One multiswitch for DISH and DIRECTV?

One of our customer service reps asked me a question the other day. “Is there one multiswitch that would let a customer run DISH and DIRECTV on the same line?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

This is actually a variation of a question that we get at Solid Signal quite a bit. Some of our most important customers run RV parks and campgrounds. Because of what are referred to as “bulk agreements,” they can offer DIRECTV and DISH satellite service to their customers. These RV parks and campgrounds would love to run one wire and allow their customers to choose DIRECTV or DISH and have that signal go automatically to the right place. This would be a benefit to the visitor, because they wouldn’t have to aim their own dish. It would also be perfectly legal, if it worked. It’s a shame it doesn’t.

How can a scheme like that be legal?

I used the term “bulk agreements.” A bulk agreement allows a company to offer pay-TV services to its customers. Generally it’s done by bundling the pay-TV service as part of a general “residency fee” or service fee. Apartment complexes and senior living facilities do the same thing if they offer basic cable to their residents as part of the rent or association fees. It’s done through a series of legal contracts between the pay TV provider and the company providing service. It’s cheaper on a per-resident basis but the pay-TV company is almost guaranteed 100% market penetration.

Are you talking about a headend?

A headend is something different. A headend provides a small number of channels, this would potentially provide every channel available. Usually the package is the same for every end user, but it’s pretty robust. Also, the technology is totally different. A headend takes individual cable or satellite receivers and combines the signals so they can be viewed on a cable-ready TV. Bulk agreements just redistribute the signal exactly the way the pay TV provider sends it and lets the individual users choose and operate their own receiver.

OK, so why can’t you have DIRECTV and DISH on the same multiswitch?

If you were thinking that we were getting off on a tangent, you’re right. Let’s get back to it. DIRECTV and DISH use similar systems but they’re not the same. They’re similar enough that some of the signals would overlap, making it difficult for a multiswitch to send the signals to the right place. They’re different enough that a multiswitch designed for one system wouldn’t necessarily work with another. Neither DIRECTV or DISH uses the same exact setup as are used in other countries’ satellite systems, which is why you really need a multiswitch that is designed for the satellite service you have.

It would probably be technically possible to have one multiswitch that handled DIRECTV, DISH, and Freesat (the standard used throughout Europe.) Our partners at Televes have engineered some very similar types of things. However, there just wouldn’t be a lot of demand for it and the multiswitches would probably cost a few thousand dollars a pop.