NICE AND EASY: What’s the difference between a splitter and a multiswitch?

Let’s say for a second that you are using an older satellite dish. You know, a plain old round one. It has two lines coming out of it, but you want to run three receivers. What do you do?

You might have tried using a splitter like you see at home stores, and you noticed it didn’t work. What you really want is a multiswitch. It’s not that much more expensive most of the time and it’s the right choice. Sure, multiswitches can get expensive depending on what tricks you’re asking them to play, but for driving a bunch of receivers from an old round dish they won’t break the bank.

Here’s what you need to know: a satellite dish, any satellite dish designed for the US, will actually put out up to six different kinds of signals. This allows your satellite company to carry a lot more channels over the same wire. The science behind all these different signals isn’t important right now, but this whole scheme is the reason that you can’t just use a splitter. Your receiver sends a signal back to the dish asking for one of those six types of signals, and that signal type — only that signal type — goes down the wire. If two receivers are on the same line then they try to request different signal types, it doesn’t work.

(Of course we’re not talking about using SWM technology here, we’re talking about the basic dish setup. SWM is a type of multiswitch and that will make sense in a minute.)

The answer is a multiswitch. With a multiswitch, you feed all the lines from the dish in, and then complicated electronics in the multiswitch help send the right signals down the right lines. Two receivers can share the same signal type because the multiswitch is in the middle, making sure everything works right.

For example, take our plain round dish. It has two wires out and can send two different types of signals. (We’ll call them 13 and 18, because of the voltage they use.) When you feed both lines into a multiswitch, you can connect as many receivers as you want because the multiswitch is getting both the 13 and 18 signals and when a receiver asks for one, the multiswitch gives it to them.

Now, suppose you want to be fancy and you want to use splitters down the line, that’s where the Single Wire Multiswitch or SWM comes in. But that’s a different animal, and something to discuss another day.

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.