NICE AND EASY: Why can’t you use the same dish for different providers?

If only it were that easy.

DIRECTV and DISH use completely different satellite dishes, and both use different dishes from the “freeview” services offered in Europe and in the Caribbean and the satellite services in Latin America. This can cause trouble for people who travel, and also for people who want to enjoy multiple satellite services because there is no one service with every channel they want. Most people don’t want their roofs looking like a dish farm (I guess I’m in the minority there, I think it’s geek chic.)

Why can’t these companies just settle on one design?

To the average observer, you’d think, “satellite is satellite is satellite. Why can’t they all use the same dish?” There are two reasons. First and foremost, DIRECTV dishes listen on a frequency different from every other satellite frequency in the world. Pretty much every satellite provider on the planet, including DIRECTV’s own Latin American subsidiaries, use the Ku band from 12 to 18GHz. DIRECTV US is the only licensee in the entire world for broadcasting and reception of the Ka band of 26.5-40GHz for consumer television. The Ka band is wide open and allows a lot higher bandwidth communications. So, long story short no other satellite dish is going to get Ka band broadcasts. DIRECTV also uses the Ku band but only for its standard definition channels.

On the other hand, DISH uses only the Ku band. This makes it easier for the service to work on small mobile dishes because those dishes can use simpler technology. Since the Ku band is used throughout the world, manufacturers have an easier time creating hardware for DISH than they do for DIRECTV.

It’s also about the satellites

The other limiting factor is the spacing of the LNBs on the dish’s front arm. Both DIRECTV and DISH operate numerous satellites in numerous locations, which is why you see more than one white-covered LNB on the front of the dish. The spacing of those LNBs is specific to the provider, in order to make sure that a dish pointed at one satellite location will also get reception from every other location. In order to get all the locations at once for every provider, you would need a massive assembly on the front of the dish, and that’s just not good common sense.

US satellite service is one of the only services out there that even uses multiple satellite locations. This has to do with the way DIRECTV and DISH grew over time. The explosive growth in HD channels in the 2000s meant that both services needed massive satellites that hadn’t been invented yet. Both services cover a very large area compared to other countries, so that means thousands of local channels. It would be possible to launch a pair of satellites that could cover most of the US, rather than the current fleet, but of course those satellites are up there working. DIRECTV has moved to consolidate all of its programming on three massive satellites and there’s actually still more capacity up there.

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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 5,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.