Digital satellite systems are used to deliver data from a satellite down to a consumer. This term is used primarily to refer to systems either for television or for internet access. It may also be used to refer to satellite radio technology.
Digital satellite systems usually make use of a very small dish which can be installed anywhere on the consumer's property with a line-of-sight to an orbiting satellite. These dishes are rarely larger than three feet (0.9m), a drastic improvement from television satellite dishes of the 1980s and early 1990s, which could often exceed twenty feet (6.9m).
In the case of television signals, digital satellite systems may also be referred to as direct broadcast systems (DBS). Digital satellite systems have a number of advantages over traditional cable-television providers, particularly in the United States. In the US, cable companies are fairly tightly regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), limiting what they may and may not air and setting restrictions on pricing and competition. Digital satellite systems, by contrast, are largely unregulated, allowing them a much freer hand in deciding what content they will carry. Lack of regulation also allows these systems to offer extremely low prices which can out-compete cable companies.
Digital satellite systems for television encode their signal to restrict anybody from tapping into the signal. A decoder box is usually supplied with a contract of a certain duration or may be purchased for a nominal fee. Many digital satellite providers now bundle DVR systems with their decoder box, allowing for the recording of shows for later viewing.
Satellite systems also offer additional data about shows, a feature unavailable in traditional cable television. Viewers can scroll through a digital guide to see what shows are currently playing and a schedule of future shows, as well as some metadata about the shows. This metadata often includes a brief summary, running time, rating and stars of the show.
In the third-world, it is not uncommon for purchasers of satellite systems to act as gateway cable companies in areas where cable is not available. With a small broadcast setup and a handful of dishes, one for each channel carried, these entrepreneurs can broadcast channels from their satellite connection to a large number of subscribers. While this practice is illegal, it is nonetheless prevalent.
In the United States, the primary satellite systems providers are the Dish Network, Star and DirecTV. DirecTV also offers a satellite system for Internet access called DirecWay. While none of the digital satellite systems offered in the United States are truly on-demand, Great Britain's SKY provider offers on-demand and interactive material.