Should you amplify the output of a SWM-enabled dish?

One of our Signal Connect representatives took a call from a commercial installer recently. In this call, the installer wanted to run about 250 feet from a SWM-enabled dish into a small headend system, and wanted to know the best amplifier to use.

The answer is… don’t do that.

If you’re putting in a commercial satellite system, AT&T’s standard policy dictates the use of a legacy (4-wire or 6-wire) dish and an external SWM. You can place an amplifier and polarity locker near the dish if needed. In a case where the dish was 250′ from the rack, it would be needed.

Why use such a complex setup?

A SWM-enabled dish can easily feed 8 receivers. It is not only the standard dish for home installs, it’s practically the only dish. If you have a Reverse Band (4K) dish, you can feed up to 13 receivers, or a whole-home Genie system. It’s a simple way to wire the home and simplicity is really appealing to home users.

Commercial users may want simplicity too, but there’s more to it than that. If you’re really wiring up a commercial system and it’s truly very similar to a home system, then use a home solution. If the cable runs are short and you’re running multiple receivers to multiple TVs, do that — set your customer up with the simplest possible system and they’ll be happy. They’ll probably save a little money, too.

On the other hand, if you’re running a bar system with matrix switches and long cable runs and distribution through multiple closets, you need a heavy-duty solution. You need amplifiers that you can control. Also, you must make sure the dish has its own power independent of other devices. Finally, you need to place the distribution points where you need them.

For all these reasons, I recommend following AT&T standards and using non-SWM dishes in commercial installs.

The case for wiring it all now

Your customer may tell you that they want a simple setup now, and they’ll upgrade later. This is very common, especially when the goal is to save money. No one wants to pay for six times as much cable, and for complex extra pieces of equipment at different places. However, it really makes sense to do all the cabling from the roof to the main closet at the time you’re doing the initial install.

Any commercial installer will tell you that getting cables from the roof is usually the most time-consuming part of any install. That’s why you should do it once. If you need to go back into the walls or plenum to run more cable, it’s going to be even harder than if you did it right the first time. Plus, you’ll probably end up throwing away that original line to make sure all the lines are the same age and quality. It’s only common sense.

7 lines is the ultimate

If you have made the case to your customer that they should be using a commercial-grade solution, absolutely recommend that you run 7 lines from dish to rack. Four lines are needed today, two are definitely needed for 4K, and the last one can be used for a spare, for international programming, or for a TV antenna. Running 7 lines more or less guarantees that short of some sort of major disaster, you will never have to go back into the walls again. There’s a lot of value to that for you as the installer and for the customer as well. It means that upgrades and repairs can be easy and quick. You’ll be in and out in a flash and the customer will have the TV service they want!

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.