Final stages of satellite transfer underway
The UK and Ireland is served by a fleet of satellites orbiting the earth at 28 degrees East. The changes will see services being removed from the aging Eutelsat 28A satellite, which has recently been broadcasting services at significantly lower power levels than its neighbouring orbiting counterparts. New satellite Astra 2G will arrive at 28 degrees East by mid-June and will trigger further transfers.
As part of the changes, some services may temporarily be unavailable for a very short time overnight as services switch satellites. In some cases frequencies may be changed. Some channels have already changed frequencies ahead of the change.
However, viewers in the UK and Ireland who use either Freesat or Sky are not expected to notice any changes, with the satellite platform operators updating their Electronic Programme Guides (EPGs) to redirect receivers to any new frequencies that may apply. Freesat's EPG, which is broadcast from Eutelsat 28A is expected to switch to stronger satellite Astra 2E at the end of the month.
Eutelsat 28A is then expected to follow other former satellites serving the UK and Ireland in going into retirement.
The first changes occurred at 01:00 UK time this morning. The initial switch affected services including Sky subscription channels Universal Channel (SD) and E! and free-to-air channel CBS Drama, with services moving from Eutelsat 28A to Astra 2F. First reports say the change has produced a stronger signal for UK and Ireland viewers.
Previous satellite transfers have resulted in some of the UK's main free-to-air television channels becoming less widely available in continental Europe, following requests from broadcasters to reduce their satellite footprint due to programme rights issues. The changes annoyed numerous expats in southern France, northern Italy and Spain, who were among the worst hit by the last satellite transfers.
Very little information is known in advance about how these latest changes will affect viewers on the continent, as they are 'unofficial' viewers outside of the core footprint area, but the latest indications are that fewer channels will be available via satellite to expats abroad.
In addition to the satellite transfers, some broadcasters are making use of new parameters which allow more channels to fit on one satellite transponder. This is likely to make reception in fringe areas outside of the UK and Ireland more difficult in the coming months.
The first satellites to specifically serve the UK and Ireland with digital TV were Astra 2A, B, C and D plus Eutelsat's Eurobird 1, later re-named Eutelsat 28A. The satellites covered the whole of Europe apart from Astra 2D, which had a loose UK spot-beam, reducing overspill over much of Europe, but still available across the UK and Ireland with mini-dishes and most of Western Europe with large domestic dishes. This enabled the main UK channels, free from the burden of programme rights issues, to go free-to-air.
One by one all of these satellites have come to the end of their years in service (Although Astra 2C was moved elsewhere). Astra 2A was only recently retired in March and Eutelsat 28A is expected to be not far behind. A new fleet of satellites: Astra 2E, 2F and 2G were commissioned in 2009 to take over, with Astra 2F first in orbit late 2012. Astra 2E and F are now in service, but 2G arrives mid-June. The new satellites have tighter UK spot-beams so that some viewers in Europe can't receive UK free-to-air channels anymore, or if they do, only with difficulty and seasonal fluctuations in signal.
Following the end of a protracted legal battle between Astra's operator SES and Eutelsat, Eutelsat is handing over its services to be carried on SES's Astra satellites. Eutelsat won't be supplying a replacement for Eutelsat 28A. Eutelsat 28A services are now being transferred - some to Astra 2E, some to Astra 2F and some will go to Astra 2G.