Friday, March 20, 2009

D-Star Development

A while back I re-posted a message about the D-Star International Coordination Council.

Unfortunately I have yet to see anything on their website that such as the mentioned full translation of the D-Star D-STAR specification.

But things are still moving forward. Jonathan G4KLX, started the d_star_development yahoo group for his software and reference source code for capturing D-Star transmissions straight from the discriminator. The group is dedicated to discussing and sharing information about implementing D-Star systems using non Icom D-Star hardware, this includes end user and repeater systems, hardware and software.

He has developed code (something all other D-star project seem to lack) to provide a complete D-Star client using a PC and a radio which has 9600Bd connections.

He has also written a white paper on The Format of D-Star Slow Data.

You can read more about Jonathan's efforts here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ham Assistance Teams?

I view amateur radio as a wonderful hobby. It's a chance for anyone to learn a wealth of things, at their own pace, though self- investigation. It's a good fit for those interested in electronics and computers.

What upsets me is when the majority of hams in a club or area rely or expect a few key individuals to maintain or layout technology and resources. In my opinion, formal ham assistance teams and ham cram testing sessions do not help this, or this hobby. Those key individuals are likely to suffer burn out... And quite honestly I don't know anyone thick-skinned enough to do all the work while the ones making the requests/demands shows little interest to learn.

Sadly today's society has lurked more towards a fast-paced, world of self-entitlement and self gratification. This leaves only a few truly dedicated "old school" types left. The type most likely to benefit & Contribute to this hobby. Most everyone else seem to fade quickly from the hobby, as they probably got into the hobby for social reasons or they perceived some aspect as cool at the time.

Again I feel the main purpose of the amateur radio service is for those who wish to learn. I'm sorry to say that I feel the whole emergency communications purpose is becoming a joke.

Commercial wireless alternatives now have high speed redundant networks. Cellular prioritized traffic for public safety, users has been implemented which greatly reduces the old overloaded cell site, denial of service scenario. They also have portable cell sites or Cell sites On Wheels (COW), which put ARES/RACES communications trailers to shame in their capabilities department. They typically deploy these for summer festivals so that the customers attending can enjoy a better wireless coverage. The fixed sites in those areas can only handle so much traffic. These COW's can also be deployed in short order in areas of disaster to help prevent overloaded sites.

You see cellular providers more active in working with public safety for backup and supplemental communications. They also sponsor walk-a-thons, and even provide the communications for them. That's a non-emergence, public service type of thing that hams traditionally offer to do.

In those same situations , the counties also have communications sites on wheels. These help coverage issues for the police/ EMS radios.

Wireless ISP's are also working with public safety, providing mobile data terminal hotspots (on 4.9 GHz) for public safety and community hotspots for the general public.

Then there is the ham communications on wheels. While this looks impressive as it looks much like all the others.

It's what each is capable of. The cellular COW obviously allows seamless phone, text and video.. A fixed site might normally be overloaded and then the hams are important as that is down and non-functional. So they roll in a cellular COW, bang we are out of the picture. No need to worry about the integrity of your message going through some 3rd party ham... who might resort to pounding it out on brass...

Same goes for the County's COW... without it we might be useful. But do county officials really want to take the traffic from their public safety staff of say 100 staff that would normally be on a trunked multi-channel radio system and mobile data terminals and try to overload a dozen hams to pass these messages? With HIPPA and other privacy laws the names and details they are transferring as traffic are exposed to a lot of people when the have hams help in their pinch...

What does ham radio have? Likely a lot of broken dated networks. My experiences have shown there is more inflated ego and self-pride in ARES than there is technical ability or even organized approaches to developing and laying out community infrastructure.

Ham radio is like sending a horse and buggy to transport stranded motorists. Now do we see what "When All Else Fails" represents? Our technology and networks are a joke, ONLY if the redundancy of the Cellular and Country backup COWs are not working do we truly have a purpose.

I also feel that many times our ARES roles are exploited, for free labor.
Hams should be setting up ad-hoc equipment, using their knowledge and expertise to select the frequencies and modes that will work to get the communications where it needs to go. That should really be the focus if not the extent of our involvement, in my opinion.

Instead our ability to press PTT's and speak into a microphone seems to be the focus. Anyone can do that. As a matter of fact that is part of public safety officers jobs. So let these professionals do their jobs. I'm simply not interested in emcomm protocol. Hams should be regarded as professions by public safety when it comes to understanding what frequency, modem power and antenna setup will enable them to carry out their communications when their systems are down.

(What prompted this blog was my counties ARES group received a $5000 grant which was spent on the pictured ARES trailer. The main radio club here in town already had a trailer, with windows for comfortable operating, and it even has a crank-up tower. I'm sorry but we need to work together, that grant money in my opinion was foolishly spent. It should have been spent on upgrading or maintaining infrastructure.)

(By the way that white elephant gift was a polyphaser, lightening arrester, not a signal combiner. And no, you can't just put a T connector inline on feedline used for transmit.... just cap it off... Hey lets all just pick up a book once and a while, as ham radio is still good for learning.)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

XIPAR - The Open Source Amateur Radio Over IP Project

A Brief History of Asterisk Radio Over IP

Most people don't know that Asterisk was designed from the beginning with radio applications in mind.

Jim Dixon (WB6NIL) developed pioneering hardware and software and collaborated with Mark Spencer of Digium to make Asterisk a reality. Jim (a.k.a. Duuuude) says that compatibility with Amateur Radio applications was always a design requirement for his Asterisk work.

Steve Rodgers (WA6ZFT) is a longtime friend of Jim's and they co-developed the app_rpt module and the Quad Radio PCI card to interface radio equipment to Asterisk. Steve's company QRVC Communications offers the Quad Radio PCI card for sale.

Steve Henke (W9SH) wanted to use hardware that would provide baseband (receiver discriminator and transmitter modulation) signal processing. This allows noise squelch detect, RSSI, CTCSS and other signaling protocols to be done in software and provide additional features. The answer to this need was found in a low cost USB Sound Adapter. Steve and Jim collaborated on the chan_usbradio driver and Steve's company Xelatec contributed the xpmr radio signal processing routines under the GPL to the project.

The Xelatec XIPAR project combines the Asterisk® VoIP PBX with radio interface software and hardware that provides the following for Amateur Radio stations and systems:
- A Full Function Multi-Site Linking Repeater Controller
- Touch Tone Command and Control
- Autopatch - Reverse and VOX Operation
- CTCSS Decode/Encode Functions
- Asterisk VoIP Private Branch Telephone Exchange
- Voice Mail and Announcements
- Contact Closure Telemetry and Announcments
- Non-Proprietary Software and Hardware
- Open Source Linux Operating System
- Remote Base PTT Dispatch Client Software for PC's
- A Fully Configurable and Programmable Communications Solution

Complete with a GUI interface