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Finally I get some information on SKY Q from a the point-of-view of how it effects satellite/TV installers and ultimately CI’s (customer installers) such as myself.

I attended a quick seminar this morning hosted by primary supplier of Satellite and TV distribution infrastructure equipment needed for Satellite and TV signal infrastructure for all markets, from a small studio flat, to a high-rise hotel or block of flats. The gist of the seminar was to primarily discuss the impact and implications of SKY Q on TV/Satellite installers and what could now be viewed as being their ‘legacy’ TV and satellite distribution installations.

The seminar unfortunately did not show an actual SKY Q installation, so I did not get to see it in action, however the seminar did give me a number of valuable insights from a technical perspective of how the system works, and what is required to get new SKY Q customers up and running. I must state off the bat, no matter how compelling the offering from SKY, it does have a number of very negative implications for both the end-user and the installer alike.

So this post will give only a cursory overview of what SKY Q is from a end-user’s point of view, and will focus more on my thoughts of what I like and don’t like about it.

SKY Q Overview

SKY Q will be have two main ‘hubs’, being SKY Q Silver and SKY Q. The Silver offering has a larger hard disk for recording, has more tuners and will be capable of displaying 4K UHD content, which SKY have indicated they will starting broadcasting limited content sometime in summer 2016, this moved up from the end of 2016. Both of these set-top boxes act as both the primary set-top box for you TV, as well as a media server for streaming content to tablet PC’s (they mention iPad, so I do not know if Android is supported) and their SKY Q mini set-top boxes.

SKY Q product line-up

The real change here is that the typical home will only require one set-top box with a connection to the satellite dish, and the rest of the screens in your home will only need a SKY Q mini and a wireless network in order to view SKY content, by virtue that the primary SKY Q box has a lot of tuners (16 on the silver and 8 on the standard box), it is capable of recording and streaming a number of different channels (or on-demand content) simultaneously, and serving the needs of the other screens in your home.

SKY have a number of accessories to help boost Wi-Fi coverage and speeds throughout a home, as wireless network coverage and speed is an essential component in ensuring SKY Q works correctly.

On the surface this does seem to simplify installations considerably, you only need a couple of cables going into one SKY box and in theory, this would make coaxial cables distributed elsewhere in the home fairly redundant. Additionally you need not worry on which SKY HD box you recorded your show, as the one device will now store the home’s recordings on one device rather than across several sky boxes in a multi-room installation.

The streaming to a tablet PC is a definite modern twist that is both worthwhile and something I am sure consumers have been wanting for quite sometime. In addition to this, SKY Q Synch will allow you to copy or synchronise recording onto your tablet device, so you can view your recordings away from home, away from the SKY Q hub.

With 4K content, a consolidated set of TV recordings and the ability to potentially watch SKY on 7 or 8 devices simultaneously from one central hub is clearly a revolutionary and much welcome set of developments that are perhaps long overdue, but finally arrived.

Sky own the equipment

The equipment will always remain the property of SKY, the end user does not purchase or own any of the SKY Q equipment, instead it is rented or leased to the customer, very much in the same manner that Virgin does with their equipment. This is not a bad thing at all, because this means that SKY is ultimately responsible for the equipment, and has to ensure that equipment is either repaired or replaced should it ever become faulty. In the past, if your SKY HD box packed up, it was your responsibility to pay for a replacement (unless the unit was still under warranty), and this has been a bugbear of a lot of SKY customers who have been on the sharp-end of situation such as this. Imagine all of that money spent on the subscription and then you have to pay for a replacement product where you as the consumer have no absolutely no alternative choices to choose from; so if the product is of shoddy quality, and it conveniently packs up outside of warranty, it becomes your problem, and not that of the manufacturer or service provider. So, yes, this is a very good thing – if SKY has a range of products that are reliable, that is good for everyone, and if not, they will have to bear the costs of maintaining said equipment.

SKY will handle SKY Q installations in homes

All home installations, or rather homes that do not make use of commercial or communal TV/Satellite systems (IRS) will be undertaken by SKY’s own appointed installers. You really do not have a choice in the matter. It makes sense that they have adopted this policy, as there is a number of key changes they have to apply, one of which is replacing your satellite dish’s LNB (the pod found on satellite dishes), plus they need to setup a wireless network in order for the SKY services to stream to the various mini and ipad devices. Installations will cost between £100-£300.

SKY will not necessarily be able to handle installations in commercial or communal settings, as a SKY Q installation might require a serious overhaul or changes to some very expensive equipment in multiple-dwelling units (MDU). Working out who is responsible for this equipment, getting landlord’s permission and ensuring that other users in the MDU are not affected by a new SKY Q installation is territory that SKY would rather avoid, thus this is where the tradition Satellite/TV installer has to get involved with a SKY Q installation.

So what are my concerns?

Well my concerns are thus:

  • It is not a true multi-room video distribution system, and I fear consumers might interpret this system as being one. Thus, you would still need a traditional video distribution system if you want other video sources to be distributed around your home, and if you have invested in this infrastructure, then there is really little point in going for SKY Q other than the increased storage space, 4K content (which has yet to appear, and we do not have any details of what this content will be and how much of it there will be) and being able to view on your iPad – although viewing live broadcasts on a tablet PC is possible with devices that the price of a month’s subscription on SKY Q
  • The changes applied to your SKY dish could render other other set-top boxes/receivers useless – for example FreeSAT. You might very well need to install separate infrastructure to support the reception of FreeSAT and potentially you terrestrial TV signal too – so you could potentially have two dishes outside your home, or you will need to invest in new switching hardware. This issue obviously does not faze SKY in the least as this effectively wipes out their competing off-air services quite conveniently. This is not impossible to fix, but it has definite repercussions on end-users who use their satellite dish and TV/Satellite distribution systems for something other than SKY only.
  • This system is seemingly dependant on wireless networking, i.e. Wi-Fi. SKY says that if you use their HUB product, then all of the SKY Q boxes will act as wireless access points, thus boosting the wi-fi coverage in your home – this is a good thing right? On the surface yes, but when you dig deeper you find out that the SKY Hub implies that you need to be a SKY broadband subscriber… so if you want to use a different ISP, you lose this feature – i.e. only the SKY Q box itself will be an access point, with no range extension possible. So here is the first sign of, well, how do I put this delicately, bullying from SKY. It would be possible for you to install a range extender regardless of the broadband provider you user, but SKY have opted to ensure that this is not an option, or rather if you want to use their wireless network system, you have to commit to their Internet service too. I’m afraid this sort of bullying I have seen before, where SKY fight hard to disallow you using your own network router equipment (their modem/routers are rubbish), so they can retain 100% complete control over your network traffic over their internet line. This is not something anyone should be comfortable with – both as a SKY customer being told what network equipment you can and can’t use, and as a non-broadband customer being told that your SKY Q service’s performance will be inferior because you want a better or cheaper broadband service from someone else. I am sure this will be challenged by someone, and OFCOM can then take several years to think about these business practices are truly in the best interests of the public after SKY have taken them to lunch several times whilst they deliberate over the matter. I can’t help but be sceptical (or is it cynically) in thinking that if you do not use SKY’s networking equipment whether SKY Q will deliberately under perform to give end-users an incentive to change their provider?
  • Staying on the subject of Wi-Fi networking, I am someone who firmly believes that if a device is to remain in a static position, such as a TV, then it should exist on a wired rather than a wireless network. It is here where I was given the most perplexing information of all – and that is that SKY wants you to run SKY Q wirelessly, but possibly it can be run over a HomePlug (Ethernet-over-Power), but you can’t run it on a switched Ethernet using high-quality structured cabling. Technically this does not make sense at all, other than to simplify the installation for themselves at the cost of the client. Further it is bonkers to suggest that it will work fine on a HomePlug system, but not a proper network. The sorts of ‘VIP’ customer they are aiming this product at typically have excellent structured cabling systems in their homes, so it beggars belief as to why they are seemingly deliberately designing their system not to take advantage of the best possible method of networking a media streaming product. Does anyone disagree with this point of view?
  • My penultimate thought on SKY Q’s ‘wireless only’ approach means that SKY Q could effectively hog your wireless bandwidth. All bandwidth is finite, especially wireless bandwidth. Further, wireless networking is susceptible to interference from a number of sources, including your neighbours. Interference, SKY Q’s wireless bandwidth requirements and your own collectively could result in you getting less than optimal performance out of your wireless network.
  • The last though, and it is one that is pedantic, the term ‘wireless mesh’ has been used in the marketing literature of the SKY Q. They are implying that mesh network will exist if all of the various SKY Q boxes and the SKY hub are used as wireless access points. As a network engineer, I am a little annoyed that this term is being used, as I doubt very much that it will be a true mesh network, then again, the technical information has been thin on all aspects of the SKY Q system.
  • The new SKY remote control uses bluetooth, which means that there might be range issues if the box is installed some distance away from your screen.The good news however is the SKY Q set-top boxes still do accept infra-red commands.
  • This is a minor issue, but Magic eye, TV link and other IR systems will no longer work

Unanswered questions

There are so many unanswered, but I thought I would put a few down, which I hope in time will be answered:

  • Will 4K only be available on SKY Q silver?Meaning will there be other 4K receivers/set-top boxes in the future?
  • Does SKY Q Silver also imply that there will be a Gold and Platinum product coming sometime soon?
  • Will the traditional SKY HD+ be phased out, and SKY Q will become its replacement?
  • Will SKY make an API available, or IP command set to custom installers and app developers for better integrated control of this system? It is claimed that SKY have never refused to do so, but then again they have never agreed either. As a custom installer and Smarthome programmer I hope to see this change, this one act alone will change my view on SKY and how they conduct business in a big way. I hope that they will be more open with control in the future, if not immediately now.
  • What impact does SKY Q have on Internet and wireless bandwidth? Both for on-demand content streaming as well as usage data and other reporting these devices are likely to feedback to SKY

Time will tell as to what impact SKY Q will have on the TV viewing habits of the UK public, or, indeed, how many people will migrate to this service. One thing is for certain, for good or bad, SKY Q will definitely have an impact on those who choose to subscribe to it, and I am keen to learn from their experiences in choosing to do so.

 

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One response to “SKY Q – A radical rethink of subscription TV, but reasserts the fact that SKY aggressively dislikes competition”

  1. Tim says:

    UPDATE:

    I have since had some more experience with Q, and that is that SKY will not allow you to use your own routers on their broadband subscription.

    I called SKY Broadband support and asked for the configuration and logon information for a 3rd party router, and to which they replied explicitly that I am not allowed to use a 3rd party router.

    I found this buried later in their terms and conditions.

    This is another aspect of SKY’s imposition within your home, and very few of you should be comfortable with this restriction.
    I am not entirely sure if this is legal, and even if it is isn’t I won;t be able to use the might of the law to change within a couple of hours so that I can get on with configuring my customer’s network.

    The only solution they offer to people who insist on being able to use their own equipment is to configure the SKY router to forward all ports to the next device. This is incredibly poor practice, and likely will put a burden on its puny processor.

    I would, to some degree, accept if the SKY router was capable of handling some more advanced functions such as VLAN routing, DHCP and management and possibly VPN, but none of these features are available on their ‘best’ home router.

    This presents a problem for those who have an already functioning wired home network with a good number of devices on it. VLANs are a key ingredient in setting up an uncongested high-speed home network.

    With Virgin you might think they operate in a similar fashion to SKY, but they don’t. You do need their router, because at the very least because it is a modem that will convert the broadband signal delivered on coaxial cable, to Ethernet.

    Virgin have a special option on all of their cable routers, where you can put the device into ‘Modem Mode’. This effectively passes all traffic over to your own router. Your router will get an IP address from Virgin, and will act as the firewall and Internet router.

    Modem mode disables all router, firewall and wireless networking functions on the Virgin cable router, causing the router’s CPU to never be burdened.

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