Why no satellite radio outside North America?

Very often, ideas that work well from an engineering perspective fail on a market basis. As we previously discussed, FMExtra digital FM SCA was one such idea. Thinking about SDARS, that is, satellite broadcasts of music or video to mobile receivers, this falls into the same market result for much of the world. Only after nearly two decades of intense struggle, and multiple brushes with bankruptcy and bailouts, SiriusXM marshals onward. Satellite TV is in apparent decline, with Direct TV planning not to launch any new satellites, instead replaced with Roku-like devices from Direct TV.

Let’s take a back of envelope approach vis-a-vis modern wireless technologies such as LTE-B (broadcast LTE). Modern codecs such as Opus have much better quality than the older codecs used by SiriusXM for a given bitrate, so suppose 32 kbps would be adequate for full-band audio. 150 audio channels could be carried at about 8 Mbps, allowing for FEC and other overhead. Consider the massive constellations being deployed by SpaceX and others, along with 60 GHz backhaul and LTE-B and almost immediately one sees that today, SDARS might not even get off the ground if it wasn’t already operating.

SiriusXM barely survives with a subscriber base nearly the size of Australia’s population, perhaps helping explain why despite great need for wide-area rural broadcast radio coverage, SDARS does not exist outside of North America. A preliminary notion is that SiriusXM only survives today because of massive investment in a “long game” and just the right timing for receiver availability and early enough before mobile internet streaming became widely feasible. The African market may be too fragmented despite the large population, with not enough intercity user mobility to make the subscriber base big enough, and the cities dense enough to also need hundreds of terrestrial repeaters.





Written by Michael Hirsch, Ph.D. //