clearly, that is no mean feat, so if we can get to that point, it will be through ALL Satellite Operators lending their support, ALL manufacturers having their equipment tested and implementing the latest technologies, such as CID, and ALL users will be trained. We may never get to this stage, but it may be achieved by policy changes, new technology, and better education.  

In order to truly eradicate interference we need to be also looking at better smarter preventive measures. Roger Franklin, Crystal Solutions, believes that is where we are heading: “Other preventative initiatives that will be gaining in popularity involve smarter transmission systems that can prevent human errors. These systems will be able to understand potential for conflicts, require closed-system authorization before transmitting, and detect inaccurate antenna pointing. “ He also believes that improved filtering capability should become available that will enable a receiver to filter out unwanted RF signals so it can demodulate the desired RF signal. 

So, with all of that put together and the whole industry on board, we might just get there, but we have a long road ahead of us still and we may never totally stop it happening, but if we can get smarter, we can at least eradicate the majority and for those few instances that remain, stop it almost as soon as it starts.