Hams on the Lake Mesh test

Today many local hams decided to meet out on White Bear Lake. Some to get on HF, others to test their go-kits, and others to test our tower fleet in real world conditions. The PB tower trailer was there to perform the following tests:

  • Test of Hotspot/Mesh configuration to tunnel to the MN statewide mesh system
  • Test of real-world wifi range under ideal conditions
  • Test of accessing remote systems through the tunnel without an internet connection.

So we set up on Mahtomedi beach with the main group and Erik’s new tower trailers. (Big White and Little White which have not been out on deployment yet – EW)

There we put a raspberry-pi mesh injector node, and confirmed that the tunnel to statewide was working. Then we went to the next park over, just under 2 miles away and attempted to connect. The pi works as a mesh client, but also provides internet to the mesh node on VLAN1 so that mobile tunneling is possible. It also has a second interface (usb to ethernet) for plugging in computers and/or switches for mesh access (eliminating the separate need for smart switch to separate VLANs.

We did get a successful connection, and once we had that, the MN statewide AREDN mesh was accessible from the next beach over. (N0NAS, who manages our TWINSLAN lab, keeps asking for “real data” on mesh tower to tower range. He does not go for slideware- EW).

A few things we learned.

  • Even though we were using Omni-directional cheap antennas on both sides, we were able to connect. Both tower trailers were between 25-30 feet in the air, using Ubiquiti Rocket M5 nodes. (The little paddle antennas are maybe 3-5 db, the “real” ones on node sites 9-11db. All that really matters in tactical deployments is line of sight. Tress, hills, are bad. EW)
  • We got a decent signal that at times was 100% in both directions, without the tunnel
  • We did have to rotate the antennas to align with the signal. Omni-directional antennas still have some aiming required to align them when they are spaced apart like dipoles.
  • Speed was 3 megabits at our test point

More testing is needed – especially in the actual locations where events will take place. Nodes will not always have a frozen, flat lake in between them. But overall it was a good test, and proved that the Mesh Tunnels can be useful, and that the mesh itself worked at broader distances.

Bellaire Beach side (mesh antennas 9db and cheap)
Mesh node at Mahtomedi Beach – see the wimpy antennas on Big White @30 feet

Below is a picture of the Raspberry Pi prototype. We’re taking 12 volts in – bringing it down to 5v/3a for the pi, then using USB for connections to a camera, the wifi hotspot for the tunnel, and a second ethernet for laptop connections. The camera (webcam not shown) can stream to youtube over the hotspot. We did this for the Loppet ski races.

Big white holding up one side of the Mesh and providing (noisy) 125V propane power. (Note we stayed on shore- the ice was reported to be thick but one tow vehicle was two wheel drive and it was 50 degrees. Slush over ice is not good for traction. EW)

Lots of people stopped by to ask about what we were up to. We did have a few technical snags – a bad ethernet cable, a blown fuse, etc. But all in all it worked and fun was had by all.

Below are a few other Hams on the lake participants:

If this was Winter Field Day there would be a smoker and brisket.

Little White providing 12 volts and a tower for AREDN and TwinsLAN Medical Command. Note the 30′ tower is stuck around 24 feet- cement dust. Don has a box full of Ubiquiti nodes we are testing.

It’s never the wrong season to be a ham radio operator.

73, KC0LQL

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