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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Our Satellite Dish

I mentioned in an earlier post that we had a satellite dish installed in time to watch the Superbowl.

Our dish installer came by night. Everyone in Egypt seems to have two or three jobs, and I think dish installations are mostly done by hobbyists.

There are a lot of dish installations here.

Sometimes they occupy the roofs of apartment buildings and sometimes they are mounted on the side, closer to the individual apartments. You'll notice quite a variety of sizes and directions that they point.

When you want a dish, you have to decide which satellite(s) you want to receive. Pretty soon, you know a lot more about satellite technology than you thought you wanted to know.

Communications satellites have to be parked in an orbit above the equator and at an altitude of about 22,000 miles. This is the only place you can put one and have it appear "stationary" to the dishes on the ground. This creates quite a traffic jam in this one orbit. They can't be placed too close together since they pretty much all broadcast on the same frequency band. The providers aim their downward broadcasts to cover specific areas to provide some degree of separation. In practical terms, what this means is that there are a few satellites that provide a signal in Cairo - two popular ones. These are not the same satellites that provide signals in the U.S.

Some people here have aim-able dishes of considerable size. These can be oriented to pull in several different satellites and literally thousands of channels. At reasonable cost, you have a choice of two satellite slots;
  • HotBird, a group of three European satellites huddled together above the 13 degrees East longitude line. HotBird is aimed at Europe but puts out a strong enough signal to be picked up in Cairo with a 40 inch dish.

  • NileSat, a group of Egyptian satellites huddled together above the 7 degree West longitude line. NileSat is aimed at North Africa and the Middle East with a signal that can be picked up in Cairo with a 24 inch dish.
After some consultation with a friend, we chose HotBird which we were told should give us a greater number of "Western" channels.

All together, we invested about $90 for a dish, a satellite receiver and the installation. This gives us 540 free channels. NO MONTHLY FEE! Not bad when compared with a package from Dish or Direct-TV back home.

The installation is a bit less than ideal. The dish is fastened to our balcony railing. It flutters a bit in the wind. I plan to dismount the actual dish from its mount before we leave for home otherwise I think a serious Khamasin will put the whole thing onto the balcony or through the balcony door.

You might notice that our installer attended the Walt Kowalski school of tools and repair. Most people run the coax down the inside of the LNB mounting tube. But electrical tape works too.

The full channel lineup can be found here. Note that we could pay some monthly money and add a few things. Many of the 540 free channels fall into the following categories:
  • Religious - both Muslim and Christian. EWTN, broadcasting out of Birmingham, Alabama capably, if somewhat controversially represents the Catholic faith. The UK based ISLAM channel offers 24 hours a day of Islamic news, Q and A programs, Koran readings and prayers.

  • Direct Sales - lots of gems and gadgets, seems to be an Italian specialty.

  • News Channels - many languages and points of view.

  • Porn - lots of Arab specialty channels here.

  • General Entertainment - but mostly in Italian and Polish.

  • Sports. You can pretty much always find a soccer game. I've also found Rugby, tennis and a little golf. No language barrier here.

  • Fashion channels.

  • Persian language programming directed at Iran.

  • Odds and ends. Turkish, Kurdish, Iraqi, Syrian, Moroccan, Romanian, Jordanian, Korean, Thai, Greek, Russian, French, Polish, Italian.

We've sorted out twenty four channels that are primarily English language in the evening. Here are a few favorites:
  • CNN International
  • Pentagon (All U.S. Military channel)
  • French 24 hour news
  • Euronews (from Brussels)
  • Al Jazeera International
  • Lux TV (Kind of a "Fine Living" channel)
  • Russia Today (Russian news channel)
  • BBC News
  • KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - frequently has movies in English)
  • DOS TV (A Voice of American channel frequently carrying CSPAN)
Among the odder things we've seen are these:

I had to work to get this shot from one of the "Polski Porn" channels as I call them. Most of the shots would definitely be NSFW (Not Safe for Work, for my less computer-literate readers) What could we caption this? Operators standing by??

Note the arabic lettering.

And this Persian language infomercial touts a product I haven't seen before.

Yes! It's the Smaller Nose Kit! The story line shows scenes of the above lady opening the door to friends after two weeks regular nightly use and the friends are speechless. Well, what would you say!

For 24-hour bizarre, you just can't beat watching the Fashion Channel.

And in a rich note of irony, I was able to watch Rush Limbaugh's entire address to the CPAC live on Saturday courtesy of the Voice of America. You can tell president Obama's staff don't fully have their hands on the levers of power yet! Thanks, Barry!

Now of course, I know a bit more about the whole satellite TV world. The NileSat channel lineup is here. We'd pick up Fox Movie Channel for free, lose the Polski Porn and by paying I could even add Fox News Channel. So next year I may try to acquire the free channels from both.

But along the way, I discovered the marvelous resource of Lyngsat. Lyngsat lists all the channels on all the direct broadcast satellite in the world. Why, I don't know. And it lacks a Wikipedia entry. I didn't think there was a technical thing in the world without a Wikipedia entry.

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