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Television Communications Science Technology

Antenna Arrays Could Replace Satellite TV Dishes 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 Those have since been replaced by today's compact dishes, but now it looks like even those might be on the road to obsolescence.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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Antenna Arrays Could Replace Satellite TV Dishes

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  • 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.

    • 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 afterward

      • by PRMan ( 959735 )

        The rules may be illegal.

        FCC Rules on Antenna/Dish placement []

        • 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.

          • 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.

            Depends on where you live. Where I live, buildings that new are most certainly NOT on the historic register unless they happen to have other historical significance besides age. Keep in mind also that owners can choose to *not* put their buildings on the historic register -- the designation has drawbacks as well as adv

            • by xaxa ( 988988 )

              Keep in mind also that owners can choose to *not* put their buildings on the historic register -- the designation has drawbacks as well as advantages.

              What is the historic register? (I'm not American.) Over here the government decides. There are various restrictions on what you can do to these buildings, depending how historically interesting they are. An owner can contest the decision, but that's it -- and ignoring the restrictions is a criminal offence.

              In college, I lived for a year in a house that had been built in the 1840s. It was a piece of shit, and the owner was a slumlord. The walls were literally falling down

              The owner here would be required to maintain a historic building. The whole point is that it doesn't fall down...

      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        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.

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        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.

        • Or deal with it? I don't have a balcony.

          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.

      • by nmg196 ( 184961 )

        > Ok, but I live in an apartment in an old (historic, something like 117 years old so far)

        Historic?! You must be American! My building was built in 1810 and has 18" thick solid walls (try getting WiFi to go through that - or a drill bit long enough to run the Cat 5 though).

        But yes, we have the same problem - no dishes or even aerials are allowed on our building, so hopefully this technology will allow those of us in listed/protected buildings to get satellite-based services.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      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 i

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Nyeerrmm ( 940927 ) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @02:51PM (#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.
    • 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...

    • by nmg196 ( 184961 )

      Because you can't easily use a parabolic dish which needs to be aimed accurately on a car, caravan/RV/mobile home etc. This technology could potentially make it easier to resolve the weak satellite signals which would normally require a dish, resolvable by a static antenna array which could be omnidirectional. As the article implies, it might mean that digital radio actually *works* :)

  • 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.
    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      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.
  • 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

    • 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 . . .

    • 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

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Caerdwyn ( 829058 )

      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.

  • 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.


  • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @02:42PM (#33950176) Homepage Journal
    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.
    • 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,

    • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @03:09PM (#33950624) Journal

      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.

    • 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 th

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        There are many cool applications of the chip. Receiving satellite TV on a smart phone isn't one of them. The array would still be bigger than the phone. It could be less awkwardly shaped and a LITTLE smaller than the regular 18 inch dish, primarily because it would be perfectly "aimed" while the dish needs enough margin for error.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      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 t
      • by Plekto ( 1018050 )

        Well I know for sure that the local news vans running around the city will love this technology. As it is, they have to stop and spend several minutes linking up everything. Now imagine them just parking and being online in 30 seconds. Or while still moving, even.

    • by grcumb ( 781340 )

      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.

      One potential use for these would be with the upcoming O3B network [] of MEO satellites []. Currently, the ground station design is very expensive, because the dishes need to target the next satellite coming over the horizon about once every 20 minutes. A flat panel such as this would remove the need for mechanical elements in the antenna array. Definite win.

      O3B is a very interesting service to the developing world, where the odds of pulling a fibre-optic cable any time in the next decade are often close to nil.

    • by Kagato ( 116051 )

      Mobile is certainly a market. But there's a lot of money spent installing and fixing DBS dishes around the world. The amount of money saved troubleshooting would be tremendous.

    • My parents won't switch to satellite, even though they hate their cable provider. Why? They think the dish looks ugly and don't want one on their house.

    • by cuby ( 832037 )
      Parabolic antennas have high gain but a very small beamwidth, hence you need to be pointed precisely in the direction of the transmitter. With an array, the beamwidth is wider.
      see beamwidth: []
  • There are a lot of phased array sat antennas on the market, e.g. [] - TFS makes it sounds like a new idea.
  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <> on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @02:44PM (#33950218) Homepage Journal

    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.

    • 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, $$$).

      • 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.
      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        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 in
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by EdZ ( 755139 )
      In fact they are SO not new, they were used for satellite reception back in the late 80s/early 90s [].
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bruce Perens ( 3872 )

        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. :-)

        • 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. :-)

          Good sound-bite (sound-byte?), but Grandmother managed to make it just fine into the early 90's and was born just a bit before 1905.

          People are living longer and longer, and we're only talking about 85-90 years (heck, my grandmother used to tell us about being a girl and watching this new-fangled thing flying overhead, the airplane).

    • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fotbr ( 855184 )

        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.

      • Yes, but there are moving vehicle applications where a flat steerable phased-array is the superior solution compared to a movable motorized dish arrangement.
      • Oh wait, I have one in my pocket.
    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

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

      • You don't need them for this. Build a Gray-Hoverman antenna.

        Actually, you should also look for other problems. Before I bought a UHF meter, I thought I wasn't getting enough signal. But the meter said otherwise. The problem was front-end overload or intermodulation swamping the weaker stations. Get rid of your present store-bought preamp, and any other amplifiers in the line, they're too noisy. Get a preamp from Research Comms [], they are really pricey but worth it. Remember to order the power supply and outd

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by russotto ( 537200 )

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

        Lots of ways. Re-point (electronically) for every channel, even multiple simultaneously. Phase-cancel an interfering signal based on its direction. A more complicated system with dynamically-changing phase delays could probably reduce the impact of dynamic multipath.

  • by FlynnMP3 ( 33498 )

    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 d

  • and how well does this work with rain fade?

    • and how well does this work with rain fade?

      Basically as well as existing antennas. Rain fade happens, pretty much by definition, in all the stuff between the transmitter and the receiver. You can't engineer something in the receiver to make it not happen because it has already happened before the signal gets there.

      You can make the antenna bigger to get more signal. That's true with existing technology, that's basically still true with whizzy modern phased array systems. Ideally, the phased array stuff w

  • 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.

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


  • 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 g

  • Array info (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Caerdwyn ( 829058 ) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @02:59PM (#33950446) Journal

    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 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 direc

  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 @03:01PM (#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.

  • 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: []


  • 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.

  • 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 breakthr

  • 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!

  • This is not new or even especially clever compared to some antenna designs. And it does actually work and has benefits.

    Aegis cruisers use a phased-array radar set that solves a multitude of problems - flat panel does not need to be physically articulated or rotated, it 'aims' virtually instananeously, allowing the system to track multiple targets with high precision, and I bet it consumes substantially less power than a moving dish or other types of antennae.

    Replacing various reflectors with an array, one

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