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Issue #40: When is a Ham Radio NOT a Ham Radio?

Discussion in 'Trials and Errors - Ham Life with an Amateur' started by W7DGJ, Jun 15, 2024.

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  1. W7DGJ

    W7DGJ Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    This is the discussion forum for Issue #40 of Trials and Errors -- Ham Life with an Amateur.

    Kevin Hester is an interesting ham. He's incorporated his amateur radio hobby into airplane builds, into his paragliding gear, and into his software development career. He's the original programmer and founder of a movement that is selling lots and lots of little radios, ranging from $20 to $100. Read this interview with Kevin and learn more about a technology that has a broad appeal, far beyond amateur radio operators (even though they use a Ham band!). Dave, W7DGJ
  2. KL7KN

    KL7KN Ham Member QRZ Page

    It's a shame Kevin didn't differentiate between LoRa and his little mesh devices. Both use the same 'band'
    (LoRa uses license-free sub-gigahertz radio frequency bands EU868 (863–870/873 MHz) in Europe; AU915/AS923-1 (915–928 MHz) in South America; US915 (902–928 MHz) in North America; IN865 (865–867 MHz) in India; and AS923 (915–928 MHz) in Asia;[7] H/T to the wiki on this.)

    How this works with the Internet of Things wasn't well explained. Does he have a website or online book covering this at length?
    (I did find this -Devices | Supported Hardware Overview | Meshtastic)

    Finally, while this is a neat bit of tech, the seemly required use of a Smartphone to interface/keyboard messages leaves me out, as I don't have and likely will never have a Smartphone. Ditto for FT8 in the field :D

    Some devices (lilygo) do have keyboard included devices - and at a decent price point - they are, however, significantly larger.

    The driver to acceptance, IMO, for most hams is $$$ cost.
    These cannot compete, as yet, with the $13 "UV-5R" analog FM HT.

    Thanks for sharing this bit of tech that's been running around for some time, many in our community may never have heard of the tech....
    KB0TTL and W7DGJ like this.
  3. W7DGJ

    W7DGJ Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Hi Don, thanks for the comments. We could have gone into a lot more detail on the MQTT element which connects these tiny radios to the Internet, but the focus (and the main driver for adoption in the broader world than just hams) is that it communicates "under the radar," so to speak. Connecting to the Internet is a ho-hum feature in my opinion.

    You're right about cheap UV-5R's. That's still a bargain no matter how you cut it. These little boards are a lot of fun, however, and putting them together, adding other boards or cases and so on, that appeals to the ham. 73, Dave W7DGJ
    KB0TTL and KL7KN like this.
  4. N8TGQ

    N8TGQ Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Great article Dave! This is what the "geeks" are doing these days. I bought one of the Heltek(spelling?), devices for less than $30. My big problem is loading the software. Neither I nor anyone I know has a Windows machine anymore. The library said no to my loading drivers and connecting things to their computers. I'll come up with a solution eventually!

    People are doing amazing things with this technology. Solar powered repeaters you can put anywhere. Efficient antennas tuned for the frequencies greatly extending the range.

    Also consider the social aspect. Just like Morse Code, no one knows how old you are, whether you're male or female, what race or what class you are. You don't have to "fit in".

    Amateur radio can embrace Meshtastic and use it as a stepping stone to get more people licensed, or they can shun it and watch all the technical people do radio without being hams.

    Low cost, no big antennas, no license, only limits are hardware. Govenment has no clue who's doing what. You can encrypt your mesages as you see fit.

    I think of this like the early days of personal computing. The person that comes out with a device with the software already loaded, just needing a little tweaking thru your cell phone could be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

    It's gonna be fun to watch and participate!
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2024
    WD4ELG and W7DGJ like this.
  5. W7DGJ

    W7DGJ Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Thanks Rick. It was a fun article to write. I had some time playing with radios and without a major investment. First time that happened to me in a long while! Anytime I want to play radio, I have to invest hundreds or thousands $. While these little guys will never approximate my love for a big ICOM, Yaesu or Flex, they will certainly be fun to play around with.

    You're so right about the fact that we can either get with it or just watch as a new radio field gets opened up by non-hams. Personally, I think that if Ham Radio truly embraced Meshtastic, it could be like those early days with the 100mW walkie-talkies. Kids were turned on to radio by those back in the 1950s and 1960s and the same thing could happen here. It could be a launching post for new interest in ham.

    One thing that Kevin and I spoke about in our interview that didn't make it into the article (perhaps I will add it) is that these new lower current draw boards that he foresees shortly in the marketplace would be perfect up in a tree with a small solar panel. He described how the Meshtastic team is working on ways to REALLY extend the battery life, by having the radios completely shut off for all but 100 milliseconds of every minute, when the radio turns on, checks and distributes traffic, and goes "off" again. Really cool stuff coming here, Dave
    WD4ELG likes this.
  6. N7KO

    N7KO Ham Member QRZ Page

    Meshtastic device, pretty cool stuff, and has practical uses. I think I will set back and see where it goes, I think it will play a big part in modern communications. Meanwhile I will use my simple QRP cw rigs QCX, QMX, Mountain Topper, YouKits 4b Tranceivers. Maybe I am a collector that enjoys simple world wide communications that requires very little power, a simple wire for antenna and a simple key .

    You wrote a good article and excellent thought provoking interview. Good job.
    W7DGJ likes this.
  7. W7DGJ

    W7DGJ Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Thanks Ken. I love QRP radios, so yes -- agree with you about Meshtastic. The devices will remain cheap as long as they are in the "experimental mode." I just bought a Lillygo T-Beam Supreme and it came with a couple of strips to plug into sockets, I had to buy a battery and an upgraded whip antenna, and while it doesn't NEED it, it looks better in a 3D printed case, so I bought one of those on Etsy. I want to buy a Wisblock now - that's a good little radio. The Heltec based radios are very small (see those two in my hand in the photo) but they have less battery life. The Lillygo T-Beam is a good but larger radio and the Wisblock is even a bit larger. But they are all inexpensive. The one thing I can't understand is why they all come with a cheapie stub antenna that measures out at 3.5 to 1 SWR. Terrible! Forces you to spend another $8 to $15 for another whip. Rokland or Muzi shops have nice antennas. Dave, W7DGJ
    N7KO likes this.
  8. N8TGQ

    N8TGQ Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I thought there would be more response to this article. Maybe it went over everyone's head!

    I just ordered from Muzi. Ready to got for $79. I figure once I have one working, I can do my own antennas and power system. I found a good, high, sunny place for it.
    W7DGJ likes this.
  9. W7DGJ

    W7DGJ Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I bought another Meshtastic, this time a Lilygo T-Echo, which generally comes loaded with Mestastic installed and a nice little "paper white" screen. Unfortunately, I didn't pay close enough attention to the Aliexpress Chinese seller, and it did not have Meshtastic on it, but something called SOFT RF. Luckily, I was able to erase and put Meshtastic over it as the operating system and it now works great. Plugged it in, with a longer better antenna and came up with 110 visible stations from my home in Rural Scottsdale. One of them was on Mt. Lemon in Tucson and one at Pinal County Airpark, which is about 95 miles away. Dave, W7DGJ
    N8TGQ likes this.
  10. KB0TTL

    KB0TTL XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I love seeing these neat new gadgets although I may never personally get around to trying some of them. There's something for almost everyone in this hobby (or way of life:)). I mainly stick with HF operations and I do some UHF/DMR stuff on the side. I enjoy playing with the Raspberry Pi MMDVM hotspots and have also had some limited experience playing with Ardrino based Ubitx transceivers. There may be a few purists out there who don't consider the mesh 915mhz stuff to be "real HAM radio" (those same people also typically frown on FT8, FT4, and even DMR). I personally define "real HAM radio" as "any activity in which you must possess a valid HAM license in order to legally participate".
    W7DGJ likes this.
  11. W7DGJ

    W7DGJ Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Sebastian, that's why my article has the title it does . . . there will always be hard-liners that won't consider anything without a Microphone or Key and a long wire sticking out the back. That's OK, it's all fun. I'm still figuring out this Meshtastic stuff myself. One big advantage -- it's cheap. Same fun as anything else "ham," but bargain priced. Dave

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