Hello everybody and welcome back to my blog. In the latest issue of the ARRL Letter there is an article that peaked my interest. The article was talking about a group in Utah that had used modified routers that used ham radio frequencies to make a network in an area that a boy scout troop was using to do a food drive. They hooked up cameras at different locations and were able to watch them to see when to send out trucks to pick up donated goods among other things. Having a background in computers, and always interested in learning new and exciting things, especially something that could be of great help in times of a disaster, I decided to dig a little deeper into what this thing called Broadband-hamnet was all about.
My first step in this was checking out their website. So what is broadband-hamlet? Well it is a network. It is a special firmware that transforms a consumer router into one that uses the ham radio frequencies that overlap with the lower channels of standard WiFi. With using these channels it now falls under part 97 of the FCC rules instead of part 15. This allows for higher power output, bigger antenna options and other changes. The change in the firmware of the router, makes the router become a mesh mode. Mesh nodes are self-discovering, meaning that all you have to do is turn a mesh mode on and if it is within range of another mesh node it will automatically connect. Mesh nodes are self-configuring as well, meaning that once they connect to another node they will configure themselves the same so that they will be able to share data. They are self-advertising, meaning that when you turn it on, it will start broadcasting, saying “hey I’m here” to other nodes that may be listening. They are also fault tolerant, and if I’m understanding correctly, it basically means that if something happens while its receiving some information and it doesn’t get it all or disconnects or something along those lines, the node will automatically try and get corrected data from the sender. If any of y’all have used packet in the past it is basically the same thing that packet did between nodes, would automatically make sure that the data is correct and if not, asks for a correction before sending it along.
Once you have configured your router as a mesh node, you will no longer be able to connect to it via WiFi without going through an extra step of configuring a separate access point. If this is done however, you need to secure the access point and only give access to it to other hams. Remember that everything that is transmitted across a node that has your callsign on it, you are ultimately responsible.
So what mind of information can you send over this mesh network? Well, data is data. It could be IP video, voice over IP, webpages, downloading files via FTP, printing to any printer that is connected to the network, keyboard chat, if a mode has internet access, the whole network can use it. With the right setup and configuration, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination, technical know-how, and the money your allowing yourself into putting into it.
If this sounds like something you might be interested in looking into, I recommend you do like I did and dig a little deeper into the subject like I did. Check out the website like that I have above. In my next post I’m going to be talking about how this could be put to use in a disaster.
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73 de K5CLM