(click thumbnail)Mario DuchiQ. How has the Internet changed the nature of broadcast remote control technology?
A. Radically! Before I joined ANT Group in 2001, our remote control system was based on two-way radio and landline phone connections. The amount of data transferred between site and control room was limited either by the 12.5 kHz radio channel bandwidth or the modem connection. Since customers started asking for Internet connectivity, all our site hardware production (RDFs) and software has been updated to this capability, while maintaining the old POTS and radio capabilities, not to mention the simplicity of use. A lot of work but worth it; the Internet has helped us a great deal.
As opposed to other systems on the market, our system centralizes measurements and alarms in a server. All site equipment communicates with the control center server which logs everything and forwards alarms via e-mail, SMS or both. This was a big setback in the days before Internet because the technician only heard about alarms from someone at the station seated at a computer screen. The Internet has de facto rewarded our centralized design by easily rendering real-time or historical data collected from all sites.
Q. What’s new that you will show at the NAB Show and what should radio broadcasters look for there?
A. There is one new piece of hardware we would like to keep confidential until the show starts. I can only say it is something new that no remote control company has at present. I will reveal more a few weeks before the show.
For radio broadcasters we have a new low-profile version of our site concentrator specially designed for radio stations on a budget. Connected through GSM/GPRS or Ethernet, it features all the power of the full remote data frontend (RDF) with a smaller size and lower cost.
Q. What other products or services does your company offer for radio broadcasters?
A. Our products include the MicroMeter series of RF probes and the ANT131, now with new firmware. It delivers a 0V - 5V output proportional to the RF power input. The output is linear (in watts) or in dBm. It also has an RS-485 output and when added to our proxy, it can be connected via SNMP. The NanoMeter series of probes feature temperature, main voltage, current and low-cost RF sensing. Our protocol converters can translate any known serial protocol to the ANTLAN protocol in order to connect RS-232 or RS-485 equipment to the RDF. The ANT135 FM analysis receiver includes a deviation meter, L&R presence (alarm) and channel unbalance.
Broadcasters know more than ever that remote control and monitoring is key for an efficient and cost effective management of their network. The problem in managing sites nowadays lies in the fact that almost all transmitter, receiver and link equipment manufacturers build remote control and monitoring hardware into the equipment. This leads to the use of many different software applications to control and monitor the broadcast chain, producing barely-usable statistical data, inefficient operations and training problems. The Garda System allows broadcasters big and small to monitor and control site and center equipment, regardless of the manufacturer. Our commitment is to connect any product inside a site, vintage or new, through parallel or data connections and present the collected data, alarms and events in a standard, comprehensive interface.
Q. What’s the most exciting or unusual project you’ve been involved with lately?
A. The broadcast industry is by nature ‘exciting’ and 90% of the job is ‘unusual,’ especially when remote control is involved. Different from transmitter installations, a remote control system installation is rarely a ‘plug and play’ experience. Harsh environments, different equipment brands, connections and voltages, many times lacking documentation, all make it a time consuming job. Recently we added installations for Radio Dimensione Suono, Italy’s number one radio station with coverage in 100% of the nation. They use equipment from many different manufacturers, all with proprietary interfaces (RS-232, RS-485, parallel). Besides the challenging work, what I enjoyed most was establishing a relationship with all the manufacturers, discovering great people with many different ways of thinking.
Q. You do a lot of international business. What lessons can U.S. broadcasters learn about doing remote control and management design differently, from their global colleagues?
A. Everyone purchases remote control for their specific need. For historical, technical and regulatory reasons, remote control design has traveled in different directions around the world; each country has designed and built monitoring and control equipment to satisfy these requirements. In the United States, (especially for radio) remote control and monitoring uses a technician-to-site type connection. In Europe, broadcasters use centralized data collection. We are an Italian-based company, our systems are all designed in order to collect and log data in a single server. There is no direct tech-to-site connection; that can be achieved through the server if possible. This way everyone has access to all information at all sites, contemporarily if needed.
Q. Where are you based, and how many employees do you have?
A. We are based in two locations. The administrative and production base is in Gavardo, a small town in the industrial province of Brescia (one hour from Milan). The other location which hosts research and development is in Sant’Orsola Terme, in the province of Trento, an even smaller town in the heart of the Italian Alps. The company has 20 employees but counts on tens of external assembly companies which work for us. All of us are highly motivated and possess a broadcast background. Passion for our job and creativity gives all of us the will to do better.
Q. Anything else we should know about your company?
A. There are too many to list, I encourage you to visit our website at www.antgroup.it.