Having started in May 2008, Freesat is the proprietory name of a free to air satellite television and radio service … it is jointly owned by the BBC and ITV. Although it was never the intention to compete against the Sky satellite service, it does provide a viable and effective alternative to Sky Digiboxes and Sky viewing cards in order to receive basic UK television and radio channels. Now, several years later, there are over 200 tv and radio channels on Freesat.
Freesat is a free-to-air service … this means that you don’t need a viewing card nor a UK address in order to receive the free-to-air transmissions from the Astra 2 satellite. Sky also transmits from Astra 2, so the dish for Sky and freesat is exactly the same … that is, a freesat box will replace a Sky box without having to change any of the dish arrangements.
All the channels on freesat are also available on free-to-air receivers such as those bought in French satellite outlets and supermarkets. The main difference is that freesat transmits a seven day Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) and this is something that most free-to-air receivers cannot receive from Astra 2. Official Freesat receivers also give you access to the Red Button services from the BBC and other broadcasters. To initialise a freesat receiver, you have to enter a UK postcode and the freesat receiver will load the appropriate regional version of BBC and ITV into the EPG. So, if you enter a Chester postcode, you will have an EPG with BBC1 North West and ITV Granada.
The freesat EPG only carries the official freesat channels ie, the ones that pay Freesat to go on the guide, so a lot of free to air channels don't appear on it. However, the freesat receiver also works in 'non-freesat' mode, so you can add any FTA channel on Astra 2 to the 'non-freesat' list.
There are on-demand channels like BBC iPlayer and ITV Player which appear on the Freesat guide but your internet connection must provide a UK IP address in order for these to be accessed.