By Pranalanka Warunawansa (Freesat)

June 2022 saw the launch of Freesat Sri Lanka, a subscription-free DTH (direct- to-home satellite) platform serving the island nation in the Indian Ocean. It was the first such service in Asia, and only the second worldwide, to use DVB-S2X.

For around 20 years, Sri Lanka had been struggling to implement digital television, without any success. Many attempts were made, with the latest being to deploy an ISDB-T service utilizing a transmission tower in Colombo, but with no solid plans to provide nationwide coverage in a country of 65,610 square kilometres with heavily varied terrain.

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Sri Lanka was thus still relying on old analogue terrestrial transmission for basic television viewing, and the difficulties of providing coverage due to the topography of the country were very apparent.
Sri Lanka has 4.5 million television viewing households, out of which nearly two million subscribe to pay-TV services. The remainder had to make do with poor analogue television reception, served by around 20 local stations.
The prominence and importance of local television stations for audiences in Sri Lanka meant that they were viewed even with the inferior picture quality associated with analogue technology.
Our team identified this gap and the opportunity in the local broadcasting industry and proposed Freesat, a national digital television platform that would reach every household in every location in the country – and for free.
Initial proposals to the Ministry of Media and Telecommunications Regulatory Commission were made in mid-2019 and after almost three years on a greatly challenging journey, we finally managed to bring this project to reality in June 2022.
We obtained all required licences and approvals, enabling us to set up a state-of-the-art broadcasting facility on the west coast of Sri Lanka. Freesat is now in operation and serving the entire country with all local television channels on board with a mix of carefully selected foreign content as well, yet zero cost to viewers.
Our unique selling proposition is nationwide high definition digital television for everyone for free.


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Right from the outset, we were very clear about our technology strategy and wanted to opt for the latest digital television technology. We wanted to stand at the forefront of digital broadcasting as well as to obtain best-in-class efficiency within our network. While almost all current DTH platforms operate on DVB-S2, we decided to go for DVB-S2X for its unparalleled efficiency.

By combining DVB-S2X as our transmission technology and HEVC as our video coding technology, we have managed to achieve the optimal combination of throughput and transponder efficiency for the whole platform. This, in return, is passed on to our clients, who are broadcasters on this platform; it enables us to offer them affordable channel carriage, the cost of which was prohibitive in the early days due to inefficient technologies.
Although S2X had been used in professional environments, it still had not been used in the domestic receiver industry. Hence, the biggest challenge we faced was to get a compatible chipset solution at the right price point for our set-top box (STB). We had discussions with almost all the major chipset manufacturers and finally managed to agree on an ideal solution using cutting-edge technology from Montage LZ Technologies. With its latest chipset family, Montage was able to provide all that we required to achieve our targets. We built our STB solution on top of their SoC (system on a chip) at almost the same price point as existing DVB-S2 receivers.


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The most significant benefit of our technology stack is its efficiency in terms of bits per MHz. While DVB-S2X offers various modulation and coding combinations, we carefully worked out the best link budget in order to maximize the throughput while maintaining the maximum link availability as well.
We are happy to say that we have achieved almost 20% extra throughput by choosing DVB-S2X. Relying on DVB-S2X transmission and HEVC compression, we are at the forefront of the region’s digital broadcasting not only in offering HD but even as a 4K-ready network.
As we started to work on this project, we set some baseline aims that would set us apart from other projects. First and foremost was to be vendor agnostic.
Hence the whole project was designed in-house using a mix of components from several vendors and without depending on a turnkey solution from a single vendor. By doing so, we have managed to implement a highly scalable yet vendor- agnostic all-IP digital television headend. We went the extra mile by having our own R&D team develop certain elements to maximize independence and to reduce certain ongoing cost components. Here, the cost of subscriber equipment was a key component, owing to our subscription- free model.
A second key aim was that the whole implementation, from its design to going live, was done by a local engineering team. We didn’t involve any third-party integrators or consultants.
The third is that we implemented a conditional access system that is fully compliant with DVB Simulcrypt. This was 100% developed by our own R&D team.
I believe we can be justifiably proud of this. The implementation was done with the most advanced security technologies available, integrating the entitlement management within the STB chipset itself. And the product has come up to a stage where we are now planning to spin off a separate entity to promote this as a stand- alone product in the market.

In terms of the broadcast network, we are already at the edge and don’t anticipate requiring any enhancements or upgrades for at least the coming decade.

However, we are planning to enhance our current DVB-S2X STB solution in two main areas. Firstly, to enable edge-IP delivery for in-building coverage using existing IP infrastructure where RF cabling is prohibitive. Without any cost burden, we can extend the same STB offering over IP and receive the DVB transport stream over IP.

Secondly, we are working on a unique audience measurement system to be integrated in the STB solution to capture viewing data that will be available to other stakeholders of the local television broadcasting industry for better decision making.

We are also happy to announce that we have made 10 channels available to the government for a national distance- education platform. This was only possible thanks to the platform efficiency that comes with DVB-S2X.

On a personal level, I am grateful to the management team at Freesat, whose unswerving trust enabled our R&D team to deliver this project successfully. Thanks are also due to SES, our satellite partner.

They have worked with us very closely for the last three years, contributing immensely to the success of this project by offering us best-in-class transponder services over their new SES-12 satellite.

Credit is also due to Montage LZ Technologies, whose work on the DVB- S2X chipset helped make the whole deployment a reality, and to our STB OEM partners.

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*Pranalanka Warunawansa is Chief Technology Officer for Freesat Sri Lanka, where he heads up the engineering and in-house R&D team. With over 20 years of industry experience, he has spearheaded the rollout of Freesat. The article was first published on DVB Scene Magazine.

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