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Satellite and Cable Services

Digital Satellite and Cable transmissions in the UK have so far been ‘vertical’ operations, with the operators directly responsible for providing both the programme transmissions and the reception equipment, which means that they can closely control the design of the receivers which are supplied to their viewers.

For cable and satellite services the viewers are normally subscribers, paying a monthly subscription fee for the channels they wish to watch (many hundreds are available to choose from) plus occasional fees for additional ‘video on demand’ services, which might be championship boxing matches or pop concerts, for example. Many of the services are encrypted to prevent reception by non-subscribers. Although there are some European satellite services available ‘free to air’, they haven’t been marketed widely, since the operators don’t make any money from non-subscribers and the free transmissions don’t include some of the popular UK programme channels. Their use has tended to be restricted to enthusiasts with some technical understanding of what they are doing.

This is about to change, as from the middle of 2008 the UK’s major broadcasters BBC and ITV are introducing ‘freesat’, a new digital satellite TV service which has no monthly subscription, just a one-off payment for the digital box, satellite dish and installation. Because freesat is broadcast via satellite, it will be available to almost every household in the UK, except for a very few locations sheltered by hills or high buildings from the satellite beam. freesat is expected to bring all the regular BBC and ITV programmes with over 80 channels of entertainment, films, music, news, lifestyle, travel, natural history and children's TV. The service will have an easy-to-use on-screen programme guide to enable viewers to see what is on and what is coming up on all the channels, with facilities to easily record the digital programmes. freesat will also broadcast high definition TV transmissions for those with suitable HD receiving equipment.

Cable services generally have enough bandwidth to carry all the services they wish and to provide additional ‘pay on demand’ programmes which are sent on a particular frequency channel to those subscribers who have requested it. They also offer ‘replay’ services where popular TV programmes from the past week’s viewing are made available ‘on demand’ to viewers who missed an episode of a ‘soap’ or want to watch the programme again.




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