The York Region Amateur Radio Club was founded in 1959 by amateurs interested in sharing knowledge of radio communications.  As the hobby has grown to include many forms of electronic communication, the club’s valuable resources have helped members keep up with the rapid change and enjoy the hobby even more.

Our club has also become an active community partner supporting charitable and non-profit organizations across York Region.  We provide free communications services to community events to help improve coordination and safety.  We also train and prepare to provide emergency communications services in times of need, coordinating our efforts with government emergency managers across York region.  As another form of community service, we offer nearly-free training to help people obtain their amateur certifications, and we arrange training in related areas such as first-aid, emergency preparedness, and emergency management.

Club members are active with ongoing technical projects across a range of interests.  We maintain three repeater systems, providing coverage for portable and mobile communications across the region.  Members are experimenting with high speed data communications radio (mesh networks) across the region, which is technically challenging but has great potential. Software Defined Radio has grabbed the interest of our members, some of whom have built powerful but inexpensive radios from kits at the club’s project nights. Our members reflect the multi-faceted nature of the hobby, with interests ranging from using Morse code for distant communications to building and using satellites or bouncing signals off the moon.

We also like to get together in person, with meetings on the first Tuesday of each month from September to June, getting together for Field Day in June, running our annual Hamfest, or meeting up for a Saturday morning “fox hunt”.

If you’re interested in amateur radio, please come out to one of our meetings – no other invitation required - or contact us for more information.

 

Some Club Pictures Here

 

Old Pictures

Work on the new club trailer (need pictures)

Club Auction Jan 2013

Meshing Around in York Region
by Steve Brady VA3SRV

The York Region Amateur Radio Club (YRARC) was recently awarded a Trillium grant that allowed them to acquire a D-Star Repeater system.  One of the key things that sets a D-Star system aside from a regular digital repeater is having Internet access.

Radio Clubs benefit from the generousity of some of the Comm tower companies across the country, but getting a "good price" for the required Internet access is sometimes next to impossible to attain.  Our Club VP (Chris – VE3NRT) has a day job in the IT world and was responsible for setting up the D-Star gateway and, while looking for ways of getting Internet to a proposed D-Star site, he stumbled on to a Ham supported Mesh project that could potentially solve the Club‘s needs as well as open up many other possibilities.

High Speed Multi-Media MESH (www.hsmm-mesh.org) is a project that originated with the ARRL and took advantage of existing open software architecture on the WRT54Gx models of Linksys routers. 

These routers can be found for as little as $30 (there is a hardware compatability list that should be referenced) and the firmware installation is painless with an easy to follow tutorial that lives on the main site.

In short, the firmware is based on "open-WRT" and has had a "MESH" layer added to it that gives the "magic" that makes it work.  Except for changing the Node name to include your callsign, there is little else to be done  ...the moment any of these "modified" routers come within range, they will automatically connect to each other.

So, that doesn't sound much different than a regular wireless network  ....but it is!!

What sets a Mesh aside is the auto-traffic routing that it performs. The routers automatically take the most effective path to its destination and should any router fail, the mesh survives as it re-directs to the nodes still online.  So, in the end, the more stations in range the better!!

These same routers have removeable antennas with RP-TNC connections that allow for higher gain or directional antennas to be used!  So the creativity can pour forth into the metal wands we stick in to the air.

Sounds great  ...but, are there drawbacks? YES, the bugger is that, with 2.4 GHz signals, it is VERY important to have a direct line-of-site between nodes.  So, terrain plotting programs (i.e., Splat, Radio Mobile, etc.) were used to determine if paths existed between different QTHs.  This helped with determining where the terrain prevented a path and where directional antennas should be used, but it does NOT take into account foliage, condos, etc, so it is only used as a guide.

York Region, north of Toronto, is a large geographically diverse area of over 2,100 sq. Km., slightly larger than the country of Israel!  Our Club is centrally located in the Newmarket/Aurora area in an undulating bowl completely cut off from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) due to the Oak Ridges Moraine (it would be great to put a site up on the top of the Moraine to help bridge the region).  My QTH is further removed, within the Holland Marsh, and I'm eagerly awaiting a viable link to point my Yagi's at!

MESH routers can be built into an enclosure and mounted up on your tower.  Power can be passed through an ethernet cable using Power-Over-Ethernet (POE) breakout cables  ...or power can be run directly from batteries or solar panels via a small charge controller. 

In true Amateur fashion, there are folks repurposing old digital satellite dishs for use on their systems.  It takes a bit more work to make sure the focal point is set, but there are lots of web references to assist.  As well, the DIY'er can play with Cantenna's and Pringle's cans to see what luck they have.

Image Courtesy of Brad (VE3HII)

The routers will only talk to each other, so don't expect to connect to them with your laptop/smartphone, though you can still see their SSID name. The easiest way to connect is to plug your LAN cable in to the router. This does offer some security from the conventional user.

At our recent Hamfest, I was able to cludge together a demo that consisted of a few updated routers and Raspberry Pi's running USB webcams. It's all eye-candy, but it demonstrated some of the basic functions to be explored. You can run a FTP server, which is a simple way to exchange/retrieve files during deployments (emergency or event based).  There's also the ability to have text based "IRC chatrooms" where everyone can share information ...and there's work underway on VOIP-type software as well.  Really, just about anything you can do on your home/Internet network can be done on the HSMM-MESH network. The routers allow port forwarding as well as "advertised services" assignment.  So a basic functioning webpage can be built on each router that could link to ftp servers, imagery, etc....

If you are in the region and have interest, please join the conversation on the club bulletin board or send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Cheers Steve Brady VA3SRV

Sites of interest: Main site - http://hsmm-mesh.org/ Google Map of HSMM nodes - http://www.hsmm-mesh.org/googlemapped-mesh-nodes.html General Info - http://www.n5oom.org/hsmm/ Facebook group - http://www.facebook.com/groups/105333036166026/ York Region ARC Info page - http://www.yrarc.org/index.php/interest-groups/hsmm-mesh

 

Plot of potential links within YRARC Mesh network Note the East/West ridgeline transmitting site 6; this would make for an excellent 'over the hill' linking stations.

Status as of December 13, 2012 – several stations on the air but no links achieved.

 

Image Courtesy of Matt (VA3MGN)

For community events, or emergency callouts, there can be occasions when you need to bridge geographic gaps between areas.  Sending an outfitted person can be a waste of resources, so why not deploy a standalone MESH Node!?

Matt (VA3MGN) surprised me at our Hamfest MESH Demo by bringing in his newly built transportable Node. It's similar to other ideas on the Internet, but I got to look at this one in person.

Matt made use of a directional antenna and an omni (the Yagi would link in to an active mesh node and the omni would provide local coverage), but this can be easily converted to two Yagis if the true intent was to link the gap between two distance nodes.

The enclosure was a re-purposed sprinkler timer control box that already had the waterproof gaskets and the bonus of a locking latch for security. Three holes were cut in to the bottom with PL259 bulkhead connectors for the antennas and one feedthrough connector for network/power.

There is plenty of room in this box without having to use a ratchet clamp to close the lid!

 

Image Courtesy of Matt (VA3MGN)

The tripod is a re-purposed camera tripod, which makes for a light base. An adjustable vertical leg extension can fit over a ground stake to help secure the station in a wind.  Another option for a stand could be a surveyors tripod.

Ultimately, this is a nice/clean way of building a transportable node where the item costs were just over $350.  There are ways to cut costs, but in the end the main costs will be your antennas and router.

Kitty Litter "Go" Box - http://www.hsmm-mesh.org/images/stories/KittyKontainerKitRev2.pdf PVC Electrical Enclosure "DropBox" - http://www.hsmm-mesh.org/documentation/121-drop­boxes.html

It could be an old cooler, storage tote, backpack....or a couple of pipes jammed in to the ground with wireties and duct-tape (think of it as art!), but in the end you have an effective way to bridge any service gaps for your event.

Reference link - http://www.w5adc.com/HSMM.htm More info – http://www.hsmm-mesh.org/ and – http://www.n5oom.org/hsmm/

Mesh networks have been around almost as long as Wi-Fi. They have actually been very popular in the developing world (check out http://villagetelco.org/) where there are very few landlines, which spurred the widespread use of cell phones for voice and mesh for data. Most mesh networks operate around 2.4 GHz – pretty much line of sight – so rural Africa has a key advantage over us in that they have far fewer man-made obstructions. The networks are high speed at 54 megabits/second wireless, self-assembling, and fault tolerant. Also of interest to both hams and third world countries is that the network is built from standard off-the-shelf routers designed for the home market. These cost less than $70 brand new including 5 wired network connections, a stripped-down version of the Linux operating system, a power supply and the RF hardware, which can be cranked up as high as 250mw. Coupled with high gain antennas really long distances can be achieved, occasionally in excess of 100km (over water).

The key to this is the software. The standard software supplied by Linksys is replaced with free code from a group of amateurs in Texas (see http://hsmm-mesh.org/). Loading the software and basic configuration is pretty simple, and once done the router will seek out other of its kind to talk to, limiting itself to the 2.4 GHz amateur band. The routers will also act as relays from device to the next, just like land-line routers do, so data will automatically hop from router to router to get to its destination. In Texas, they’ve built a network that covers the city of Austin, so hams can move data, voice and video (at 54 megabits, all these are possible, even at the same time) even when the Internet is not available. Hams are putting units in “go boxes” to deploy networks wherever they need them (drawing 250ma at 12v, they can run on a battery for a long time). Hams are putting them in balloons, tethered or otherwise. Hams are pulling the boards out of their cases and soldering on their own modifications. In other words, hams are being hams.

Another key feature is fault tolerance. If a router goes off the air, the network will automatically try to reroute around it. So with enough routers deployed, a large area can be covered reliably even if something goes wrong. This is a key concept. If each router can communicate with 3 or 4 others, the result is coverage across a region that can withstand multiple failures and keep on working. The first club mesh experiment (“mesh-up”) was at the last D-Star meeting on September 13th.

In and around York Region, a bunch of hams have already started to experiment with them, mostly using the Linksys WRT54-GL router. It appears that the Aurora/Newmarket area is pretty well covered already with VA3XS, VE3GS, VE3CT, VE3NRT and VA3DXZ so far, and in the more far-flung reaches we have VE3HII, VE3WY, VA3IL, VE3UT, and VE3PIP already getting going. Also Steve VA3SRV in Bradford is trying it out but as he lives in a valley he might have to get creative to connect with the rest of us.

So if you’re interested, all you need is a router, a computer, some cable and a couple of antennas which can be home-brew or inexpensive commercial units. In most cases, because the routers are cheap, light and low power, it’s best to put the near the antenna as network cable is much cheaper than low-loss feed line at 2.4gHz. If you want to discuss coverage or need help, talk to me or one of the other hams listed above. If you live somewhere high-up or in-between two other hams or have access to a tower we may find you first.

Chris VE3NRT

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