Satellite radio is defined by the International Telecommunication
ITU Radio Regulations (RR) as a broadcasting-satellite
service. The satellite's signals are broadcast nationwide, across a
much wider geographical area than terrestrial radio stations, and the
service is primarily intended for the occupants of motor
vehicles. It is available by subscription, mostly commercial
free, and offers subscribers more stations and a wider variety of
programming options than terrestrial radio.
Satellite radio technology was inducted into the Space Foundation
Space Technology Hall of Fame in 2002.
Satellite radio uses the
S band in North America for nationwide digital radio
broadcasting. In other parts of the world, satellite radio uses the
L band allocated for DAB.
1.1 United States
Africa and Eurasia
2 System design
3 Content, availability and market penetration
Satellite radio vs. other formats
5 See also
7 Further reading
Main article: Sirius XM Radio
Sirius Satellite Radio
Sirius Satellite Radio was founded by Martine Rothblatt, David
Margolese and Robert Briskman. In June 1990, Rothblatt's shell
company, Satellite CD Radio, Inc., petitioned the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) to assign new frequencies for
satellites to broadcast digital sound to homes and cars. The
company identified and argued in favor of the use of the S-band
frequencies that the FCC subsequently decided to allocate to digital
audio broadcasting. The
National Association of Broadcasters
National Association of Broadcasters contended
that satellite radio would harm local radio stations.
In April 1992, Rothblatt resigned as CEO of Satellite CD Radio;
former NASA engineer Robert Briskman, who designed the company's
satellite technology, was then appointed chairman and CEO. Six
Rogers Wireless co-founder David Margolese, who had
provided financial backing for the venture, acquired control of the
company and succeeded Briskman. Margolese renamed the company CD
Radio, and spent the next five years lobbying the FCC to allow
satellite radio to be deployed, and the following five years raising
$1.6 billion, which was used to build and launch three satellites into
elliptical orbit from
Kazakhstan in July 2000. In
1997, after Margolese had obtained regulatory clearance and
"effectively created the industry," the FCC also sold a license to the
Radio Corporation, which changed its name to XM
Radio in October 1998. XM was founded by Lon Levin and
Gary Parsons, who served as chairman until November 2009.
Radio purchased their license for $83.3 million, and American
Radio Corporation bought theirs for $89.9 million. Digital
Broadcasting Corporation and
Primosphere were unsuccessful
in their bids for licenses. Sky Highway
Radio Corporation had also
expressed interest in creating a satellite radio network, before being
bought out by CD
Radio in 1993 for $2 million. In November 1999,
Margolese changed the name of CD
Radio to Sirius Satellite Radio.
In November 2001, Margolese stepped down as CEO, remaining as chairman
until November 2003, with Sirius issuing a statement thanking him "for
his great vision, leadership and dedication in creating both Sirius
and the satellite radio industry."
XM’s first satellite was launched on March 18, 2001 and its second
on May 8, 2001. Its first broadcast occurred on September 25, 2001,
nearly four months before Sirius. Sirius launched the initial
phase of its service in four cities on February 14, 2002,
expanding to the rest of the contiguous United States on July 1,
2002. The two companies spent over $3 billion combined to develop
satellite radio technology, build and launch the satellites, and for
various other business expenses. Stating that it was the only way
satellite radio could survive, Sirius and XM announced their merger on
February 19, 2007, becoming Sirius XM Radio. The FCC approved
the merger on July 25, 2008, concluding that it was not a monopoly,
primarily due to Internet audio-streaming competition.
Main article: Sirius XM Canada
XM satellite radio was launched in Canada on November 29, 2005. Sirius
followed two days later on December 1, 2005.
Sirius Canada and XM
Radio Canada announced their merger into
Sirius XM Canada
Sirius XM Canada on November
24, 2010. It was approved by the Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission on April 12, 2011.
Africa and Eurasia
Main article: 1worldspace
WorldSpace was founded by Ethiopia-born lawyer Noah Samara in
Washington, D.C., in 1990, with the goal of making satellite radio
programming available to the developing world. On June 22, 1991,
the FCC gave
WorldSpace permission to launch a satellite to provide
digital programming to
Africa and the Middle East.
began broadcasting satellite radio on October 1, 1999, in Africa.
India would ultimately account for over 90% of WorldSpace’s
subscriber base. In 2008,
WorldSpace announced plans to enter
Europe, but those plans were set aside when the company filed for
Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2008. In March 2010, the company
announced it would be de-commissioning its two satellites (one served
Asia, the other served Africa). Liberty Media, which owns 50% of
Sirius XM Radio, had considered purchasing WorldSpace’s assets, but
talks between the companies collapsed. The satellites are now
transmitting educational data and operate under the name of Yazmi USA,
Ondas Media was a Spanish company which had proposed to launch a
subscription-based satellite radio system to serve Spain and much of
Western Europe, but failed to acquire licenses throughout Europe.
Onde Numérique was a French company which had proposed to launch a
subscription-based satellite radio system to serve France and several
other countries in Western
Europe but has suspended its plans
indefinitely, effective December, 2016.
Main article: MobaHo!
MobaHo! was a mobile satellite digital audio/video broadcasting
Japan whose services began on October 20, 2004, and ended
on March 31, 2009.
Satellite radio uses the 2.3 GHz
S band in North America for
nationwide digital radio brodacasting. MobaHO! operated at
2.6 GHz. In other parts of the world, satellite radio uses part
of the 1.4 GHz
L band allocated for DAB.
Satellite radio subscribers purchase a receiver and pay a monthly
subscription fee to listen to programming. They can listen through
built-in or portable receivers in automobiles; in the home and office
with a portable or tabletop receiver equipped to connect the receiver
to a stereo system; or on the Internet.
Ground stations transmit signals to the satellites which are 35,786
kilometers (22,236 miles) above the
Equator in Clarke belt orbits. The
satellites send the signals back down to radio receivers in cars and
homes. This signal contains scrambled broadcasts, along with meta data
about each specific broadcast. The signals are unscrambled by the
radio receiver modules, which display the broadcast information. In
urban areas, ground repeaters enable signals to be available even if
the satellite signal is blocked. The technology allows for nationwide
broadcasting, so that, for instance US listeners can hear the same
stations anywhere in the country.
Content, availability and market penetration
Satellite radio in the US offers commercial-free music stations, as
well as news, sports, and talk, some of which include commercials.
In 2004, satellite radio companies in the United States began
providing background music to hotels, retail chains, restaurants,
airlines and other businesses. On April 30, 2013, Sirius XM
CEO Jim Meyer stated that the company would be pursuing opportunities
over the next few years to provide in-car services through their
existing satellites, including telematics (automated security and
safety, such as stolen vehicle tracking and roadside assistance) and
entertainment (such as weather and gas prices).
As of Q3 2016, SiriusXM had 31 million subscribers. This was
primarily due to the company’s partnerships with automakers and car
dealers. Roughly 60% of new cars sold come equipped with Sirius XM,
and just under half of those units gain paid subscriptions. The
company has long-term deals with General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Kia,
Bentley, BMW, Volkswagen, Nissan,
Hyundai and Mitsubishi. The
presence of Howard Stern, whose show attracts over 12 million
listeners per week, has also been a factor in the company’s steady
growth. As of 2013, the main competition to satellite radio is
streaming Internet services, such as Pandora and Spotify, as well as
FM and AM Radio.
Satellite radio vs. other formats
Satellite radio differs from AM, FM radio, and digital television
radio (DTR) in the following ways (the table applies primarily to the
Digital television radio (DTR)
US$10.99 and up
Free for terrestrial. Very low for cable television or satellite —
DTR represents a small portion of the total monthly television fee.
None — a typical set consists of a stereo attached to a television
set-top box (the primary function of the set top-box is normally
designed for viewing digital television on an analogue set).
Very high — a satellite signal's footprint covers millions of square
Low to moderate — implementation of FM service requires moderate to
high population densities and is thus not practical in rural and/or
remote locales; AM travels great distances at night.
AM: Usually very low
FM: Usually Moderate, but can be very high
Variety and depth of programming
Variable — highly dependent upon economic/demographic factors
Variable - dependent on location and the television provider - for
cable and satellite, dependent on the various packages they provide
and on the user's subscription.
Frequency of programming interruptions (by DJs or commercial
None to high - mostly dependent on the channels, some of which have
DJs; most channels are advertisement-free because of the paid
subscription model of satellite radio.
None to low - dependent on the provider; however, it is common that
some stations will have DJs. Usually no advertisements on subscription
Dish Network both claim to provide
Yes — significant governmental regulations regarding content6
Yes for terrestrial. For cable and satellite, low to none 5
² The sound quality with both satellite radio providers and DTR
providers varies with each channel. Some channels have near CD-quality
audio, and others use low-bandwidth audio suitable only for speech.
Since only a certain amount of bandwidth is available within the
licenses available, adding more channels means that the quality on
some channels must be reduced. Both the frequency response and the
dynamic range of satellite channels can be superior to most, but not
all AM or FM radio stations, as most AM and FM stations clip the audio
peaks to sound louder; even the worst channels are still superior to
most AM radios, but a very few AM tuners are equal to or better than
the best FM or satellite broadcasts when tuned to a local station,
even if not capable of stereo. The use of
HD Radio technology can
allow AM and FM broadcasts to exceed the quality of satellite. AM does
not suffer from multipath distortion or flutter in a moving vehicle
like FM, nor does it become silent as you go behind a big hill like
³ Some satellite radio services and DTR services act as in situ
repeaters for local AM/FM stations and thus feature a high frequency
4 Nonprofit stations and public radio networks such as
CBC/Radio-Canada, NPR, and PRI-affiliated stations and the BBC are
commercial-free. In the US, all stations are required to have periodic
station identifications and public service announcements.
5 In the United States, the FCC regulates technical broadcast spectrum
only. Program content is unregulated. However, the FCC has tried in
the past to expand its reach to regulate content to satellite radio
and cable television, and its options are still open to attempt such
in the future. The FCC does issue licenses to SiriusXM, the satellite
radio provider, and controls who holds these licenses to
broadcast. Many of their channels, including the pop music ones,
6 Degree of content regulation varies by country; however, the
majority of industrialized nations have regulations regarding obscene
and/or objectionable content.
Digital Multimedia Broadcasting
List of United States radio networks
Ripping music from satellite radio broadcasts
Satellite subcarrier audio
Sirius XM Radio
^ International Telecommunication Union. Definition:
Broadcasting-satellite service. ITU
Radio Regulations, Section IV.
Radio Stations and Systems – Article 1.39.
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authors list (link)
Satellite Internet access
Satellite data unit
Satellite radio / TV
Digital audio radio service
Astra Digital Radio
Sirius XM Holdings
Sirius Satellite Radio
Sky Television plc
Relay satellite companies
Thales Alenia Space
Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems
ETSI Satellite Digital Radio
List of communications satellite firsts
List of communication satellite companies
Analog and digital audio broadcasting
VHF (low / mid / high)
L band (UHF)
Commercial radio providers
Sirius XM Holdings
MPEG-1 Audio Layer II
Audio data compression
Audio signal processing
AM stereo formats)
AM expanded band
Error detection and correction
FM broadcast band
Shortwave relay station
History of radio