How much area is covered by a spot beam?

You can’t get local channels from 500 miles away, even if you subscribe to satellite TV. Most local channels on satellite systems are broadcast on “spot beams,” meaning that they’re only available to a small part of the country. National satellite broadcasts cover the entire country but the local channels that serve cities and towns all across the country are only available where they’re needed.

(We talked a little more about spot beams back in 2016, if you’re curious.)

It doesn’t matter if you get special permission from DIRECTV or DISH, it doesn’t matter if you bring the equipment from another part of the country, you’re not going to get Seattle locals if you’re in Tallahassee. Most folks are aware of that. But the real question is, how far will a spot beam travel?

Spot beams are aimed very precisely. Some of them are bigger and some smaller, but they are almost never a perfect circle. Take a look at one of the larger spot beams. It’s centered on New York City but serves most of New York City, New Jersey, and New England.

The area inside the white circle is where the spot beam is strongest, and where it’s intended to be used. That covers an area that includes New York, Boston, Providence, even much of New Jersey. Not all spot beams are so strong.

The other circles show the power levels getting weaker. Beyond the yellow circle, you’ll probably need a special dish, and beyond the red circle you won’t get anything. The outer pink circle is the areas that might, sometimes get signal, so no other spot beam can use the same frequencies ifit’s aimed there.

In general it’s fair to say that if you are within 100 miles of the center of a spotbeam you will get good reception. Within 250 miles you might need a satellite amplifier and within 400 miles, nothing. But that’s really general. Look at that spot beam above — its oval shape means Boston makes it into the beam but Harrisburg PA, which is 50 miles closer does not. So you see it really varies.

There are some excellent online resources for spotbeam maps. This one from uses Google Earth (it was used for the image above.) However, they’re hard to use, so if you have a question about what spotbeams cover what areas, contact us and we’ll be happy to work it out for you.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.