UK TV via satellite in Europe: Spotbeams, Sidelobes and Nulls

FEATURE In February 2014, transmissions of all major UK television channels moved to a new satellite. The new satellite has been built with a dedicated spotbeam aimed at the British Isles. The further away you are from Britain and Ireland, the worse the reception has become.

Viewers living in the area shown below are able to watch UK television with a standard mini-dish. As you can see, this also includes the immediate near continent.

It's important to note that weather/atmospheric conditions and even the time of day/year can affect where the exact edge of the beam is and what satellite dish size is required - so don't use the map as an exact guide.

The reception around the core spotbeam drops off very quickly over a very short distance. This happens over southern France and Switzerland. It divides Germany and makes reception in Denmark more difficult, as shown on the map. The areas just outside of the highlighted zone on the map above fall into "nulls", where reception is difficult or unviable.

Sidelobes and nulls
Each satellite footprint has "sidelobes" and "nulls" areas around the edge of the spotbeam where reception can be very variable, and where locally reception is either totally impossible or actually possible with a much smaller dish than surrounding places!

The best image to illustrate the reception situation in turn of how this affects the strength of the signal comes from Asia-Pacific satellite website APSATTV.

This is a cross section of a typical satellite's footprint on earth. As you go from one side to the other there are areas of different signal strength.

The main lobe or the big hump in the middle - in our case, the UK spotbeam - is over the UK, Ireland and the low countries. To keep it simple, the hump is where signal strengths are the best. To the left (West) reception disappears into the Atlantic.

To the right (south and east  into continental Europe), as you go further to the edge of the main lobe, reception drops off rapidly, and we go into a null.

Here's another simplified way of illustrating mainbeams, sidelobes and nulls.

click (or touch on a tablet) to enlarge

In the case of Astra 2E, the satellite signal drops off rapidly over southern France, where dish sizes for UK TV increase rapidly south of Toulouse. The same is true over Germany, where a new East-West divide slices the country in two. Immediately around the main spotbeam is the 'null'.

This "null" is, according to reception reports, over Catalonia, parts of Northern Italy, Austria and up through parts of the Czech Republic into Eastern Germany. If you're right under the null, even the biggest satellite dishes are unlikely to help.

a516digital has seen user feedback submitted to the site where a user in Catalonia has tried and failed with a 3 metre dish!

Beyond the null are sidelobes. Places such as Valencia, Western Poland and Southern Sweden have reported surprisingly good results on smaller dish sizes.

Then we go into another null, as we move further away from the spotbeam. Southern Spain, for example, is badly hit by this null. Gibraltar's Panorama website recently reported that some local satellite installers couldn't get a signal from sister satellite Astra 2F (which has a practically identical spotbeam) even with a 6 metre dish.

As we see in the picture, a further - but weaker - sidelobe comes into play the further away we get. This has allowed some in the Canaries to get some reception with a 3 metre dish - but very localised and patchy.

Sidelobes mean that you can't just assume that satellite dish sizes need to increase steadily the further away you are from the spotbeam. In fact, there are distinct 'waves', with dish sizes increasing near nulls and decreasing near sidelobes.

The trouble with the sidelobes and null is that they may move ever so slightly over the course of the day and year. This can either knock out or enhance reception within hours and can be very frustrating to viewers.

And where your signal is prone to variations, the sensitivity of your satellite receiver, the quality of your dish and LNB (the bit that is in front of the dish) and the state of your cables can matter a lot. As a result reception reports can vary substantially within the same location. If in doubt, speak to a local specialist.

A final note:
Some services from the UK are easy to receive, even with a smaller dish. Channels such as CNN are broadcast on the Europe beam. None of the main free-to-air channels uses the Europe beam.

This is the footprint for the Europe beam, which requires completely different dish sizes in the affected parts of Europe:

 It even has deliberate hotspots over the Canaries and Poland!

Last revised: 02/07/2015

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  1. Hi, If I increase the size/area of my dish ( in the Loire) with metal gauze following its' parabolic sweep, from 45 to 60 diameter - do I need to move LND back away a bit ?
    Advice appreciated..