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Antenna Arrays Could Replace Satellite TV Dishes

CmdrTaco posted about 4 years ago | from the yes-have-some dept.

Television 183

Zothecula writes "There was a time not so very long ago when people who wanted satellite TV or radio required dishes several feet across. Those have since been replaced by today's compact dishes, but now it looks like even those might be on the road to obsolescence. A recent PhD graduate from The Netherlands' University of Twente has designed a microchip that allows for a grid array of almost-flat antennae to receive satellite signals."

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No (1, Insightful)

sexconker (1179573) | about 4 years ago | (#33950016)

This won't work.


Because satellite signals are extremely susceptible to atmospheric interference.

Raw size does matter here.
A larger receptor is better.

You may as well try to reproduce a high quality studio microphone with an array of dollar store clip on mics, and then toss out the typical dismissive bullshit claim of "The rest is just software!".

It will still work (4, Funny)

GungaDan (195739) | about 4 years ago | (#33950188)

if you connect it with Monster cables.

Re:No (2, Interesting)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 4 years ago | (#33950206)

Raw size does matter here. A larger receptor is better.

Which explains why the small dishes now do similar things that the old big ones did?

I suspect it *is* the software that can filter out/account for that interference on a slightly less quality signal that makes the smaller dishes do just fine.

Bigger is better at the extreme end of a broadcast range; i.e. listening for something from outside the solar system or something incredibly weak compared to background noise.

I would also bet that the satellites being used now are more powerful than the original communications sats. So higher signal means, smaller dishes are workable.

If a flat antenna can pickup the signal, I'm sure it will be a bit different than a parabolic concentrating dish. That's exactly was software is made to do. (aren't most internal cell phone antennas these days flat by design? thought I something a while back on fractals in antenna design towards that effect)

Re:No (2, Insightful)

JonySuede (1908576) | about 4 years ago | (#33950380)

does it snow a lot where you live ? If it does, can you please tell me the model of your small dish ?

Re:No (2, Informative)

gstoddart (321705) | about 4 years ago | (#33950656)

does it snow a lot where you live ? If it does, can you please tell me the model of your small dish ?

Forget about snow. A friend used to lose his TV signal about 45 minutes before it rained.

Re:No (1)

Teun (17872) | about 4 years ago | (#33951144)

A well set up offset dish gives much less chance for snow to accumulate on it.

But during heavy showers you'll need more amplification than under a clear sky.

How you achieve the amplification, larger dish or better electronics, is fairly immaterial for the end result.

Re:No (1)

Cytotoxic (245301) | about 4 years ago | (#33950406)

Raw size does matter here.
A larger receptor is better.

Which explains why the small dishes now do similar things that the old big ones did?

Or it could have something to do with the wavelength of the radio signal being received. Longer wavelengths require larger receivers. For an example compare your eyes (wavelengths measured in angstroms) with a radio telescope (wavelength measured in meters). (of course, power and efficiency also enter into it, but the bigger factor at play is the wavelength)

Re:No (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 4 years ago | (#33950588)

Have the wavelengths of the sat broadcasts changed? This about using a new type of antenna to handle an existing broadcast, not trying to receive a different signal, no?

I suppose the old sats might use a different wavelength than say DirecTV sats I guess.

Re:No (2, Informative)

Teun (17872) | about 4 years ago | (#33951030)

Have the wavelengths of the sat broadcasts changed?This about using a new type of antenna to handle an existing broadcast, not trying to receive a different signal, no? I suppose the old sats might use a different wavelength than say DirecTV sats I guess.

Yes, the old C-band has a much greater wavelength than the present Ku-band.

Re:No (3, Informative)

Mister Transistor (259842) | about 4 years ago | (#33950676)

GP is correct - the dish size has all to do with the gain of the antenna, not the resonant frequency. The actual antenna is at the focal point of the dish and it's length IS frequency-critical. The surface area of the dish directly corresponds to its gain.

The reason we no longer use giant 6' dishes is twofold - because they are using 24 GHz instead of 5 GHz means the antenna at the focal point is much smaller, and the area of the dish is relatively the same size - with relationship to the wavelength - which is also much smaller.

The other reason is the peak power of, say the DirecTV sats, is as high as 150W for some transponders, whereas the older C-Band stuff was about 10W peak.

Dishes typically are designed to produce somewhere around 30dB of gain, which is 1000x magnification of the signal over a straight dipole with no reflector.

Re:No (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33951130)

GP and YOU are mildly incorrect. WaveLength of the signal is impotant to the gain of the dish. a 5ghz signal has less gain on a 5 foot dish than a 20ghz signal does.

a 3 meter dish at 5 ghz has 21.704db of gain.
the same dish at 20 ghz has 54.415db of gain....

massively more gain on the same size of dish simply because of the frequency of the signal.

you also ignore that the LNA's used today are 20 times better than the ones from only 5 year ago.

Re:No (1, Informative)

Phreakiture (547094) | about 4 years ago | (#33950862)

Yes, and no.

The old satellites did use a longer wavelength, it is true. In both cases, however, the parabolic reflector in use is several orders of magnitude larger than any dimensions dictated by the wavelength. The only tuned element (which is where wavelength comes into play) is found at the narrow end of the feedhorn, up in the LNB.

The new ones are smaller because digital signalling has replaced analogue, in turn making error correction possible and sufficient for 99% of the time, and by the fact that the newer satellites put out a more powerful signal.

Re:No (1)

broomer (209132) | about 4 years ago | (#33950548)

No. The LNB has gotten better, the 'antenna' that a dish uses, they used to be 1.2 dB, and 0.9 dB if you wanted something expensive. todays standard is 0.3 dB, so you have enough with about a quarter of the original signal.

My not so expensive 6 year old dish system still receives the same signal strenght.

Re:No (2, Interesting)

Phreakiture (547094) | about 4 years ago | (#33950802)

Which explains why the small dishes now do similar things that the old big ones did?

Your attribution of this effect is wrong.

The old 2m-3m satellite dishes were for receiving analogue signals. By going digital, it is far easier to detect and sufficiently correct for using a very weak signal. That gets the dish size down to about 1m. The other 50cm difference in size is due to the newer satellites using a higher power output.

Re:No (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about 4 years ago | (#33950966)

It's the difference between C band and Ku band. C band is 5.850–6.425Ghz while the Ku Band is 12 to 18 GHz. you need a LOT LARGER dish for C band to get the same gain that a small dish at Ku band will get. THIS is the reason why today's home TV dishes are smaller. NOT technology or power. In fact a Lot of TV is still available on the C band. I have friends that have a couple of the big dishes and get a lot of channels, two pay for HBO and STARZ and get about 40 channels of them in the pack for about $100.00 a year.

The biggest advantages have been in low noise temperature Amplifiers and block converters.

With a small 36-38" dish and a premium LNB I can pull in DishTV through a tree during a massive rainstorm. My FTA setup regularly pulls in the europe birds through the neighbors trees with it's 120cm dish and it's invacom 0.3db quad LNB. The garbage grade 28" dish and trash grade LNB they give you when you get your "free install" can barely pull a good signal through a cloud.

Yes - RTFA! (2, Informative)

Roger W Moore (538166) | about 4 years ago | (#33950796)

Raw size does matter here. A larger receptor is better.

If you RTFA (yes I know it is Slashdot but hope springs eternal) you'll see that the system uses a GRID of flat antenna which it combines to simulate a larger antenna. By altering how the signals are combined i.e. the delays between them you can "point" the antenna at different sources. Hence you not only have a large detector from combining several smaller one but you can also point the thing without having to mechanically move it. It's brilliant idea and one that radio astronomers have been using for quite a while.

Size matters but... (1)

Comboman (895500) | about 4 years ago | (#33950952)

Yes, size matters, but an array of small antennas can have the same effective size (or larger) than one large parabolic dish and still take up less physical volume (it could lie flat against your roof). The bigger advantage is that such arrays can be steered electronically so you don't need to do fine mechanical adjustments to a dish to aim at the satellite and can even aim at a different satellite without any mechanical gears or motors.

Why? (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | about 4 years ago | (#33950044)

Surely the small parabolic dish is more compact/efficient than an antenna array? I looked at the article but it doesn't show any pictures of what these new antennas would look like.

It would be cool if something like this could be used to replace the big, bulky antennas needed for Broadcast TV and Radio.

Re:Why? (1)

drachenstern (160456) | about 4 years ago | (#33950224)

Ok, but I live in an apartment in an old (historic, something like 117 years old so far) building and they won't let us attach anything to the exterior walls/roof. My windows all face north. I want to use a satellite to receive more programming. I am adverse to paying Comcast one more dime.

What are my options again?

This sounds great, if it would work for me. The 16 foot ceilings mean I could talk the wife into letting me mount even a mesh in the ceiling area of the apartment, if I could conceal it afterwards.

Re:Why? (1)

PRMan (959735) | about 4 years ago | (#33950604)

The rules may be illegal.

FCC Rules on Antenna/Dish placement []

Re:Why? (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 4 years ago | (#33950794)

From the link you provided:

"The rule allows local governments, community associations and landlords to enforce restrictions that do not impair the installation, maintenance or use of the types of antennas described above, as well as restrictions needed for safety or historic preservation. Under some circumstances where a central or common antenna is available, a community association or landlord may restrict the installation of individual antennas. The rule does not apply to common areas that are owned by a landlord, a community association, or jointly by condominium or cooperative owners where the antenna user does not have an exclusive use area. Such common areas may include the roof or exterior wall of a multiple dwelling unit. Therefore, restrictions on antennas installed in or on such common areas are enforceable."

Looks like the restriction is probably legal. He doesn't have exclusive use of the south-facing wall (or any use, apparently), and a 117-year-old house is certainly on the Historic Register.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950834)

Didn't bother to read your own link? A quick search for "historic" brought up this:

"The rule does not prohibit legitimate safety restrictions or restrictions designed to preserve designated or eligible historic or prehistoric properties, provided the restriction is no more burdensome than necessary to accomplish the safety or preservation purpose."

Given that, I think the rule that "they won't let us attach anything to the exterior walls/roof" is likely in compliance. Granted, that does stop him from (as h4rr4r suggested) putting it on a pole in the yard (probably pretty hard to argue that the grass is historic and would be irreparably damaged). The only trick would be coming to an agreement on how to get the wiring into the house (though since they already let comcast bring in wire, there's got to be a way to deal with this)

Re:Why? (1)

natehoy (1608657) | about 4 years ago | (#33951510)

Granted, that does stop him from (as h4rr4r suggested) putting it on a pole in the yard (probably pretty hard to argue that the grass is historic and would be irreparably damaged).

Sorry, that falls under the common area owned by the landlord. IANAL, but I've helped a few friends iron out details on this with their landlords and/or homeowner's associations. This particular case, however, appears to be a lost one. GGP could probably hang a dish outside his window, assuming his window was facing in the correct direction (which, in his case, it is not) and he could do so safely while not making it a permanent installation. But he's in the "rare exception" list that has no legally-protected solution for installing a dish. He can only make a temporary installation in the areas he has rented, and he doesn't control any areas that would allow him to receive signal.

However, a phased array could still be a winning solution there, because current units tend to be pretty small and subtle compared to a dish, and may not be as objectionable as a dish. Most of them are relatively small sealed discs that can be mounted on any flat surface at a variety of angles as long as they are pointed somewhat vaguely in the direction of the South sky (as seen from North America), and can be painted to match the surrounds in many cases. So the landlord (and historical district) might not object to a small disc mounted on the South side of the building roof with a wire running around to his window, for example, where actually screwing a DirectTV dish might be somewhat more controversial.

Of course, phased array units don't come cheap.

A couple of "first I found on Google" examples of phased-array satellite units currently available (I'm not recommending for or against these specific units at all, just a couple of examples of currently-available tech): [] []

So instead of one larger disc-shaped unit like the ones pictured above you could deploy a handful of really tiny units over a larger area and have them phase together to pick up a better signal. Put them far enough apart, and you could easily reproduce the effect of a 15-foot or even larger directional dish and resolve signal through some fairly significant material or interference.

In that case, the person who started this discussion might be able to get a signal, even through a roof, with enough phased elements spread over a large enough area. He'd have all of the bits inside his area of control and installed temporarily (and not have a 15-foot dish sitting in the middle of his living room that might upset his wife).

Alternatively, he might be able to get approval for a half-dozen flat bits of painted metal to be temporarily glued to the corners of the roof, with thin subtle wires run to his window, since none of the installations are considered permanent and would not affect the historic nature of the house in any way.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950902)

Q: What types of restrictions are prohibited?

A: The rule prohibits restrictions that impair a person's ability to install, maintain, or use an antenna covered by the rule. The rule applies to state or local laws or regulations, including zoning, land-use or building regulations, private covenants, homeowners' association rules, condominium or cooperative association restrictions, lease restrictions, or similar restrictions on property within the exclusive use or control of the antenna user where the user has an ownership or leasehold interest in the property. A restriction impairs if it: (1) unreasonably delays or prevents use of; (2) unreasonably increases the cost of; or (3) precludes a person from receiving or transmitting an acceptable quality signal from an antenna covered under the rule. The rule does not prohibit legitimate safety restrictions or restrictions designed to preserve designated or eligible historic or prehistoric properties, provided the restriction is no more burdensome than necessary to accomplish the safety or preservation purpose.


historic building restriction is a-ok

Re:Why? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#33950610)

Hook up a dish, they cannot stop you, you might have to put it on a pole in the yard. The FCC is a higher authority than your landlord.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33951502)

the OTARD rules will never allow you to attach a dish permanently to an apartment. You can legally pole mount it to a pole sunk in the ground in your "exclusive use area" patio. pole mount it using a pole in a 5gal bucket full of concrete, tripod mount it, possibly mount it to balcony railing using a system that clamps around the railing. There area also systems that will hang off south facing window ledges and nothing stopping you from setting it up inside next to a south facing window, so long as you dont mind the loss of space and dont have kids or pets that are going to bump the dish.

Re:Why? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950668)

Hey loser, thanks for bragging about your historic apartment. I'm sure nobody gives a fuck. You didn't contribute anything to the discussion, you just felt the need to toot your own horn. Shut the fuck up and go jump off your fucking historic apartment roof, why don't you.

Re:Why? (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about 4 years ago | (#33951216)

your options are to contact the FCC and state to see the laws you have in your area concerning the right to receive TV.

Your Local Historic district gestapo cant do crap to keep you from putting up a satellite TV dish. []

verify your rights and then have one installed and tell the historic commission to stuff it in their rectum.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950240)

The array will be flat and won't have to be aimed. That means the antenna could be mounted flush on the wall or the roof. That means it could also be much larger because it would be less of an eyesore and there would be no wind load. No aiming also means the same antenna could be used to receive signals from several satellites, without a motor mount or delays.

Re:Why? (1)

Aquina (1923974) | about 4 years ago | (#33950636)

I aslo think that is the most interesting aspect of the whole story. Movies showing space crafts with all their dishes at 'em will have to be rewriten. ;-)

Re:Why? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 4 years ago | (#33950242)

It sounds a lot like a phased array to me. Not really new.
And why? Well some people might not like the look. They will fair better in high winds and with snow loads. Also they will work much better for vehicles. Combine it with a GPS and it can track a satellite while you move.
It could also switch between satellites on it's own.
In theory you could even use it with none geosyc satellites. As one comes into view you could switch beween them in a very rapid mannor. That could allow for a much lower latency internet connection and or higher bandwidth as well as working in places where a geosync connection is difficult like near the poles.

Re:Why? (4, Informative)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | about 4 years ago | (#33950314)

Its probably a phased array antenna [] . The big thing here isn't the fact that its been done, but that the chip makes it easy, cheap, and fast to manufacture one. The actual size wouldn't be very different, since the size is based on the required gain, and the physics don't change for a parabolic antenna or a phased array.

The big advantage I see to this is two-fold: 1. Mounts flat so it is much less of an eyesore. Also you could conceivably hide it behind something that is radio transparent. 2. Can be pointed via software, so that the physical installation only needs to be pointed in the rough direction of the satellite.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950792)

The big advantage I see to this is two-fold:

1. Mounts flat so it is much less of an eyesore. Also you could conceivably hide it behind something that is radio transparent.

2. Can be pointed via software, so that the physical installation only needs to be pointed in the rough direction of the satellite.

Well, #2 is *huge*. You just point the thing south and BOOM, you have access to 40 satellites with one receiver! Even if it has to be 2x or 3x the surface area to compensate, phased array like this is very useful.

It's been done in Astronomy - now that same tech is making TV more accessible. Science at work.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950832)

Wavelength are short due to frequencies around 10 GHz, I think. Antenna elements / dipols correspond to the wavelength and get also small. Now you take a lot of those little dipols, sum their signals up in a phase corrected way and you get a good signal to noise ratio. The idea is rather old and simple. Wonder, why no big company before put it into practise, but kudoz to the guy, who did it.

Re:Why? (1)

Mister Transistor (259842) | about 4 years ago | (#33951304)

Take a look at a modern battle Tank or Destroyer class missile cruiser - they have flat angled sides with these roundish "targets" in the middle. A close-up reveals those circles to be composed of hundreds of individual antennas in a circle-shaped array. Our AEGIS missile cruisers were the first to get this, now land vehicles like tanks and the new ADS (Active Denial System - the "death ray" weapon) use phased array antennas like the ones on shipboard, just smaller...

non-problem solved! (1)

RapmasterT (787426) | about 4 years ago | (#33950050)

so now I can have an array of small (?) flat antenna instead of one medium sized one? Is that better? I'm sure there's some cool scientific breakthrough here, but the article left me wondering what it is.

Re:non-problem solved! (1)

auntieNeo (1605623) | about 4 years ago | (#33950252)

The article says that the antennas would not need to be physically aimed like dishes.

Re:non-problem solved! (1)

Cramer (69040) | about 4 years ago | (#33951180)

It does have to be aimed in roughly the right direction. However, it does not require precise tuning. I've used a BGAN system that used a tiny, flat receiver... you just have to get it close for it to work.

Re:non-problem solved! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950484)

Directv already had this using a tracvision antenna you see mounted to the top of cars.

There's no reason you couldn't put one of these on the roof of your house, but why your house doesn't move so why use overkill tech? and whats so troublesome about a small dish on your house? any competent installer can find a way to install a dish that is not visible from the street if it's that big a deal for you

Phased array are physically robust (1)

shis-ka-bob (595298) | about 4 years ago | (#33951150)

Any directional antenna needs to be aimed. Bump it an you loose the signal. with a phased array, you can combine the signals from each 'antenna-let' to act like a dish as far as signal strength is concerned. If you want to connect to multiple satellites, you don't need to move anything, you just have the signal processor combine the signals with different phases to lock into a different direction.

Re:non-problem solved! (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 4 years ago | (#33951512)

Simultaneous access to all satellites in the sky, impossible with a traditional dish. Repointing the dish in realtime remotely, impossible with a traditional fixed dish. Installation flexibility impossible with a traditional dish.

Those may not be valuable for you, but they are valuable for someone out there. The article was about the science, not the marketing. Come back in 12 months for the marketing take on it. I'm sure they'll have thought up more than I did in the last 30 seconds.

Relevant info? (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | about 4 years ago | (#33950052)

So, I'm no expert on signal analysis, but I understand the whole concept of Satellite Dish arrays and why we have those big fields of Giant Dishes pointed at the stars to read incoming data.

This article doesn't seem to point out any of the information that might be handy. How far apart do your antenna's need to be, how big exactly do they need to be, how many, all that good stuff.

For all I know, it might need a hundred of centimeter long antenna's spread across the entire length of my yard. Would THAT make a dish obsolete?

Re:Relevant info? (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 4 years ago | (#33950336)

For all I know, it might need a hundred of centimeter long antenna's spread across the entire length of my yard. Would THAT make a dish obsolete?

Well, think of that antenna array as being punji sticks: []

No need to scream "Get off my lawn!" anymore.

Just let the buzzards pick up the carcasses . . .

Re:Relevant info? (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | about 4 years ago | (#33950416)

Because it isn't all you know, the answer is "yes" it will make dishes obsolete. Assuming the worst and speculating on that doesn't help things. Wait till you see the antenna array the size of a sheet of A10 paper mounted to the roof of your house.

When people talk about making something else obsolete, they are usually know what they* are talking about.

*Exceptions include Marketing Droids and brain dead CEOs

Re:Relevant info? (1)

sjames (1099) | about 4 years ago | (#33951404)

The problem is, we often hear that from the marketing droids and CEOs. Sometimes they get a tech to be their puppet for that statement.

The other issue is that sometimes knowledgeable and very rational people make that claim without understanding the unadulterated irrationality of the modern market.

Re:Relevant info? (2, Informative)

Caerdwyn (829058) | about 4 years ago | (#33950500)

Antenna elements in an array are usually about 1/2 wavelength apart. L-band, 1ghz to 2ghz, has a wavelength of 20 to 30cm. So... half that, assuming 1/2 wave separation.

Re:Relevant info? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33951124)

It's the Netherlands. European satellite TV is synonymous with ku-band, 10.7-12.7 GHz.

Sigh... (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 4 years ago | (#33950168)

Summary is first paragraph of a 5-paragraph article. Here are the other four:

Marcel van de Burgwal's system would not need to be aimed. Instead, the antenna array would electronically "aim" itself. It is a concept similar to the LOFAR project, in which numerous antennas located across the northeast Dutch countryside are linked together to form a virtual radiotelescopy dish. LOFAR requires a lot of calculations and fast communications, as would van de Burgwal's system - that's where the chip comes in.

Instead of the usual elaborate, energy-hungry processors, his system contains multiple smaller, simpler processors on a single chip. They can carry out tasks more flexibly, and can be turned off when not in use. The system's infrastructure operates as a miniature network, in which TV or radio receivers are defined by software, as opposed to the traditional coils and crystals. The approach allows an entire computer network to be constructed over a space of just a few millimeters.

"Software-defined radio may seem much more complex, but we can pack so much computing power into the space taken up by, for example, a coil that it more than repays the effort", he stated.

Van de Burgwal also discovered that his multi-processor chip would work well for digital radio reception on smartphones, due to its low energy use. The technology is being further developed by U Twente spin-off company Recore Systems.

Re:Sigh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950268)

Actually, the summary changed "antennas" to "antennae", which is incorrect unless they plan on harvesting components from insects.

Re:Sigh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950748)

That depends on which dictionary you read

Where's the problem? (3, Insightful)

operagost (62405) | about 4 years ago | (#33950176)

This does appear to be a solution in search of a problem. Today's dishes are already tiny enough to easily mount on an RV. Although, someone needs to tell Allstate insurance, because their commercial seems to indicate they believe a 25 pound dish can obliterate a carport.

Re:Where's the problem? (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | about 4 years ago | (#33950440)

I don't think DSS dishes are even 5lb.

I think this might allow more placement options, but there are likely major trade-offs. If you want your phased array antenna to allow you to place the antenna flat on the side or top of a house (or RV), then you reduce reception sensitivity to the intended satellite vs. a parabolic dish of the same area pointing at the satellite. Parabolic dishes themselves don't consume power, whereas this chip does. Having a lot of small antennas also means wiring and complexity, so I would expect to pay more vs. a very easy to make fiberglass dish and LNB arrangement. An upside though, is that if it works, this would let you instantly "point" to any arbitrary satellite without switching LNBs or moving the dish. The old BUD style dishes had a system that pivots the dish to tune to preferred satellites.

Re:Where's the problem? (1)

Cramer (69040) | about 4 years ago | (#33951368)

The first gen AU9(?) was 35lbs. A single LNB oval dish (plus LNB) is a little more than 5lbs. The monster DISH Pro/1000 thing is 30-40lbs. (and a real pain in the ass to aim.)

Re:Where's the problem? (5, Insightful)

natehoy (1608657) | about 4 years ago | (#33950624)

The problem is that the dish weighs 25 pounds, offers significant wind resistance, cannot be used while the vehicle is in motion, needs to be aimed at a satellite each time the RV is moved, and depends on geosynchronous satellites or continuous aiming with a servomotor. It's also ugly, but that's an aesthetic problem, not a practical one.

The advantage of phased array systems like this would be that you don't need to deploy and aim the dish once you reach your destination. You simply turn the system on, and the handful of flat metal pads glued directly to the roof of your RV (plus possibly a couple or three on each side if you're in high latitudes) can pick up the signal without moving anything around. The pads can be utterly unobtrusive, installed permanently, and offer no wind resistance at all.

There are no moving parts because the array is "aimed" only in a virtual sense by software. You'll still need a good bit of surface area to pick up a useful signal, but that surface area can be flat and spread over a larger area in smaller bits (you don't need one big contiguous dish, just a few squares or rectangles of surface area). It can even track a moving satellite and keep it in view (or track a moving or geosync sat while you are driving down the road).

No wind resistance when driving, no moving parts to wear out or replace. Just a few metal bits glued flat to the roof, wired to a computer that compensates for the time difference between the various signals. You could get signal from multiple satellites in different parts of the sky simultaneously, or based on which one happens to be in the clearest view at the moment, without carrying around a sky chart and signal meter or depending on a complex array of servos to do it for you.

Phased arrays are not new. It just takes a lot of number-crunching and a lot of power, which up until now has been accomplished more cheaply by hammering out a parabolic dish and aiming at a stationary target, saving all that number-crunching.

This guy's algorithm and chip design may (or may not) make it cheap enough to be practical for routine use.

Re:Where's the problem? (1)

MartinSchou (1360093) | about 4 years ago | (#33950800)

This does appear to be a solution in search of a problem. Today's dishes are already tiny enough to easily mount on an RV

I would like to have satellite TV on my phone. Now then - where exactly do I attach the phone to my dish?

Secondly, while it probably won't work while indoors (can't see any satellites), it'd probably work while I'm in the garden, on the beach or on my bicycle.

There you go - we just found a problem for this thing to solve, and it only took me about 2 seconds to come up with it. I'm sure there are companies looking at this on-chip phased array antenna and going "OMG WTF BBQ, that'll solve the problems we're facing with $product".

Re:Where's the problem? (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 4 years ago | (#33951440)

The problem is how to mount a dish on a moving car. How to mount a dish on a moving airplane. How to mount a dish on a stationary car and then move the car without having to take down the dish (though they have solved that with folding tracking dishes, but you must wait between turning it off and moving and deploying it and having it usable). How to mount a dish at a house where the owner doesn't want to see a dish. How to get a large dish at the needed height on the roof of a commercial building when the larger dishes require massive mounts that won't work with the building structure and the dish can't be mounted elsewhere because of the line of sight issues.

I could probably think of 10 to 100 more that are somewhat specific, but if that costed the same as a regular dish, I would see those being more popular. And if they can scale the thing up to 5 meter size, I can see businesses fighting to put them on their large flat roofs which can't hold anything near that size without large and expensive modifications to the roof and the building.

Oh, and I thought of one other little issue. You'd not need to do aiming with this, when you need to with regular dishes. That means that install costs for large VSAT carriers could be reduced by shipping the antenna out to be self-installed, rather than spending time and money sending out the trained professional required for today's installs. That would have a massive impact on the VSAT industry. And the lack of a need to ever repoint a dish in the event of a mount moving or service changing would save massive amounts of money.

Been done for years... (1)

swfranklin (578324) | about 4 years ago | (#33950210)

There are a lot of phased array sat antennas on the market, e.g. [] - TFS makes it sounds like a new idea.

Re:Been done for years... (1)

natehoy (1608657) | about 4 years ago | (#33950686)

According to TFA, the "new idea" appears to be using purpose-built specialized processors and a more efficient algorithm.

Phased Array antennas (5, Informative)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 4 years ago | (#33950218)

Phased-array [] antennas really do work but they are not new. The nice thing about them is that they have electronic steering, so they can steer really fast while a conventional antenna of equivalent size would take much more time to move.

The problem with articles like this (and their Slashdot introductions) is that they always come off as student makes big scientific break-through rather than student applies well-known science.

Re:Phased Array antennas (1)

Chaostrophy (925) | about 4 years ago | (#33950332)

It sounds like the break though here is in a much cheaper controller, such antenas have been around 50 years (the first nuclear aircraft carrier, Enterprise, had one), and are available for RV & SUV use (big blob on roof, $$$).

Re:Phased Array antennas (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 4 years ago | (#33950724)

If there is any breakthrough, it is that someone is working on this and not giving the results only to the military. Yet. Sometimes articles like this are advertisements for grants.

Re:Phased Array antennas (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 4 years ago | (#33951232)

Cheaper controller? I have bought sub-$100 router/switch/firewall/WiFi/NAS devices which contained a phased array. I'm not sure where the costs are allocated in that mess of a consumer product, but it can't have been any more than $99 for the phased array controller. Look for it by name - MIMO. Sure, this may be an application of the cheaper consumer-grade phased array into the notoriously expensive satellite arena, but phased array controllers can't be much when standards for cheap consumer products include them.

Re:Phased Array antennas (2, Interesting)

EdZ (755139) | about 4 years ago | (#33950376)

In fact they are SO not new, they were used for satellite reception back in the late 80s/early 90s [] .

Re:Phased Array antennas (2, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 4 years ago | (#33950816)

Indeed they are SO SO not new that anyone around when they were used in the late 80's and early 90's would not have been alive when they were invented in 1905. :-)

Re:Phased Array antennas (1)

MichaelKristopeit 54 (1920216) | about 4 years ago | (#33950410)

who do you believe it came off as "student makes big scientific break-through" to?

Re:Phased Array antennas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950760)

Did you BOTHER to even read the summary before posting to this guy's comment?

" it looks like even those might be on the road to obsolescence. A recent PhD graduate from The Netherlands' University of Twente has designed a microchip that allows for a grid array of almost-flat antennae to receive satellite signals."

By not stating that he designed an IMPROVEMENT to the tech the summary blatantly implies he's the inventor to said tech. Basic English isn't rocket science. Why are you being so obtuse? Is it intentional?

Re:Phased Array antennas (1)

MichaelKristopeit 39 (1917448) | about 4 years ago | (#33951156)


why are you so oblivious to logic? is it retardation?

Recent graduate with PhD != student (2, Informative)

shis-ka-bob (595298) | about 4 years ago | (#33951332)

The article states that this work is being done by a recent graduate in a PhD program. That doesn't make him a student. A young Ph.D. has developed a low power controller for a phased array radio receiver. This is a nice piece of kit with a range of applications in mobile devices. It builds upon technologies that have in the past been dominated by defense contractors. Our young Ph.D. is helping to make this technology more accessible to the 99% of the world who are not spooks. This is all good, even if it is not groundbreaking.

Re:Recent graduate with PhD != student (0, Troll)

MichaelKristopeit 31 (1917428) | about 4 years ago | (#33951430)

no no no... bruce perens says it's coming off as "student makes big scientific break-through" so it must be true... that is what everyone must think because bruce perens has willed it so, as he cowers to make a single claim about a single individual he thinks might have thought such a thing.

Re:Phased Array antennas (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 4 years ago | (#33950538)

And since your typical home satellite antenna has no need of moving... this sounds like a solution in search of a problem. Doubly so since current antenna a pretty small. Shrinking them further requires either increasing their transmission frequency, or improving the amplifiers - not shifting to phased arrays.

Re:Phased Array antennas (2, Insightful)

fotbr (855184) | about 4 years ago | (#33950778)

True, they don't need to move. Except when an ice storm loads enough ice up to move it. Or wind moves it. Or the idiot installer couldn't be bothered to point it correctly the first time. Or the neighborhood kids decide to repeatedly throw basketballs at it. Or any of a dozen other ways that crap happens and you need to re-point the dish.

Being able to more securely mount it in "roughly" the right direction, and electronically "point" the array would be a big advantage.

Re:Phased Array antennas (1)

Derling Whirvish (636322) | about 4 years ago | (#33950842)

Yes, but there are moving vehicle applications where a flat steerable phased-array is the superior solution compared to a movable motorized dish arrangement.

Re:Phased Array antennas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33951148)

And since your typical home satellite antenna has no need of

Electronically aimed antenna could easily switch among satellites on demand. A given antenna could receive from multiple services, or multiple satellites from the same service. This is a large increase in capability over fixed antenna.

Electronically aimed antenna could even track LEO satellites. LEO satellites have more bandwidth due to lower orbits (inverse-square law) and also much lower launch costs.

Low cost phased array antenna would open up a lot of possibilities. Dismissing this out of hand is foolish.

If only somebody would invent a mobile radio phone (1)

shis-ka-bob (595298) | about 4 years ago | (#33951384)

Oh wait, I have one in my pocket.

Re:Phased Array antennas (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 4 years ago | (#33951416)

So, how can I use phased array antennas to improve my OTA DTV reception?

RSN (1)

FlynnMP3 (33498) | about 4 years ago | (#33950264)

The real news is the last paragraph of the article:

"Van de Burgwal also discovered that his multi-processor chip would work well for digital radio reception on smartphones, due to its low energy use. The technology is being further developed by U Twente spin-off company Recore Systems."

There is more money to be had from a general purpose antenna receiver in smartphones. At the very minimum, faster ROI which is what will drive the faster development/implementation into the consumer market.

What the article doesn't say is just as interesting. I'd be more interested in signal loss ratios and other engineering things. Maybe the dishes are better at what they do than what this chip can do. Still, it's nice to see promising research like this that will drive further research projects.

and how well does this work with rain fade? (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 4 years ago | (#33950292)

and how well does this work with rain fade?

Re:and how well does this work with rain fade? (1)

kehren77 (814078) | about 4 years ago | (#33950408)

Exactly! Screw making it smaller. Make it weather resistant.

What about LOS requirements? (1)

cypherstream (1924740) | about 4 years ago | (#33950304)

When they can eliminate LOS requirements, THEN they have a breakthrough. Also, Sirius Satellite Radio has an antenna about the size of a half dollar. It works anywhere there's no obstruction of the general sky. Why do TV antenna's need to be so much bigger and point "dead on" at a very precise location of the sky. Also fix rain fade and we've got a winning product.

Re:What about LOS requirements? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950680)

You will NEVER eliminate LOS requirements for high bandwidth sat links. The reason your Sirius Sat radio works without line of sight is Sirius has ground based repeaters in major metro areas for the tiny chunk of bandwidth that they use for audio

If you were do switch sat tv to this model, 1) why even use the sats anymore? and 2) if you realized the swath of bandwidth that directv's signal required, you would know there's no hole in the band plan that could accommodate it. directv broadcasts off 5 birds right now, each bird is capable of about 500mhz of bandwidth. Tell me where the 2.5ghz wide hole is in the FCC's band plan? Most metro cable plants dont even send a bandwidth this wide over their coax infrastructure most toping out at around 900mhz to 1.2ghz of bandwidth. There's a reason directv has so many more channels than cable.

I forget exactly where i read the fact, but i remember reading somewhere that if you could capture ALL of the data hitting a directv dish at any one moment, you would need a way to capture about 150-200 megaBYTES of data per second.

Power spectral density (2, Interesting)

Andy Dodd (701) | about 4 years ago | (#33950734)

The amount of spectrum bandwidth required to transmit a few hundred audio channels is a fraction of what is needed to transmit a few hundred TV channels.

So given a constant amount of power available, the power spectral density when transmitting audio only is significantly higher than when transmitting television.

Also, Sirius uses satellites in Tundra or Molniya orbits (I don't remember which), which are geosynchronous, but not geostationary.

Another story that never dies (1)

skywire (469351) | about 4 years ago | (#33950312)

Substantially the same story has been popping up regularly for about twenty years. It's like the flying car story. It's always just around the corner, but it never reaches the market, at least not at a competitive price.

Re:Another story that never dies (1)

dbateman (150302) | about 4 years ago | (#33950496)

Never reached the market? What about the squarial from BSB in the UK in the 90s (


It gets even better if you make an array of dishes (1)

RichMan (8097) | about 4 years ago | (#33950412)

The observatory consists of 27 independent antennas, each of which has a dish diameter of 25 meters (82 feet) and weighs 209 metric tons (230 Short tons).

The flat surface to dish per the original article is a trick where you vary the electrical distances of each of the patches on the flat surface to shift the signals as though they were spatially received by a dish shaped surface. You can apply the same trick to dish antennas which have much better directional gain than flat patches and do a super gain antenna.

With Ham Radio... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950424)

We can do EME (earth moon earth) and LOS (low orbit satellites) with hand held yagis. I don't see how this is new tech, but I'm happy it's getting more recognition.

Array info (4, Interesting)

Caerdwyn (829058) | about 4 years ago | (#33950446)

A collection of links on antenna arrays at a ham radio antenna design site: []

It's not all about signal strength. Sensitivity these days is rarely an issue; the electronics in the receiver are excellent. Of greater relevance are polarization, rejection of off-axis noise, directivity, and the ability to reject signals from adjacent bands. There are also issues of setup difficulty, and this is what the primary focus of the design in question is.

Aiming a dish antenna is a chore, and high winds which shake a parabolic dish can cause signal strength to fluctuate dramatically. An electronically controlled phased array can, by introducing delays to various antenna elements, "steer" itself and lock onto a satellite with great accuracy (within a few degrees of the direction the array is aimed). A small antenna, perfectly aimed, will outperform a larger antenna poorly aimed, and if the antenna's controller can aim itself without physical adjustments many thousands of times per second, wind and a... coarse job of aiming the antenna are non-factors.

A military example: PAVE-PAWS [] , a 435Mhz missile detection array used by the US Air Force. The antennas in question are made of thousands of smaller elements (a single dipole element at 435MHz is about 35cm long), do not move, but the transmitted radar beam and the reception-aiming can be extremely precise. The more elements you have, the narrower the beam but the higher the gain.

L-band, commonly used by companies like satellite TV providers, is 1 to 2 GHz. An array of 16 log-periodic (wideband) antenna elements would therefore be 60cm square. A 4-element array would be 30cm square. Pretty compact, and if it gets rid of the most common cause of poor signal strength (a poorly-aimed dish), it's a win.

What's new is cheaper, lower power (1)

MDMurphy (208495) | about 4 years ago | (#33950466)

What's new isn't a phased array antenna for satellite TV, you can get them now, though they might cost several thousand dollars vs less than $100 for the small dish.

The Gizmag article mentions the new chip being cheaper and lower power as opposed to what is currently used. Besides being "flat" and sticking out a phased array satellite TV antenna would be easier to install as it could be aimed electronically rather than physically pointing the antenna. It would still need to be pointed in the general direction, but would require less fiddling with.

Got an 802.11n receiver?Then you have this at home (2, Interesting)

RichMan (8097) | about 4 years ago | (#33950498)

802.11n directionality is achieved by phase summing the signals from 2 or more dipoles.

Oh yeah the patent for 2 or more phase locked receivers on one chips is pretty old. So even getting it onto one chip is not new.
A MIMO radio transceiver to support processing of multiple signals for simultaneous transmission via corresponding ones of a plurality of antennas and to support receive processing of multiple signals detected by corresponding ones of the plurality of antennas. The radio transceiver provides, on a single semiconductor integrated circuit, a receiver circuit or path for each of a plurality of antennas and a transmit circuit or path for each of the plurality of antennas. Each receiver circuit downconverts the RF signal detected by its associated antenna to a baseband signal. Similarly, each transmit path upconverts a baseband signal to be transmitted by an assigned antenna.

Flat is the old black. (1)

Greger47 (516305) | about 4 years ago | (#33950508)

Granted, they are not phased array so you need to aim them, but flat Ku band satellite antennas have been around for over a decade around here. Here is a random example a quick googling turned up: []


Not at all new (1)

Rising Ape (1620461) | about 4 years ago | (#33950510)

This isn't new, BSB here in the UK had a flat satellite receiver which they called the "Squarial". It was a phased array, like other people have said.

Now, if it could be electronically adjusted to pick up different satellites without having to physically move it, that would be interesting. I believe some military radars do this.

Re:Not at all new (1)

Rising Ape (1620461) | about 4 years ago | (#33950542)

OK, that'll teach me to not RTFA properly. Apparently it *can* be electronically adjusted.

Re:Not at all new (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | about 4 years ago | (#33950768)

So can the TracVision units which have been on the market for a few years.

Not new at all (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | about 4 years ago | (#33950552)

Phased arrays for DirecTV reception have been on the market for at least a few years. Here's one: []

Supposedly the student has developed a signal processor that will reduce power consumption and/or cost, but the article is REALLY slim on details as to how they did this and whether they really have made any significant breakthroughs beyond what's already there.

Terminology and Impact (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950652)

Uh, insects have antennae, radios have antennas.

The advantage of the system described by OP is that the satellite antenna system not only doesn't have to be a curved piece of metal up on a special mounting, it also doesn't have to be physically aimed closer than a quadrant of the sky.

The flat antenna would likely be larger than today's small dish, but it also could be just a rigid frame nailed to a roof. The news article is VERY unclear on how this works. Chances are it's some variant of phased array synthesis that can be done cheaply due to dedicated processors on the chip being described. The key word is "cheaply," as in consumer, not military, prices.

@cypherstream, rain loss and Sirius

No, the new antenna won't affect rain loss unless you're willing to install a bigger one. Sirius uses such a small antenna because a) their satellites put out humungo RF power, and b) in large cities they use ground-based repeaters to beat the "street canyon" effect. Google "link budget" for more.

Re:Terminology and Impact (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about 4 years ago | (#33951340)

Sirius Satellites Radiosat 1 through Radiosat 3 fly in geosynchronous highly elliptical orbit (Tundra orbit) in a 24-hour orbital period. The elliptical path of its satellite constellation ensures that each satellite spends about 16 hours a day over the continental United States, with at least one satellite over the country at all times. The orbit allows the satellites to broadcast from directly overhead the continental United States, avoiding the problem of large buildings or objects blocking the signal and requiring a much smaller terrestrial repeater network than does sister network XM.

They are also not higher power, they are transmitting a lot less bandwith than a TV bird is. lower data amount = lower power needed.

Finally their orbit makes them a lot closer to the earth than a geostationary orbit... giving them a simple boost from less distance and the advantages of the inverse square law.

Squarial (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950824)

Sounds a lot like British Satellite Broadcasting's Squarial from the late 80's / early 90's -

squarial (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33950984)

been around for a while.
Developed by ERA Technology, UK.
Used to be available for satellite reception.
Half a dozen pieces of injection moulded plastic with vacuum deposited copper.
Quite elegant not to mention clever.
I think it was sold by BSB (could have been Sky though) as the way to get access to their material.
It has been investigated by other vendors.

ship radar without moving antenna (1)

kubitus (927806) | about 4 years ago | (#33951028)

cheap satellite transmitter antenna-steering for 2-way comm with non-geostationary satelites

cheap weather radar

- just to name a few applications beside simple satellite reception.

- It is not a ground breaking technology - but also computers were known before the PC came!

what... would be the point? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33951032)

there really hasn't been anything worth while on TV (dish, ota, cable, ip, you name it.) ...

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