About the Uplink Center

John Hotsenpiller — JohnH on DBSTalk

John was the originator of uplink reports running a report each week to let people know what was going on behind the scenes on the satellites.
John was forced to stop doing uplink reports in 2009 due to health issues. John died in August of 2010.
Every time you read one of these updates please remember John’s influence in making sure such reports were provided. I think of him every time a report is posted.

In my early years subscribing to DISH I played around with uplink activity … getting the appropriate equipment and software and having minor success in decoding the data received. But John had the experience and was able to keep up with providing the reports so I let my efforts fall by the wayside. After John was unable to provide reports I started working on trying to get a usable report. It was not easy.

Capturing Data
The old school way of tracking changes is to capture the satellite stream that contains the table describing each channel to the receiver (service description table) for an appropriate length of time then parse the output. “Back in the day” a minute of data capture would contain all of the channels on the system. One would do a capture, parse the output and compare that output to the previous data. A tedious process. (The current stream capture takes more than two minutes to grab a complete table.) Thanks to an anonymous supporter I do not need to do “timed captures”. In 2010 I was provided a piece of code that automated when the tables were captured immediately capturing raw data when the data changes (although not reporting what changed).

Parsing Data
The biggest part of the process is parsing. I start with a file that is currently 934,969 bytes in binary. Many of the fields in the data are less than eight bits. Each service has fields and sub-fields that are not clearly defined. I was able to write a parsing program back in 2010 that would quickly do the work and automatically post results to the Uplink Activity website (jameslong.name/updates). The latest version of my parser was started in 2015 and has a nicer GUI. It is updated as needed to handle changes in the data.

As DISH expanded their channel lineup they made two major changes that made it increasingly difficult to track channel changes. The first change was using the same channel number for multiple channels. For example, as of August 2021 there are 15 channels 5190 … only one of them is my local ABC affiliate (WBND). The other 14 are local channels on other spot beams for other markets. All 15 are valid unique channels that need to be tracked separately. The second major change was the creation of the Eastern Arc. There was a time where channels existed in one place on one satellite. Now most national channels exist in at least two places and there are multiple references to the same channel. DISH also added OTA guide data for channels that do not exist on satellite and added multiple other services … somehow reaching today’s total (August 2021) of 10758 Channels. Really “10758 services in the Service Description Table” but I try not to be too picky about technicalities. (Of course when JohnH started uplink activity we had “TOTAL CHANNELS IN THE SYSTEM = 1872”. In 2010 we were at 7160.)

Through the years since my first Uplink Activity report posted May 17th, 2010, I have tried to balance the simplicity of reports with completeness. I am an engineer – one of the worst levels of being technical – so sometimes I get in the weeds. But I don’t like withholding information unless I (in my own opinion) feel that it needs to be withheld. For example, the raw data could be used by people who want to steal DISH service – I omit fields that would help that effort. On a less legal issue level I found that the daily shifting of channels for the sports packages (including HD game only RSN channels when RSNs were game only and were carried by DISH) were just clutter. As with most automation, things can go wrong – but since this is a hobby and not life safety please excuse any delays or errors.

I report what I see. If DISH makes a change that is not shown in the Service Description Table I do not see it. For example, many years ago DISH would put channels into free preview by marking them “free” with a flag in the SDT. This also made them free for non-subscribers with DISH equipment. DISH has changed that policy and there are no longer changes in SDT for free previews. (I believe DISH is using flags in the EPG.) I report what I see also applies to when channels will become available. I only see changes that have been made. I do not see changes that will be made until the changes are made.

And most importantly I do not work for DISH, I have never been employed by DISH and I have no access to DISH’s internal servers or confidential information. Everything you see in the Uplink Activity report is an interpretation of data transmitted unencrypted via satellite. The interpretation is based on nearly two decades of subscribing to DISH and on the interpretations of those who went before me (including JohnH). When I see something new in the SDT I have to figure out what that means … sometimes it is easy, sometimes it takes months or years to see the patterns. There are still a few descriptors that don’t make much sense – but I report them anyways (such as “Package Flag Changes”).

BTW: Channel names and cities and networks for local stations are not in DISH’s SDT. I maintain separate tables for the descriptive channel names, market names and transponder names. There is a lot of information mixed in with the SDT to create what you see in the reports and on this site.

Overall I enjoy the challenge of taking what has grown to nearly a million bytes of data comparing it to an older version of a million bytes of data and seeing not only what changed but what is in the data stream. Sorting out the patterns seen and trying to figure out what each byte does is a good challenge. There has been help along the way (primarily when John was alive). I appreciate any helpful comments that have been made.

Hopefully the reports are not too confusing. Over the years they have allowed us to provide a peek behind the curtain. And I hope you enjoy this peek behind the curtain as to how they are created.

The Future
DISH Network has made some changes to their network that make it more difficult to capture the stream that contains the data. (Changes made to improve DISH service, not to block me and others.) I am currently in the process of building my third capture computer (the first lasted from 2010 through 2015, the current one built in 2015 is nearing end of life). There may come a day when I completely lose access to the data stream due to DISH’s changes. Hopefully that day will not come soon.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the updates.