The Secrets of a Satellite Video Conference Part 1: The Basics

The Secrets of a Satellite Video Conference Part 1: The Basics

In today's world of streaming video and IP video conferencing, one thing  still stands true: Corporations and associations that want to get their message out in full broadcast quality video with the highest success rate use satellite. Satellite video conferencing enables point to multipoint communications along with return audio and/ or video as needed. It is appropriate for town hall meetings, trainings, CEO addresses and virtually any grand scale application.

There are many details when it comes to a satellite conference, the most foreign of all being the interaction with a satellite company. Most organizations do AV on some scale, and many are familiar with video production, whether it be for recorded meetings or image magnification during live events.  Satellite, though, can be intimidating to the average Joe. What does it all mean? How does it work? How can one make uccessful use of technology? In this two part series, we will explore these questions and help the reader better understand the technology and what is involved in planning the satellite portion of a satellite video conference.



First, it's necessary to understand some of the lingo and the basic idea of satellite technology. There are three elements to any satellite broadcast. First there is the satellite uplink. This takes video and audio feeds, routest them through a satellite truck or other transmission medium and sends them up and out.  When we talk about an uplink, we can be referring to either the origination site ("Richmond will be the uplink.") or the actual mode of transmission ("SCS will be supplying the uplink.").

The opposite of the uplink is the satellite downlink. This is the receiving end, teh end point, of the signal transmission.  The signal will typically be received either by a TVRO (TeleVision Receive Only), a teleport or another truck.  A TVRO is a stand-alone satellite dish either on a trailer, on teh ground, or on a rooftop.  A teleport is a facility that uplinks and downlinks; its signals are usually sent and received from locations via fiber. Most friequently for a satellite video conference, the signal will be uplinked from a satellite truck and downlinked by a TVRO or another satellite truck. We'll discuss teleports another time. They are crucial to some kinds of tranmsissions, but aren't required in most. As with the uplink, the term "downlink" can refer to the receive site ("Dallas, Boston, and Chicago will all be downlinks.") or the actual receiving equipment ("The downlink will be a TVRO.").

So, how does the signal get from the uplink to the downlink? It's not like there is a line of sight between various cities. Well, the third component to the broadcast is the actual satellite. There are many different kinds of satellites, but the ones used for broadcasting like this are geostationary. This means that they are positioned in an orbit that moves at the same speed and direction as the earth, making their location relative to the earth the same at all times.  Satellite time is purchased in 15 minute increments, reserving a particular channel or transponder on a particular satellite.  The signal is sent from the uplink to the satellite, located 26,000 miles above the equator, where it is, effectively, bounced back to the earth and received by the satellite downlink.  Wondering how all the signals don't get mixed up?  Well, each of the many satellites are located about 2 degrees apart and have a number of the aforementioned transponders.  Each transponder has a unique frequency. Both the uplink and the downlink have to be pointing at the same satellite and tuned into the appropriate frequency for the designated transponder.  Then the magic can happen. 

It takes time for the electronic processing and for the signal to travel 26,000 miles up and then back down. This translates into a delay of approximately 2.5 seconds. When going one direction, this delay isn't noticeable by anyone.  When doing two-way audio (or two-way audio and video), however, a slight adjustment in AV needed. If there is intereaction between the sites, adjustment in speech patters is required. With just a little practice, though, even the most untrained speakers adapt well. 

So, now that you know, basically, how satellite broadcasting works, you can practice the lingo with your meeting planners and your satellite company. First though, you might want to stay tuned for...



Next time, we will discuss the relationship with the satellite company, truly the key to a successful satellite broadcast.  How to choose a company. What information they need. How to ensure an effective relationship. 



Feel free to contact the writer at or via phone at 1-800-USA-LINK.  


Dori Schmitz is the Director of Sales and Operations at Satellite Communication Systems (SCS), located in the Chicago area. She has been in the industry for 25 years and specializes in satellite video conference coordination.  SCS provides satellite uplinks and downlinks as well as satellite video conference coordination for clients around the world.