Why can’t you use a DIRECTV SWM with international satellite equipment?

This is one of those questions that really only affects a small percentage of the DIRECTV customer base. But, as we all know, even a small percentage of a large group is still a large number. In this case, I’m talking about those folks with marine satellite systems. I’m really talking about those with yachts or cruise ships large enough that they go international. In those cases, providing satellite television requires using different receivers and sometimes different wiring depending on where you are.

What is DIRECTV SWM?

AT&T’s single-wire multiswitch technology, known as DIRECTV SWM, is a system that takes as many as six different satellite signals and allows portions of those signals to sit on a single wire. Using normal technology, it would be impossible for all six signals to work across one wire. It would take cables that were much more expensive and there would be a lot more signal loss.

Most satellite technologies use multiswitches. A multiswitch directs any of six different satellite signals to different wires, but only sends one signal to each line. A satellite receiver tells the multiswitch the right signal to send, and only one signal is sent.

SWM multiswitches allow up to 20 different signals on a single wire, by isolating only the signals that the satellites “really” need. If you’re trying to watch channel 201, you get the part of the signal you need when you use SWM. It’s a small subset of the entire satellite signal.

Using SWM, you can use simple splitters to distribute signals. With traditional multiswitches you need a separate line to each receiver. That’s a lot more wire and it takes a lot more space.

It’s a much more advanced system but unfortunately, it only works with DIRECTV. There”s a simple reason, with a funny name.

DiSEqC

DiSEqC, sometimes pronounced “Di-sex,” is a method for Digital Satellite Equipment Control that is used by almost every satellite service. It’s a simple communications protocol that lets a receiver select one of six signals by sending back a very quick message to a dish.

Most of the satellite services in the Eastern Hemisphere use DiSEqC pretty much as it was written. That makes all the equipment completely compatible and makes it a lot less expensive for the people who use it.

However, in the west, the four largest services (DIRECTV US, DISH, as well as Sky Mexico and DIRECTV Latin America) all use modified forms of DiSEqC. This has to do with the way these services have grown. Since there are such large footprints for each service, there wasn’t a need for compatibility. Each service evolved to take the best path for the technologies in use. There hasn’t been a need to stay compatible.

The result is that none of the major satellite services in the West can use the same equipment, and none are completely compatible with global satellite systems.

What would happen if you tried to use DIRECTV SWM with service from another country?

Plain and simple, it wouldn’t work. The satellite receivers wouldn’t be able to decode the signal put out by the SWM. The SWM multiswitch wouldn’t send the right signal to the satellite dishes, and all in all, you’d get no picture.

Unfortunately it’s the same issue if you try to use DIRECTV SWM with DISH equipment or even with equipment from DIRECTV Latin America. DIRECTV Latin America is a separate entity only partially owned by AT&T and operates its own systems.

What’s the best solution?

On the other hand, at least for the moment it is possible to use traditional, globally-compatible multiswitches with DIRECTV satellite service. But, you need special equipment. Only the H24 and HR24 receivers from DIRECTV are compatible, and most DIRECTV dealers don’t have access to them. If you’re looking for a marine satellite solution, you’ll find there’s really only one way to get it: Call Solid Signal at 866-726-4182. If it’s after East Coast business hours, fill out the form below.

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 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.