I’m not here to point fingers, y’all…
But as LiNKUP’s field techs have been working their way from state to state, switching out broadcast downlinks with 5G filters, they’ve reported a disturbing pattern; a lack of maintenance at downlink sites.
We know how it is; it’s really hard to get to each site on a regular schedule for routine maintenance. If engineering at your station or network is a one or two-person department then you’re really pressed to find the time to get in the field.
Contract engineers can be a big help, but only if they are contracted to perform maintenance at your downlink sites. If they are hired to only visit in an emergency, then your site is not being adequately maintained.
And we all know nothing good happens when a downlink site is neglected.
Bottom line: what is the absolute minimal effort one must commit to do, to maintain an operational downlink site? Here are seven very basic downlink chores that every broadcast engineer needs to complete to keep your downlink’s performance in the green:
- Inspect the LNB and cover.
The abbreviation LNB stands for Low Noise Block Downconverter. It’s the device on the front of a satellite dish that receives the signal from the satellite, amplifies it, changes the signals to a lower frequency band, and sends them down the cable to the receiver.
While inspecting the LNB, look for loose hardware, cuts in the lens, and insects (especially wasps) around the LNB. A Pringle’s can lid serves well as a temporary lens replacement.
2. Replace any worn or tattered water-proof tape.
As many of the system components are exposed to the outdoors, including the antenna and associated transmission lines, there is a chance that moisture could build up in the lines and cause extensive damage. Water-proof tape is essential in the protection of your antenna, so make sure it’s intact and doing it’s job.
3. Check the downlink’s coaxial cables for cracks or brittleness.
RF coaxial cables are used for carrying radio frequency signals from one point to another. Connectors are used to connect cables to devices and help maintain the shielding of the cable. To determine cracking, visibly check your coax for kinks and insulation damage.
4. Consider the downlink’s line-of-site.
The line-of-sight is the direct visual path from the antenna to the satellite. Your objective is to clear any obstructions, like tree limbs, that may fall in that path. Bring a hack saw.
5. Inspect your lightning protection.
According to The National Weather Service, a typical lightning strike is about 300 million Volts and about 30,000 Amps. Since that intense energy is trying to find a path to the ground, the objective is to provide this energy a path to the ground that does NOT through your downlink equipment.
When our techs install a downlink, they mount a ground block on the side of the pole, between the LNB and the receiver. The ground block is intended to “ground” the incoming F connector outer conductor, so that the outer ground of the coax has a direct path to ground. When inspecting downlinks, have a spare ground block in hand, as lightning strikes will damage the integrity of your downlink’s ground block.
6. Check for bird’s nests.
That crook between your downlink antenna and pole makes an ideal home for our feathered friends. Though they’re awfully cute, birds known to have less than impeccable housekeeping skills. To be blunt, the family will make a nasty mess all over your downlink. Enough said.
7. Peak your antenna.
Damaged cables, a misaligned dish, malfunctioning equipment, and severe weather can all cause your antenna to fail. Make sure you take test equipment with you when visiting downlink sites to realign your antenna.
Final thoughts…To assure maximum uptime at your downlink, routine maintenance and occasional troubleshooting and repair must be done. Barring a major issue, this seven-point inspection of a downlink site should take about an hour. Hitting each of your network’s downlinks every six months should be your goal.
Want to keep your team on track during downlink inspections? Then download our free Downlink Maintenance Checklist, and take the list above as a reminder of what’s critical to observe and maintain at your network’s downlink sites.