Intelsat General Delivers Programming for American Forces Network

From its remote beginning as a single Army radio station in Alaska in the early 1940s, the American Forces Network (AFN) has grown into a global operation delivering radio and television programs to more than 1 million military and civilian personnel and their families stationed in 177 countries and at sea. The audio and video feeds originate at a broadcast center in Southern California before going over the IntelsatOne Fiber Network to teleports and points of presence around the globe. The signal is then uplinked for delivery via satellite to dishes at military barracks, family housing and ships far from shore, bringing listeners and viewers the same access to news, sports and entertainment that they might enjoy at home.

Intelsat General has been providing the ground and space network to support AFN for more than 15 years. With the recent renewal of the contract, we have made the service delivery even more efficient by using the IntelsatOne MPLS fiber network to distribute much of the programming directly to military bases or to the uplink teleports. We have also partnered with four other service providers to deliver the AFN signals feeds to U.S. military and civilian facilities in different parts of the globe. The partners are SES Government Solutions, Korea Telecom, Allen Communications and Media Broadcast Satellite.

Because U.S. government employees and their families are spread widely around the world, delivering the AFN signal requires a highly complex network. Some military installations, such as Ramstein Air Base in Germany, can receive the AFN signals entirely over terrestrial fiber. Others, such as Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, Africa, can receive the AFN programming only by satellite. U.S. State Department personnel and other civilians posted abroad can also receive the AFN radio and television feeds.

AFN delivers a wide range of popular American radio and television programs from the major U.S. networks. In place of the commercials seen by viewers in the United States, AFN viewers see command information spots that might remind service members to register to vote, promote local recreation events and educational programs, and provide health and wellness tips. The network also fills commercial breaks with trailers that promote the latest film releases in base theaters worldwide.

AFN produces and distributes 10 radio streams. Of these, five play different formats of music, two have sports programming and three are general news/talk channels. For television viewing, AFN distributes 8 channels with different formats that include news, family entertainment, sports and movies. Viewers and listeners in core areas such as Japan, Korea or Europe can receive all 8 feeds, while those in more isolated posts receive the smaller but more widespread naval broadcast.

The programming is time delayed, beginning with the first telecast of the day in the Japan/Korea region and then replaying several hours later in Southwest Asia, the Middle East, Europe and finally Greenland and the Americas. AFN programmers select shows from a wide variety of American broadcast and cable networks and compile them into a single feed so that a viewer might see a soap opera from one U.S. network followed by a sitcom from another.

To meet the needs of AFN, Intelsat General uses a total of seven satellites and four teleports in addition to the IntelsatOne network. Families living in military housing receive the AFN feed the same way they might in the United States, with a small satellite dish attached to the roof or exterior wall of a residence. On-base recreational or dining facilities can receive the AFN signal in the same way so patrons can watch sporting events and news broadcasts. Ships at sea receiving the AFN Direct-to-Sailor feed will pick up the signal with a larger satellite dish and then distribute it throughout the vessel via wired or Wi-Fi networks.

With the renewal of the AFN contract, Intelsat General has reconfigured the distribution of the audio and video feeds for more efficient delivery to U.S. military and civilians stationed around the world, making the best use of terrestrial networks and the available satellites.