Satellite fleet operator Eutelsat alleges that a high-powered ground antenna located on Ethiopian territory has repeatedly jammed programming Eutelsat satellites. Arabsat of Saudi Arabia has made similar allegations, also pinpointing Ethiopia.
SATELLITE fleet operator Eutelsat said intentional interference, which accounted for just 5 percent of the disruptions to its fleet in 2010, was responsible for 15 percent of the signal disruptions in 2013.
The tripling of intentional interference events, tied in part to the expansion of Eutelsat’s fleet serving Middle Eastern and African television audiences, is unlikely to drop in 2014 with the latest round of jamming by an unidentified source in Ethiopia.
Eutelsat said the jamming, which has affected Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based Arabsat’s satellites as well as at least two Eutelsat spacecraft, has been geolocated in northeast Ethiopia.
The way the jamming is conducted has resulted to interference not only on the presumed target broadcaster but to all broadcasters sharing the affected satellite transponders.
Jean-Francois Bureau, director of international affairs at Paris-based Eutelsat, said the company has relayed its jamming data to the French National Frequencies Agency (ANF), which will forward it both to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva and to the Ethiopian government as part of a protest.
Arabsat has similarly said it is taking its protest to the ITU, although industry officials admit the United Nations affiliate has no real power to impose penalties on governments, even those that are identified as conducting or sanctioning the interruption of satellite signals.
Alexandre Vallet, head of regulatory affairs and spectrum and orbit resources at the French ANF, said France will be working within the ITU this year to push forward an ITU proposal to use a global network of antennas to geolocate jamming sources more quickly.
Satellite operators, especially those that have joined the Space Data Association and are contributing to a data pool at that organization, already are able to use each other’s satellites to identify, with a precision to within 100 kilometers — and usually much less — a source of jamming.
Mark Rawlins, head of payload operations and engineering at Eutelsat, said June 4 that it took Eutelsat just a couple of hours, using two of its own satellite located near each other, to pinpoint the Ethiopian jamming source.
Rawlins said the jamming source is using a high-powered antenna to disrupt programming on the uplink to transponders on two Eutelsat satellites, located at 7 degrees west and 21 degrees east.
Rawlins declined to speculate on the reason for the jamming, saying jammer motivations, while usually political in nature, are not always easy to discern.
The Eutelsat spacecraft affected carry a channel owned by Oromia Media Network of Minneapolis, a network that has been jammed before. The network launched in March to provide independent, citizen-driven reporting on Ethiopia and Oromia, the country’s largest and most populous state.
“We believe this is part of the Ethiopian government’s [policy of] silencing alternative voices,” the network said in a June 5 statement, citing previous examples of Ethiopian government officials’ defense of jamming techniques.
Arabsat does not carry Oromia broadcasts, but one industry official speculated that the jammers are aware that Arabsat may soon sign a contract that would put Oromia on an Arabsat satellite at 26 degrees east.
While Eutelsat and Arabsat both say they have localized, beyond a reasonable doubt, the national territory in which the jamming is occurring, their claims as interested parties do not carry the weight of a neutral oversight network.
That is why France and other nations are backing the ITU proposal to create a network of antennas recognized by the ITU has being objective.
“Our understanding is that the proposed contributors to the network have agreed to participate, and what we want to do now is close the loop with the ITU,” Vallet said here June 2 during the Global Space Applications Conference, organized by the International Astronautical Federation.
Lyudmyla Karpenko of the Ukraine State Center of Radio Frequencies said a Ukrainian antenna farm near Kiev is one of the proposed contributors to the ITU network and has agreed to take part.
Most satellite signal interference events are due to poorly aimed or maintained ground antennas that accidentally cause interference. The Space Data Association and other industry organizations, including the Global VSAT Forum and the Satellite Interference Reduction Group — backed by industry heavyweights including fleet operators Intelsat, SES, Inmarsat and Eutelsat — are promoting ways to stop accidental interference.
The methods include systematic training of ground operations and the adoption of “Carrier ID” by satellite antenna manufacturers enabling quick identification of antennas that are causing interference.
But Carrier ID will not resolve the problem of intentional jamming, which in Eutelsat’s case has reached about 15 percent of total annual interference events. Bureau said part of the reason for the increase is that Eutelsat’s fleet has increased from 28 satellites to 34 in the past three years, meaning the company is now a larger target in interference-prone zones.
“What is clear is that over the past three years there has been a significant increase in deliberate jamming,” Bureau told the conference.
Vallet said that given the lack of enforcement muscle at ITU, the best way to combat jamming for now is “naming and shaming” the perpetrators and using diplomatic pressure to get them to stop.
Rawlins said the SDA grouping of satellite operators — to date, Asian operators have not been persuaded to join the group — is working on automating their geolocalization so that they interconnect automatically. The new system should be operational by early 2015.