From poorly trained installers and sub-standard equipment, to lack of tools and lack of knowhow, Mazen Nasser of Dubai-based MenaNets identifies some of the problems hampering this crucial customer-facing activity that often damages the popular perception of the satellite industry
The Global VSAT FORUM (GVF) Advanced VSAT Installer Certification covers issues that field technicians face, such as using a compass, calculating levels in dB, peaking, cross-pole testing, voltage drops, cable lengths, using a spectrum analyser, grounding, basic IP networking, safety issues, and troubleshooting.
The right tools
From the right drilling equipment to signal metres, spectrum analysers, type-approved dishes, good quality connectors and so on, the installer needs to be able to install and measure the performance of the antenna. It is impossible to know whether you have done a good installation otherwise.
I often see installations of VSATs near microwave towers or in close proximity to power lines. Sometimes, the antenna is wrongly positioned on the roof resulting in too long a cable. A crucial part of the job involves figuring out the best installation strategy on each property, taking into account all the unique elements of the location and the position of the satellite in the sky.
Grounding, lightning protection and weather-proofing
Lightning protection and grounding is not the same thing. In the MENA region, you will find installers who do not consider grounding or lightning protection essential. It is like buying a car and not wanting the airbag. A nearby lightning strike can easily damage an ungrounded dish, the receiver and other equipment. Ingress of water (besides dust and humidity) into the coaxial cable and connectors can also have devastating effects.
To train or not to train
With so much of investment on satellites and associated infrastructure, it is strange that the installation is often left to a poorly trained and ill-equipped installer. And when the connection does not work, the satellite industry gets a bad name. People need to ask for certified installers. A qualified technician is experienced at making the necessary adjustments (azimuth, elevation, polarisation and focal length). Also, the installer needs to keep himself updated with the latest in technology.
The interference predicament
Equipment needs to be type-approved. Major operators such as Eutelsat and Intelsat have rigorous procedures that range from looking at details on the radio unit design and wind load analysis to the manufacturing process and packaging and shipment handling, among other factors. Type-approved equipment will give you a good performance, side lobes and crosspole, otherwise you will be consuming and paying for bandwidth that you do not use. If you buy equipment on price alone, be prepared for disappointment.
If a dish’s cross-pole isolation is insufficient or side lobes are off, you may receive some unwanted signals (interference) from the opposite pole or adjacent transponders on the same or neighbouring satellite.
Revisit every six months
Especially before summer and winter, when the temperatures fluctuate. Big variations in temperature can affect the equipment. Similarly water and wind can also cause disruptions. And while the operators notify customers about any changes, if I have bandwidth on the satellite, I would check the website of the operator regularly for any updates.
Asking the right questions
It’s not as simple as buying a DSL or cable connection at home. There are quite a number of factors to consider before you arrive at a decision about VSAT solutions. There is no shortcut. You need to negotiate bandwidth and equipment with a knowledgeable installer based on your needs, location and other parameters – otherwise you might end up with bandwidth and equipment that is not compatible.