In my recent journeys through RV campgrounds for service calls and differing problems for satellite reception, I’ve often been asked to help customers align their portable satellite dishes or asked why the automatic Dome on top of their RV doesn’t get reception. Whether you’re new to RV’ing or an old pro, I’m sure understanding the satellite technology has thrown you more than one or two curve balls. Some think receiving signals from a satellite is much like receiving signals from an off-air antenna, meaning “close” should be good enough. Honestly, nothing could be further from the truth and neither off-air or satellite reception is like it used to be.
Portable Satellite Setups are Common to many…
This isn’t really new information and portable satellite reception isn’t new either. Many of you have set up your own dish on a tripod or some other type of mount to get satellite reception in your travels. Although you may not have much trouble now (because you’ve had a lot of practice) your first time or two was probably a struggle.
Have you sometimes struggled to get Satellite Reception in your travels?
If you have sometimes struggled to get satellite reception at some time or other, relax… you’re not alone. More than one person has struggled to get reception from these type setups and had to ask neighbors in the campground area to help or, as a last resort, have called in people like me to come and check out why they can’t get reception. Unfortunately, when they call me (or someone like me) it is a service call plus parts and sometimes (depending on what kind of problems we run into) there are even extra time-on-site charges. Often, by the time I get the call from a customer, they are so frustrated they just want it fixed so they can “Watch TV” and they don’t mind the cost, as long as it is reasonable and not outrageous. (Believe me, I try to be as reasonable as I possibly can.)
There are generally two common problems with satellite reception…
Without going into great detail in this article, the most common problems I find in these service call instances is usually one of two things. The first is something obstructing the view of the the dish for receiving the satellite signals and the second is equipment failure. The first can usually (but not always) be corrected by finding a clear view to the satellite locations in the sky. The second is not always so obvious and because of different equipment for receiving signals, the servicers don’t always have the proper LNB or something they can substitute to verify the equipment failure although, generally, their meters can test for some equipment failures but not all of them reliably.
Permanently mounted dishes and domes…
Many RV’ers now have automated permanent satellite dishes mounted on their RV’s, made by different manufacturers and are quite happy with the way they work, (or maybe I should say they’re happy with them when they work the way they’re supposed to.) The problems arise when they pull into a location and can’t get reception. Because many don’t fully understand how the Domes work and how much different Satellite reception is than off-air antenna reception, they don’t readily recognize they have an obstruction blocking the reception of their dish. Also, since most of the satellite companies use more than one satellite to deliver their services to their customers, the obstructions to proper reception are even less obvious to the average RV’er.
Understanding Satellite location in the sky and Line-Of-Sight…
It is important to be familiar with where the satellites are in the sky when you travel from place to place. Generally, your satellite receiver can tell you the correct azimuth (compass heading) and elevation (degree of vertical height in the sky from horizontal) if you know the zip code you’re in. If you have a compass or a smart phone with a compass, you should be able to determine if you have an open shot in the sky to the satellite(s) for your provider. Remember, Line-Of-Sight is from your dish or dome’s eye-view not yours.
Let me say right here so there is no confusion. Yes, I do know some of the automatic domes can track the satellite locations as you travel down the road but even they can’t see through trees and other obstructions. (They also have to have time to move when you make sharp turns to retain reception and at times they do get lost (lose their ability to stay on given satellites) and then you have to reset them.)
An actual problem from a service call…
The problem I find most when I get to a site is a tree problem (or at least, some kind of signal obstruction.) Here’s a real life example from one of my recent and more interesting service calls.
I arrived to a site that looked to be open to both of the satellite areas in the sky. (This particular one was a Dish Network system. Dish Network has an Eastern Arc and a Western Arc. In our area we can receive good signals from both, although Dish prefers the use of the Western Arc.) Unfortunately, after checking a few things, I discovered the tree placement on both sides of the RV blocked reception from the satellites simply because of the way the Dome was situated on the roof of the RV. For several reasons, this person could not move to a better location and couldn’t move forward or backward enough to improve the reception. Out of six possible satellites, this person was only getting intermittent reception of one and it was very inconsistent because any light breeze would blow a tree limb and would block the rest of the signal from that one location. This person was out of luck for watching his favorite satellite channels, at least from the installed dome system permanently mounted on his RV.
To get this customer some reception for watching TV, I setup and explained his Antenna system for the local Digital TV channels and suggested checking into a TailGater portable satellite dish since he already had a Dish Network account and also had the proper receiver made to work with it. He did as I suggested and I’ll talk more about this in the next article entitled, “Three Reasons I Like Portable Satellite Dishes.”
See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© March 1, 2013 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, The Norman TV Vantage, Norman-TV.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions