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Factum Radioscape’s Field Monitor Shows Software-Defined Radio’s Benefit

Factum Radioscape was formed from two digital radio companies: Sweden’s Factum Electronics and the UK’s Radioscape

Strange things can happen in a pub in London: but normally they happen at night, after numerous pints of�warm�beer. However, I was in a pub in the afternoon, with an orange juice, meeting Thomas Durkin and Andy Joseph from Factum Radioscape � so I wasn�t expecting anything untoward.

Factum Radioscape was formed from two digital radio equipment companies, Sweden�s Factum Electronics and the UK�s Radioscape. Factum supplied DAB multiplexing equipment for national public service broadcasters like NRK and the BBC. Radioscape did something similar, with a track record for working with commercial networks, like the UK�s first national multiplex, Digital One.

The companies began merging in 2014, and re-branded this year; streamlining their products in the process. I met them in a Victorian pub � haunted, as most are � to discover what they�d been working on.

Thomas Durkin, the company�s managing director, chatted to me for a few minutes about the company�s goals, and then reached underneath the pub table. With a flourish, he brought out a rugged case, out of which he proceeded to unpack an antenna, a GPS unit and a small silver box.

The silver box turned out to be the Observa Field Monitor, a product released by the company in May. It can monitor a complete DAB+ multiplex, or FM signal, including full decoding of data services.

Plugging the unit into a Windows laptop, carefully positioned next to a pint of Guinness, I was taken through its features: the most obvious being that it�s capable of being used in a vehicle to plot actual signal strengths, and error levels, against a map � ensuring that coverage is correctly plotted. It decodes DLS, slideshow, RDS Radiotext and plenty more, too.

As a software-defined radio, the system has had a number of updates since launch, extending functionality. And it�s this that is most interesting, with a number of benefits from being able to upgrade software. The company told me that they evaluated requests from clients for additional functionality and, where possible, they�ve implemented them for general availability.

Digital broadcasting, of course, relies on a strong signal � at least, a signal above the digital shelf, below which you�d hear either unpleasant burbling noise (�bubbling mud,� some describe it) or silence. The availability of portable monitoring equipment is more important in the digital world than in analog, where audiences may tolerate short periods of poor reception.

My key learning, however, was that if you�re in a pub and someone unexpectedly reaches under the desk for a military-looking suitcase, don�t panic: it could just be someone trying to sell you a piece of technology.