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Electronic engineering

Image and sound direct from space

Proqualit develops, in the country, equipment for paid TV via satellite

SILVIO FERREIRAThe still elitist paid television service via satellite, could become a lot more accessible over the next few years thanks to a project by Proqualit, a small company which received financial support by FAPESP through the Small Business Innovation Research (PIPE). The idea was to develop in the country equipment for the reception of satellite signals for television, in a pioneering initiative in order to reduce imports that dominate the sector and to lower the initial cost of the product for the consumer.

The first combinations of mini parabolic antennae and amplifiers of low noise level (Low Noise Block-LNBs) totally Brazilian should be on the market by the end of the year, adding to the 1.2 million residential receptors from satellites already installed in the country. As well as being national, the equipment developed at the headquarters of Proqualit in the town of São José dos Campos, should reduce the costs of implantation and of maintenance.

Founded in 1991, the Proqualit company began its work by assembling printed circuit boards. “Today, we have developed close to 150 families of products for the reception, transmission and distribution of TV signals for TV stations, both open and paid”, informs the electronic engineer Alexandre Nunes da Trindade, the company’s development director. The company went in search of consulting from the researchers and ex-researchers of the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), in São José dos Campos. Nonetheless, a large part of the project was developed by the technicians and engineers of the Proqualit company itself.

Decisive support
For engineer Trindade, the development of this equipment was not a natural path: “The support of FAPESP was decisive, because, technically, to work with this type of frequency signal receptor is very difficult. The company could not set up its own financial resources in order to master this technology, and through the PIPE project, we took a leap in technology generation and knowledge.”

The project began atthe end of 1997. Firstly, a system for the reception, amplification and conversion of the TV signals used in Brazil by the operators of the system DTH (Direct to Home), today dominated by Sky (Globo Organizations ) and by Direct TV (ex-Abril Group and currently Galaxy Latin America), was developed.

In the second phase, the technical team constructed a prototype of the printed circuit board mounted in its own box, at that point temporary. It was approved in the tests and the final evaluation was to be done using a parabolic reflector, the low noise block as well as the receptor. Missing, to conclude the project, was the development of the metallic and mechanical part of the box to which are added the receptor and converter. “This product only works in sealed boxes, where there are no signal leaks.

The box is reasonably complex and it is this that we are working on at the moment”, explains the engineer. In the development of the box there is also the absorption of technology such as the creation of the production tools in which Brazil does not as yet have a tradition. After accumulating investments that have reached R$ 700,000, the completion of the project is expected for this November.

An old client
The Proqualit company has already presented a commercialization project to the companies that operate paid television via satellite. “We provide other products for these companies”, says Trindade. The potential market of TV channels by subscription, including those transmitted by satellite (DTH), cable and MMDS (Multipoint Multichannel Distribution System), is estimated at 3.1 million subscribers. After a certain period of stagnation, since the end of 1999 there has been a notable return to growth. This year, the sector should have an increase of 20% and forecasts the duplication of the number of subscribers over the next five years.

Among the national manufacturers who produce satellite receptors, but import the combination of antennae and low noise blocks (LNB), are the companies Gradiente, Philips and Century. The main attraction of Proqualit’s equipment should be the final cost of the product. By promoting the manufacture of antennae at a lower cost, the company intends to also make possible access to satellite TV by the people of lower income.

A step ahead
Beginning with this new equipment, the company is making a technological jump to develop other state of the art products, not only for television use but also for the new services of wireless telephones. “In practice, this is also a strategic project for the future of the company”, he explains and then gives an example. “We developed antennae for cellular phones, which work on the band 800 to 900 megahertz and now we are working with antennae for the bands 1.8 to 3 gigahertz”.

The latter is used for new applications in wireless telephones, including the cellular phones of bands D and E (in the range of 1.9 gigahertz), already working in Europe and parts of the United States. The use of this band will allow for access to the Internet through a domestic television. Consequently, everything indicates that more and more antennae will be in our day to day scenario.

Signals so far from home

To better understand the technical difficulty of the project by the Proqualit company, one needs to understand a little better the demands of the operation of a domestic TV signal receptor coming in via satellite. The low noise block is the main working item, and is thus called because it has the capacity to receive signals at very low levels. This means that it is able to capture signals that are almost lost in the noise that normally exists in the air. As well, it manages to amplify only the signal and not to amplify the noise.

This is not actually a filtering: since the signal is very far from the Earth – the satellite remains in a stationary orbit at close to 36,000 meters in height -, it arrives at the surface at a very low level, something less than 100 decibels. Basically, the amplifier is composed of the following: firstly there is a wave guide in the form of a cornet that receives the micro wave signal. Then a mechanical part calculated to receive exactly this frequency band of 12.5 gigahertz.

Afterwards the original signal goes to a mixer and then to an oscillator. The last piece of equipment generates a frequency very close to the original, while the mixer carries out the mixing of these signals in such a way as to obtain in the end a signal, for example, of 100 MHz. In practice, what is being done is the conversion and the treatment of frequency signals. The resulting signal is then again amplified so as to be absorbed by the receptor of satellite channels that are present at the side of the television. This is a long journey to get rid of the noises and to amplify the TV signal that comes from space.

The Project
Low Noise Amplifier with a Frequency Converter in Band KU (LNB-Low Noise Block) for Use with a Parabolic Reflector (nº 97/13253-0); Modality Program of Innovative Technology in Small Companies (Pipe); Coordinator Alexandre Nunes da Trindade – Proqualit; Investment R$ 175,700.00 and US$ 27,206.40