MESH Network

The AARC wrestled with establishment of a high-speed mesh network for several years.  The Broadband-Hamnet™ (BBHN) group developed a means to use off-the-shelf Linksys WRT54G/GL/GS wireless routers by developing firmware that changes the way the RF decks in these units work.  Instead of operating as wireless access points, the radios are used to communicate with other nodes to build an automatically configuring MESH network.

While the technology worked, and converting these old “blue boxes” to MESH function is fun in its own right, it is somewhat cumbersome and not without expense (antennas, weatherproof boxes, power feeds, etc.).  Additionally, the stability of the boxes was sometimes a problem.  The developers of BBHN software were determined to move this technology to the next level.  They believed that switching their firmware development focus to newer, more robust gear offered by the Ubiquiti company was a better choice for Mesh development.   The new group is called the Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network (AREDN).  The AREDN effort has proven to be cost effective, functional, and very well supported.   AREDN’s mission is to provide the Amateur Radio Community with a quality solution for supporting the needs of high speed data in the Amateur Radio and Emergency Communication field.  In early 2016, the AARC made the decision to pursue development and installation of an area-wide high-speed MESH network based on the AREDN approach and technology.  We urge you to visit the AREDN website at www.aredn.org to learn more.

The AARC MESH network is primarily operated on the 3.4 GHz amateur band.  The reasons for this are many, however, there are two that are specifically worth mentioning.  First, aside from an authorization for some military radio operations, there are no shared commercial frequency allocations within the 3.3 – 3.5 GHz band.  In short, we, as amateurs, have the band to ourselves.  Secondly, unlike the 2.4 GHz band (as used by the Linksys WRT54 routers), there are many “channels” available within the 3.4 GHz band.  To expand on this, there are 24 non-shared channels available to hams on 3.4 GHz while there are just 2 non-shared channels available on 2.4 GHz.  The decision to use 3.4 GHz was an easy one.   This is not to say that we don’t or won’t operate any 2.4 links, but 3.4 GHz is our primary choice.

The first links were installed in early 2016 which connected the AARC club station on Rowan Street, to a hillside node hosted at AL4G’s residence on the Anchorage hillside, to Providence Alaska Medical Center.  After that came a node at the Elmendorf Amateur Radio Society clubhouse on Elmendorf, a node at the Anchorage Senior Center, a node at the Alaska Native Medical Center warehouse on Tuttle Road, and finally nodes at Alaska Native Medical Center itself.  Additional node equipment is in hand and awaiting installation at the Anchorage Pioneer Home, KL7SB’s residence, the State of Alaska’s Tudor Tower site, the State of Alaska complex on Tudor Road, and a new Anchorage hillside node location hosted by KL7QN.  KL7MM is also installing a node at his business location in the Spenard area.

The system has performed phenomenally well.  There has been just one “reboot” needed of a node since the first equipment was installed a year ago.  The nodes are easily managed “over the air”, thus virtually eliminating any need to visit a site unless some sort of hardware change or update is in order.  On our major backbone links, we are seeing consistent throughput at 130 Mbps!

Services operating on the MESH include several VOIP telephones (including video call capability), Winlink Post Offices, a very effective chat service, and even video feed and camera control from an IP camera located inside the EARS clubhouse.  Future services may include a shared file server, more IP cameras, weather station feeds, remote control of HF stations, repeater linking, and more.

The basics of MESH networking are actually quite simple, but the possibilities are endless.  We HIGHLY encourage users to install a node if you are able.  Your node not only gives you access to the MESH, but also helps BUILD the mesh and enhance its capabilities; your node effectively becomes an integral part of the MESH that can help move traffic more efficiently.

To learn more about the AARC MESH Network and how you can install your own node(s), visit the AARC clubhouse on a Working Wednesday, or contact KL5T directly (mesh@kl7aa.net).

Here are a few useful images relative to the Anchorage MESH network.

Mesh status as of 4/29/2017

AARC – Hillside Node Link Signal to Noise Snapshot

South-facing dish at Providence Alaska Medical Center