Ham radio internet repeater linking

By

Ian Abel, G3ZHI

 

It is now common for those on the Internet to communicate with friends and family around the world using voice and video, which requires their computer to have a camera, microphone and sound card.

 

For radio amateurs the next step was to link their VHF or UHF FM transceiver to the computer sound card enabling audio from their transceiver onto the Internet. If a similar link was taking place on a remote computer and both computers were linked together via the Internet, you could have a radio-to-radio QSO with the Internet providing the link in the middle.

 

The transceiver could be operating on either a local VHF or UHF repeater, or an FM simplex channel. All Internet linking on repeaters takes place in the shack of the Ham providing the link -- nothing is done at the repeater site. The audio quality is normally excellent. DX stations sound just like locals.

 

With the more liberal Amateur Radio laws in the U.S. and Canada. Internet repeater linking has been in use there for more than six years. The first program used was Vocaltees' IPHONE but any program that allows audio over the Internet can be used for linking and providing basic radio communication. This Was done by holding the transceiver microphone to the computer speaker and transmitting the audio off the Internet over the air, and then holding the computer microphone to the transceiver speaker and transmitting the audio over the Internet. The TX/RX changeover would be made by manually pressing the PTT, but with more sophisticated programs like IRLP, the TX/RX change--over is done automatically using an interface board and the transceivers 'COS' (carrier operated switch) data line, allowing repeaters to be connected to the Internet 24/7.

 

In the UK, permission had to be obtained to link Ham radio to the lnternet from the Radiocommunications Agency and a personal request was made by Ian Abel, G3ZHI, to David Hendon, G8DPQ, the Chief Executive at RA Road Show in Leeds October 1999. David Hendon gave his permission in January 2000.

 

There are currently four Internet linking systems in use IPHONE, iLINK, eQSO and IRLP. The first three run under Windows 95 and above and each program can be downloaded from my web site. IRLP runs under Linux Redhat 6.2 (this version only). Using Linux is straightforward when the Graphical User Interface (GNOME) is also installed, as the Desktop looks similar to the Windows Desktop.

 

As of April 2002 185 nodes have been issued for simplex Internet gateways.

 

Contacts

Using an Internet link DX stations can be worked from home, while out walking, or bicycling using a hand-held. A typical example is to have a roundtable QSO with Hams on repeaters in the U.S.A, Canada, South Africa, the Caribbean and Australia all in the same QSO.

 

Some American repeaters transmit simultaneously on multiple frequencies, e.g. 2M 6M. 10M, 220 MHz and 70cm so you can be transmitting on many different frequencies – all at the same time.

 

The most remote place on IRLP is the American McMurdo Base in Antarctica. The base has a 'live cam’ (http://liveZtruelook.com/naso/mcmurdo/index.jsp) camera, which you can control and the picture quality is very good. For six months of the year the base is in

24-hour daylight, so with a little organization it would be possible to see the person you are talking to, if they stood in front of the camera. I have done this from Sheffield. England, and stood in front of one of the ‘live cams' cameras at Sheffield University, while talking to Hams on IRLP who were able to see me.

 

Some overseas repeater linked systems are very sophisticated with many repeaters linked together by RF.  In New Zealand, for instance, they have the 70cm National System that has 19 repeaters linked together, providing nearly full coverage of both the North and South Islands. In 2001, when Tony Whitaker; G3RKL, was walking the length of the country (top to bottom, 1300 miles) I was able to keep in touch with him daily and patch him through to his local repeater, GB3US, in Sheffield (Tony is the trustee) to talk to his friends.

 

In the U.S and Canada there are a number of linked systems. One example is the Winsystem in California which links San Diego to San Francisco via 17 mountain top repeaters (some are over 8,000 feet high) and all linked together. Another repeater with excellent coverage is the Tram repeater in Palm Springs California, so called because the Tram goes to the top of the mountain where the repeater is located. Also on the top of the mountain there is a 'live cam' which is next to the repeater site, which you can view from the Tram web site (http://www.pstramway.com) and enjoy the beautiful scenery and see the repeater coverage. In the future maybe all repeaters in the world will be linked to the Internet, enabling amateurs to keep in touch with Ham friends visiting any city in the world that has a repeater.

 

Internet linking is ideal for long QSOs, making it possible to have in-depth discussions unaffected by QRM or QSB. I have given a number of talks to radio clubs in the U.K. and around the world using Internet radio linking. It could be used by any Ham to give a club talk on any subject

 

Contacts can be 'one to one' or in a 'round table' where many repeaters are linked together. Sometimes, on IRLP, 30 repeaters can be linked and all the users on each repeater are able to hear each other.

 

 

 

 

 

For elderly Hams that are no longer able to look after their antennas and towers, or Hams that go into retirement homes, this is an excellent way for them to keep in touch with friends. I recently worked one Ham in the USA who was 92 and using a handheld from a retirement home. Some retirement homes will permit computers and handheld radios but not a HF radio plus antennas.

 

While you are at work, school or at an Internet cafe (providing the computer you are using has a microphone and soundcard) you can talk or just listen to your Ham friends without having access to a radio. (lnternet linking will work on a 56k-dialup modem but a high-speed connection is best).

 

Repeaters represent a big investment in both time and money and the aim of the Internet radio-linking project is to increase activity on repeaters and simplex channels.

 

Using IPHONE 4.5, one of the memorable QSOs I had was with the Motorola Museum club station in Chicago K9MOT. While talking to K9MOT over the N9EP repeater, a radio amateur in a light aircraft joined the QSO, working aeronauticaI mobile (which is permitted in the U.S.). Just at that time the aircraft was flying above the museum and the radio amateur in the plane was sending live video to the club. Which is then forwarded it via the IPHONE program. I was able to see the video from the plane.

 

I have also worked another radio amateur passenger in a light aircraft, this time while out cycling and using a hand-held on GB3DV, the 70-cm-repeater in Maltby, which was connected to N9EP in Chicago via IRLP.

 

Check the web site: www.decdcc.rsgb.-org/-ShowGates.asp?call=ALL to see if you have a local gateway near you. If you live within 10 miles of a gateway you should be able to hear it when it is active. They are not all 24/7 and you may need to contact the keeper to check when the link is available.

 

You can listen on line to the Californian Winsystem 24-hours a day by following the link on their web site at: www.winsystem.org.

 

There are a number of 'egroups' on the Internet at: http://groups.yahoo.corn which have discussions about Internet linking.

IRLP

Internet Radio Linking Project (http://t-www.irlp.net), was developed by Dave Cameron, VE7LTD, (http://www.ve7ubc.ampr.org/dcameron/dchome.htm) in 1977. IRLP is primarily a worldwide Internet linked repeater network with over 400 repeaters connected together 24/7. The number grows almost daily.

 

It is a totally secure system running under Linux Redhat 6.2 (not later versions) and you cannot speak on the IRLP system from a computer, which is connected, to

the Internet, like you can using the Windows programs. IRLP was designed just to link repeaters around the world although there are a few links on simplex channels.

 

You call a repeater by using DTMF tones and there is a directory list of all repeaters giving their individual 3-digit number. You use the number to connect and disconnect from the repeater you wish to call, adding a control digit '0' to turn a link ‘on' and a ‘I’ to turn a link 'off'.

 

To call VK2RBM in Sydney, you would tune your radio to a local Internet linked gateway frequency and then dial 6000 to turn the link 'on' and 6001 to turn the link 'off.' You will hear a voice announcement identifying which repeater you are connected to. When you disconnect you get another voice announcement saying 'you are now disconnected’ again identifying the repeater you have left.

 

You can call individual repeaters or connect to a Reflector -- a 'conference room' which can have as many as 30 repeaters in the room. Anyone speaking on any one the repeaters can be heard by all the other repeaters

 

 You can view the 'live' status page of all the repeaters on the system by visiting http://status.irlp.net.

 

For more information on using IRLP, use any of the popular search engines available for the Internet and input “IRLP”. There's a lot of information out there, and you'll be amazed at how much fun this new mode of Internet radio using Amateur Radio can be.

 

KN

 

Reprinted from July 2002 issue of Worldradio.

 

 

 

 

 

A Collins S-Line Find

By

Mark Fancher, AA4MF

 

The following is a letter that was sent to the Collins Reflector Newsletter by Mark Francher. The sentiments expressed are truly in keeping with the true goals of Amateur Radio.

The letter was forward to us by our Assistant Editor, Paul, AB2KU.

 

Hi, I'm new to the reflector and I thought I would tell you why I joined it. It may be an interesting story.

 

I started work at GE Aircraft Engines in Cincinnati, last May. After a few weeks of finding my way around the plant, I noticed that one of the buildings had a triband yagi on top of it. After a few inquires with plant security, I found out there was a club station here. Sadly, though, there was little to no interest in the club station and it hadn't been operated in years.

 

I did finally obtain clearance to enter the room. It was small and in the basement of the fire department/security building. Strangely enough, the room was like walking back in time about 30 years. There were old black and white pictures of prior members during some past field day. Also, there was a TS830, a Drake TR4 and to my astonishment, whole outfit of Collins S-line gear, including the Collins power supply, station controller, 32S transmitter, 75S receiver and a 30S-1 amp. All was in very good shape and operational (although it does need some cleaning). I brought home the manuals (they are all original as well and in like new condition), and studied how to use this older tube technology. The Collins gear was built about the year I was born, and I've never really used the hollow state equipment.

 

It still works pretty well. Sometimes, I need to actuate the switches a few times to burnish them, or they don't make contact. I tried out the amp yesterday, and only got 500W, so the tube is probably shot. The 32S transmitter does put out 100W, and then some. I find the receiver is excellent and definitely rivals the TS830. Still, though, I really enjoy working with this stuff. It reminds me of a  time when more people were active in ham radio, and you had to be more technically savvy to operate the older equipment. I get good reports from the contacts I make.

 

I hope that I will be able to get some advice from the reflector to help me maintain and operate this stuff. I want to keep it preserved as a piece of history. It would be a shame to let it go to waste.

Mark, AA4MF

 

 

IRLP 4 KIDS

By

Bill Pasternak, WA6ITF

 

This month's column will be a bit different in that it will deal with  issues that are not necessarily VHF only issues. But there are things that need to be said, and people who want to have their words read. To them, and to you this months column is dedicated.

 

The Internet Radio

Linking Project 4 Kids

Something very near and dear to my heart is making sure our hobby/service will continue after I am gone. The only way for this to happen is to invite a new generation of young men and women to join our ranks.

 

Lets face it: With a median age of its members in their 60's (this writer included), Amateur Radio's days are probably numbered. As such, I believe it should be an obligation (moral if not  legal) for each currently licensed amateur to "Elmer" at least one youngster into our hobby before he or she crosses over to the other side of the "Ethereal Abyss." Sadly a few Hams will ever do this and the inaction of the majority will definitely play an important role in the natural demise of the service. At least the service as we know it.

 

Be that as it may, there are some young Hams who are not willing to wait for the 'end' to catch up with them, They may be few in number, but those who are trying to turn the tide are not only innovative. They want to share with others. One of them is 13 year old Jason Nochlin, K0IIN, of Centennial, Colorado. A few weeks ago, Jason e-mailed me about a project he and a group of teens are involved in. It is called the "IRLP4KIDS Net." Jason asked if I could assist in spreading the word about the project and what I thought of it. To paraphrase, my answer was."...great idea." I hope you will not only agree with me, but also tell any young Hams that you know about the "IRLP4KIDS Net." Here is an edited version of what Jason had to say.

 

The Internet Radio Linking Project is now playing host to youth in Amateur Radio. This with the formation last December of the new "IRLP4KIDS Net." The cyberspace to-radio network was the brainchild of Paul. VE3SY. Its purpose is to support young Hams and to give them a place to meet and interact with one another. "Soon after he came up with the idea. Paul contacted me via IRLP and asked if I'd do the net since i had already done

a few others locally. Obviously I said yes and then conducted the first one.  It had 32 check-ins and was just a "'give your call sign and say hello'" gathering. A few weeks later, on the advice of John, NA3J we added a "discussion topic" to the net. That topic changes each week.

 

"Since then, other young Hams have stepped forward to act as Net Control They are Andrew, VA7AJJ (18); Abe. NB7X (14); Stephen, KG4PTO(13); Greg, KG6KBE (13) along with yours truly Jason, K0IIN (13), Thankfully, with each meeting, the number of net participants goes up. "Here is what Abe, NB7X, said about doing net control, "'When I started the net, I was really nervous. But I stayed with the script and it went reasonably smooth. If I do it more and more, I'll get used to it and it will be easy and fun.'" We hope to see you in one of our next nets. We are meeting Saturdays at 0100Z every week on IRLP Reflector #2. In North America the net is on Friday nights at 9:00pm Eastern Daylight Time." (Note: We may change reflector or begin alternating times with the IRLP International net so that Europeans can check-in to the IRLP4KIDS net. Provided there are enough young Hams in Europe. If you are or know a European young Ham please e-mail me at the address below, so we know about how many young European hams would check-in.)

 

"Does this interest you? Do you want to take part? If you do, please take your Internet web browser to the IRLP4KIDS web page: http://groups.yahoo.com/ group/irlp4klds/ and join our e-group for the most up to-date info.

 

 

"One last note. We are still looking for additional net control stations. Abe, Andrew, Greg, Stephen and I have been doing well, but we still need more young amateurs to jump on board. If you are a young Ham or know one (he/she has to be licensed) and want to become part of this thrilling IRLP project contact me by e-mail to [email protected] net."

 

IRLP surpasses 400

Speaking about the Internet Radio Linking Project, Nate Duehr,WY0X reports that IRLP operations have now exceeded 400 nodes Keep in mind that a 'node' is not necessarily a repeater albeit most are. The latest list shows the number stands at 403.                

 

As previously noted, the Internet Radio Linking Project permits repeaters around the world to interconnect  with one another using a Linux based computer and a simple computer to repeater interface. The system is secure against non-Hams penetrating it because  of its proprietary hardware and software, made available only to licensed radio amateurs. In fact, it is the only Internet Ham radio linking system permitted by the Australian government.

 

More information is on the world wide web at: www.irlp.net. Be sure to look at http://status.irlp.net and http//maps.irlp.net to see if there is an lnternet Radio Linking Project node near you.

 

KN

 

The above was reprinted from a Column by Bill Pasternak, WA6ITF which appeared in the July 2002 issue of Worldradio.