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A satellite truck is a actual truck or similar vehicle, including smaller van-based systems or larger, modified semi-tractor trailer designs, capable of establishing a direct link to communications satellites. It, thereby, bypasses traditional phone and cable Internet systems and is an essential mobile communications platform used by television stations to report from the scene of live sporting events and other newsworthy activities. Emergency government services also may use them to report safety information in times of crisis or to coordinate police, fire, and medical services.
Trucks using satellite broadcasting in the United States are allowed to utilize two frequency bands, known as C-Band and Ku band. C-Band satellite truck equipment is the earlier of the two systems, requiring heavier duty trucks in the range of 10,000–26,000 pounds (4,536-11,340 kilograms). They are often referred to in the industry as a Transportable Earth Station (TES) and broadcast in a range of 5.7–6.5 gigahertz.
Trucks using Ku band frequencies typically operate in higher ranges of 10.95-14.5 gigahertz and were first used in Canada, with the technology migrating to the US in 1983. They tend to be more advanced and compact than C-Band, and vehicles used for them are as small as a mid-size sport utility vehicle (SUV) or van. Trucks utilizing Ku band transmissions can have spotty transmission problems in storms — known as “rain fade” in the industry — and, for this reason, the C-Band satellite truck model, though more expensive and difficult to run, is still used for outdoor sporting events such as golf, auto racing, and horse racing.
Remote broadcasts are often for high-profile events when television stations can’t afford to lose a signal during the event that can have millions of advertising dollars in revenue tied to it. Where fiber optic cable is available, a satellite truck will utilize it as an alternate transmission path and as a secure feed after the event. Fiber optics cable often doesn’t have the capability to transmit high-definition signals, however, and stations fall back on the C-Band satellite truck where these new standards are expected.
Both Ku band and C-band types of trucks have advantages over each other that will continue to promote both of their uses. Another advantage of older C-Band is that buying satellite uplink time for it costs about half as much as does Ku band. Organizations that have more than one satellite truck on the scene or out in remote locations during storms also use another form of satellite technology to keep track of them, which has become widespread in many other vehicles, the global positioning system (GPS).
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