Return to Amusing Stories page

Satellite Workshop

This is ninth in a series of articles which will help you to save money.

The brown goods repair trade is being squeezed to the limit. As the price of complex electronic equipment falls due to mass production savings and subsidies from service-providers, the public perception of the value of goods has fallen to an all time low.

The mobile telephone repair market has died as telephones were subsidised to zero. Now it is happening with satellite receivers. There are two results of this: as manufacturers strive to reduce costs still further, in general the reliability of receivers is becoming worse, not better. The repair is becoming more expensive, time consuming and difficult as we encounter more and more Application Specific ICs and surface mounted devices which can not be handled easily without damage to them or to the board.

Whilst the camcorder repair market still provides just enough profit for companies to invest in the expensive equipment required to set up and align the equipment, the same is not true for the rest of the brown goods trade. The spares are expensive or unavailable and the customer is unwilling to spend money on repairs.

Even the advent of digital satellite receivers brings little promise of enhanced repair profits. Again, the majority of UK receivers are likely to be subsidised to the point where the consumer would rather throw the equipment away and buy new, than spend money on repairs.

Last week I had a BT SVS250 for repair. The customer told me that he had been quoted £90.00 by a company in Knaresborough who, it seems, are the appointed repair agents for BT. The fault symptom was "no decoder messages." A quick look inside showed that someone had been there before me. Incorrect screws were fitted and the decoder connector was half out of its socket on the main board. Unfortunately, pushing this home did not restore the messages. Replacing an overheated capacitor, C45, did. The design is such that this capacitor is directly beneath a large heatsink. The fault is designed-in. The receiver was returned to the customer with a bill that was considerably lower than £90.00.

Yesterday the same receiver arrived back in the workshop. "Under guarantee," read the note. "Channels not holding; channel adjuster loose; when Sky is switched off, nothing comes on."

This is a fairly typical fault report. I've been repairing equipment for many years and still have not come to terms with the fact that 99.9 percent of the population can not describe in words what they see and hear.

The actual fault seen after an hour's warm up was a herringbone pattern on all satellite pictures. Freezer spray quickly pinpointed C460 as the culprit. No other fault was found after a 3 hour soak test.

Now, the customer thinks this is under guarantee from the previous repair to the decoder board. I wonder how other dealers cope with this situation? It's rather like taking your car back to the garage and complaining "You fixed the engine misfire last week and now I've got a flat tyre. It's under warranty isn't it." Do you think that the garage would accept that? No, so why should we.

I'm beginning to take a harder line with my customers. If they want to know what parts were changed, that's an "Engineer's Report" which costs £25.00.
I guarantee only the parts that I fit and the workmanship. My work carries no guarantee whatsoever if somebody else has already had a "look" inside. If something else goes wrong I usually charge again. Profit is so low that I've been forced into this situation. A few years ago I could have absorbed a few "guarantee" repairs but not any more. I am beginning to issue a printed disclaimer with every repair, setting out precisely what is and is not accepted "under warranty." I also charge for testing, if no fault is found.

Another problem is spares availability. The only company for which I have time is Pace. They seldom report "out of stock" and prices are reasonable. Amstrad passed its satellite spares business to CPC and, although they give an excellent service, there is the problem that it can take months to obtain components from the far east and some parts are simply unobtainable at a sensible price.

Parts for BT-SVS250 and SVS300 receivers appear to be non existent. Actually, I suspect that there are spares held by the Knaresborough company but attempts to phone them are thwarted by an answering machine which tells me to ring South Coast Technology in Portsmouth. This company has a few spares for Cambridge manufactured receivers and for the SVS250 and SVS300.

One of my customers needed a handset for an SVS300. I went through the route of ringing the above companies then gave up and phoned Sky. They gave me the number of BT in Holborn and BT gave me a freefone number where I spoke to a nice lady for ten minutes. The following day a helpful BT employee returned my call with the advice that BT handsets were sold by Fraziers in Scotland. A call to this store elicited the information that they had none in stock but to try again in a month or two!