All main UK broadcasters use the Astra 2 satellite fleet at 28.2-28.5 degrees East.
Some of their signals are focused on a narrow area around the British Isles (called the UK spotbeam), while other signals cover all of Europe.
This means it is easier to receive some, but not other channels. This article will explain the main differences and the locations where reception is possible.
If you live outside of Europe, direct free-to-air reception of the main British channels is not possible.
- Channel 4
- Channel 5
The UK’s main free-to-air channels use a spotbeam. The coverage area is shown below. Its smaller footprint aimed at the British Isles means less signal overspill and fewer issues with broadcasting rights (films and sports rights may restrict coverage to a particular area only).
For viewers, the spotbeam restricts the area where it is possible to watch British TV via satellite. It also means viewers may need a larger dish.
- In the centre of the spotbeam, a satellite dish of at least 45cm (Sky zone 1 dish) is suitable for reception. Some viewers in the centre may wish to install a larger dish of up to 60cm (Sky zone 2 dish) to ensure reliable reception of both spotbeam and Europe beam channels (see below) in all but the most extreme weather conditions.
- Around the edges, across Shetland, most of the Netherlands, Belgium and Northern France, a 60cm dish is required. The western most areas of Germany (Dusseldorf, Cologne) may need up to a 80cm round dish for all-round reception.
- Around the outer line of the spotbeam – that’s down the middle of Germany, over the Alps and across to the south of France, a dish of at least 150cm is recommended for reception of SD/HD TV services. In this area, reception may be subject to daily fluctuations (see next paragraph). The Pyrenees lie just outside of the spotbeam area. Reception beyond this is not guaranteed and will require non-domestic sized satellite dishes.
Each satellite remains in a virtual ‘box’ that it must remain in whilst in orbit (otherwise satellite dishes would always have to move around to keep following the satellite around in the sky). However, within that box it may move slightly – unnoticeable to viewers in the middle of the spotbeam – but around the edges (outside of the intended coverage area), enough to cause variations in reception.
Main Europe Beam
For channels including:
- Sky News
- Forces TV
For free-to-air channels where programme rights aren’t an issue and for pay TV channels that, through their encryption, restrict their availability, the main European beam on Astra 2E, 2F and 2G mean their signals can be received across a wider area.
Astra 2E’s Europe beam with hotspots over the UK, Ireland and Poland as well as good reception across central Europe and most of Spain and Portugal as well as Italy, plus the Canary Islands:
There are slight variations between satellites.
Astra 2G offers the widest coverage across Europe, but its signal can be weaker, even in the UK. Bloomberg, CNN and The Box use Astra 2G.
- Channels using the Europe beam can be received across Europe. Very few free-to-air channels use this option. Reception in the core is possible with a 50cm dish.
- As you can see, parts of northern England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland receive a weaker signal. In order to receive both Europe-beam and spotbeam signals, installers in these areas opt for a larger zone 2 Sky dish of at least 60cm.
Finally, 2F’s Europe beam is concentrated over western and north-western Europe, but at the time of publication (January 2021), it isn’t used – with broadcasters using the UK spotbeam on this satellite. Astra 2F also transmits African channels on another beam – the West Africa beam – definitely not receivable in Europe!