Interference: No Rare Olympic Event


With all eyes on the upcoming London Summer
Olympics, this is no time to experience signal issues.
And yet, satellite interference is a fact of life
for the cable and broadcast industry —a growing
phenomenon that disrupts content delivery,
causes lost revenue, and frustrates and degrades
the customer experience.

By understanding the nature of interference
(whether inadvertent or intentional signal
jamming), as well as the options for locating
and resolving it, broadcasters, cable operators,
and content distributors can get a tighter rein
on protecting end-to-end quality and quickly
minimizing interference issues rather than being
held hostage by them.

So what’s changed? For one, the RF environment
is getting more crowded and noisy. While
it’s commonly said that 95% of satellite interference
is inadvertent, your customers won’t care
about the cause. In recent years, we’ve seen a
vast proliferation of WiMAX and VSAT networks
— new satellites operating closely in orbit that can leak
overlapping signals, and inexperienced field operators generating
interference with improperly configured equipment.
And let us not overlook the other 5%, such as the growth of intentional
jamming for geopolitical reasons or to pirate bandwidth.

High-profile incidents include the deliberate disruption of
Al-Jazeera’s 2010 FIFA World Cup broadcasts (in which SAT
Corp. was enlisted to track down the source). Given the continued
problem of jamming, several of Europe’s largest broadcasters
asked the International Telecommunications Union
in March to authorize governments to take action against
jammers (presuming they can locate and identify them).

While everyone affected wants to reduce costly, protracted
disruptions, often, the industry dynamic is
to assume that it’s the satellite operator who’s
responsible for RF quality. An affected content
distributor usually calls on the satellite operator
to ferret out interference that could be lurking
among thousands of commercial, government
and military voice, data or video services on the
network. In fact, the interference might be originating
anywhere along the production (uplink)
or distribution (downlink) chain.

What’s a cable operator to do? With downtime
revenue and customer dissatisfaction costing a
premium, cable companies can take a more proactive
stance to mitigate the problem. One option is
to use commercial, off -the-shelf systems that can
detect and characterize the type of interference.

Other systems can help identify the ground
source of the interference and geo-locate its
point of origin. Then it’s a matter of identifying
the initiator, contacting them, and working to
resolve the issue. This warrants some level of experience
in RF and satellite operation, so if those skills aren’t
currently on your team, another path is to take a managed
services approach, where the cable operator or distributor’s
network is monitored for end-to-end QoS by a network-operations
center dedicated to RF satellite operations.

In this case, the cable operator outsources to a singlepoint
resource, manned by dedicated personnel using sophisticated
monitoring, geo-location equipment, and
databases of satellite users and incidents for quickly reconciling
the issues.

Greg Caicedo is VP and general manager of SAT
Corp., a provider of products and managed services
for RF interference mitigation.