Satellite (Sky) TV Reception

We have a handful of requests from other residents at City Quay regarding reception of Sky TV. The majority of cases split into two main areas – connectivity issues within the flat itself or end user problems with new equipment or faulty cabling within the apartment (all of which constitute an end user problem that they should fix).

It is the responsibility of the Board to ensure that the buildings within the site, the internal communal areas and areas outside that we all share, are maintained and financially supported for the best use and functionality of all residents and leaseholders at City Quay. Our leases and Board covenants refer to the maintenance and support of the site to be paid for, by all of the leaseholders, for the mutual benefit of all.

Certain things clearly come high in our priorities such as the building infrastructure quality, the wider site and its residents’ health and safety as well as the security of everyone who live on our site. Our rules of Governance prohibit the Board and Officials spending money that is outside very tight areas of responsibility. Non-essential services or services that are not used site wide, can be limited in their support and are at the discretion of the Board.

Using aerials and satellite dishes is one area where we as residents of flats are subject to the demands of a shared service that was never envisaged or designed with an upgrade path that could be future proofed at minimal cost to the wider community within City Quay.

Over the years Satellite dishes have changed and have been repaired at the cost of City Quay. Changes in hardware demands have been paid for only on failure of the existing service. Additional hardware has been added by various satellite engineers over the last 10 years or so. However, any funds used can only be spent at a reasonable rate within the annual budget agreed and presented at the Annual General Meeting of the leaseholders. As such, no current budget has been specifically set aside for this financial year to pay for “an upgrade” to the existing service that isn’t necessarily used by the site community.

As such, the existing Board have taken the decision to withdraw all support for ASTRA satellite distribution to all flats on site other than the original “As Built” condition of the building infrastructure. Sadly, the services provided on the ASTRA satellite which our system is built to distribute on a single cable to each apartment have been overly complicated by Sky in particular, with their desire to deliver more than our service, originally designed in the late 1990’s, can realistically provide.


The ASTRA Satellite service used by Sky

Sky have moved from a single LNB and cabling – watch one programme and perhaps record another, to the need for two cables, quad LNB (and more) watch one channel and record one or more others. The advent of HD and UHD, plus multiple capabilities for complex view and record facilities places even more demands on our limited building infrastructure. Sky have added equipment over several years but only to support their own supply of services. Any other benefits or improvements were a bi-product of their extension of service at best.

Sky have attempted to get around the apartment block issue using Stacker/De-stacker technology whereby the signal is attenuated for distribution to each flat that sends it down a single cable and then split within the flat itself. This is limited to 30M-60M length cable runs and is often compounded by further splitting and attenuation before or within the flat, should Sky multi room be needed. Unfortunately, this begins to gear the signal distribution towards the individual user and not the block.

Our 13 buildings have few satellite dishes between them – perhaps only one or two per building, which then comes into the roof space above a stairwell and is then distributed throughout the loft space within the building and then down through the voids to each apartment. The terrestrial system is distributed in roughly the same way. Each signal, satellite and terrestrial, is then fed into a single box in each flat. The cable coming through the wall and into the back of the wall box is the demarcation point for City Quays responsibility. For the benefit of clarity, demarcation is the cable only and not the box or fascia.

Other equipment such as Sky Q have made the issue even more difficult to manage. None of the said equipment is designed to operate in a specifically distributed environment but rather will assist and aid the distribution to each flat. There are no guarantees that this will be a total solution and depends on the ability to amplify and attenuate the signal often beyond Sky’s own 60M limit. Because of the design of our system – one satellite dish per building, any amplification has been attenuated for all cables involved, irrespective of the distance from the original source. As Sky (not ASTRA/Freeview) is a personal choice service provided along a communal coaxial cable, the signal strength is set to provide an individually perfect signal for that specific apartment alone.

A Chaotic Service

As Sky engineering delivery is a franchise (Sky vans everywhere), not a corporate service, the Sky engineer is only working on the best interest of that individual flat he/she was called out to and is being paid for. If the signal is poor, it will be amplified up or down to suit only this one-off call out. To do this, the engineer goes into the loft space and changes the strength according to the length of the cable (the distance of the apartment in question from the amplifier in their own block) which is in turn amplified and distributed from the main satellite head end. This may mean that a specific call out has the frequency changed up or down at the amplifier, which in turn changes the signal for other users on the same amplifier.

The consequence of this individually attenuated signal is chaos for everyone else. If the signal to your Sky service is proven to be other than your own equipment, then I have little doubt that any downgrade in signal was caused by the upgrade to another member of your block somewhere within many apartments within your building. Outcome, chaos.

Too much signal is as bad as too little frankly, and this is very often the problem faced by Sky users in the blocks. One user calls out Sky, the engineer attends, changes the service in some way, climbs in the loft space and attenuates the signal without any consultation with other users of the service. This is often the case with some of the tickets that we receive on the forum regarding poor Sky signal.

One user has effectively negated the signal for other users further up or down the shared distribution cable. Rarely is the issue something quite straightforward like a satellite dish that goes out of alignment caused by high winds, whereby everybody in the block(s) are affected at the same time.

Cost of Upgrade Across the Site

In City Quay’s endeavour to modernise and update the site infrastructure we have examined both the legal requirement for an individual’s right to a service versus the ability for the Board to spend money when we are trying to keep down the costs of our monthly service charge across the board.

Our considerations went as far as getting quotes to upgrade the ASTRA distribution to carry Sky in all its non-IPTV formats and we’ve decided that it is impractical, not economical and not viable without a significant rebuild of our systems.

The cost of upgrading all our blocks to support Sky would be in the region of £75,000, maybe much more, which would have to be paid by all the leaseholders as an extra to their monthly/annual payments. As a Board we could not justify such an expense, especially when considering the alternatives.

ASTRA Satellite Distribution – Ageing Technology

As a technology Sky via ASTRA satellite distribution is an ageing service that is having to respond to the demands of its customers using a medium that needs extra equipment and commonly the use of the internet to assist its product delivery.

Most forms of Sky now need a broadband connection to provide anything more than a basic service and many of the channels ASTRA transmits are also carried on terrestrial digital television, free of charge. Premium channels are covered by other sources of supply too.

Sky’s sports and movie channels are covered by other services such as its own IPTV service Now TV, but many of these are also supplied as bundled services by BT, Virgin, EE, Vodafone, Netflix, Amazon and Google to name but a few.

Other TV options other than Satellite

As part of City Quay’s commitment to technology we are doing many things across the site that will improve the facilities and services to everyone who lives here. One improvement that we can recommend is the high-speed internet access provided not just by BT, Vodafone, EE et al, but also HYPEROPTIC fibre internet, who are potentially 10 times faster than their nearest rivals.

Such fast services, plus the many additional download facilities available, mean that satellite-based services are rapidly being overtaken and superseded by IPTV which is really the future of TV. It is also worth pointing out that Sky themselves recognise these issues and have announced only last week that they will have a full internet-based box very shortly and will have completed their roll out by the end of this year.

Indeed, it is the Board’s commitment to technology improvements that have swayed us not to invest in technology or services that is not available to all. Sky is an example of a company for whom services are provided at the cost either in monetary terms or at the inconvenience to other members of our community who choose not to use anything from their catalogue, especially when very similar services are available for little cost or even free.

To this end, as stated we will not invest any more time or effort, nor cost, in supporting Sky and as stated at the beginning of this comment, we believe that any threats that were made by you to the board previously to withdraw payment and commitment that they might have made to support Sky as a service to any particular individual was wrong and could have only been made without the full facts at hand.

A rewire and full upgrade at a cost met by Leaseholders

That said, we have considered the option of allowing Leaseholders to pay for the full upgrade, should they wish, to everyone in their block. Simply put, that means everyone connected to the satellite dish in your block, upstream or downstream of your connection, with the complete replacement of Stackers/De-stackers and amplifiers plus all cabling and any associated hardware that would be needed to each flat.

This would also need to be supported as an ongoing service as City Quay would not be able to support anyone connected to that service. Needless to say, this would have to pass a full survey and have the complete agreement of the board, an undertaking to guarantee full support in the future, as well as anyone connected to the said new service.

The Board would not take to such a position if we realistically thought, that supporting any service was in the best interest of everyone on site. As stated, we are only bound to support the original “As Built” condition. Equipment added on as extras afterwards, especially those provided by third parties like Sky, are not included in our liabilities.

It is of note that the amount of extra cabling, poor management and electrical connections added from unknown and undocumented sources are themselves a hazard that could constitute incorrect or non-compliant installation. Virtually no coaxial cabling in the loft spaces around site, constitute anything like the original “As Built” state.

I hope that makes our position clear and wish you well in your pursuit of better TV services.

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