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Introduction

The Digital Group (DG) is a technically oriented subsidiary group of the Mount Baker Amateur Radio Club (MBARC) in Bellingham, Whatcom County, Washington that is focused on data communications in Amateur Radio. The goal of the DG is to help DG members and especially newcomers to Amateur Radio, and Amateur Radio Operators new to data modes, understand and use Amateur Radio data communications modes effectively. Most of the DG’s usage of Data Communications occurs on the Amateur Radio VHF and UHF bands within Whatcom County and surrounding areas.

 

Joining the DG

Membership in the Digital Group is an add-on to MBARC membership. DG membership dues are $10/year (in addition to MBARC membership dues). DG dues are used to support various projects relating to the focus of the DG, such as building Amateur Radio data communications infrastructure such as digipeaters.

 

DG Meetings

The DG meets on the third Tuesday of each month, beginning at 18:30 Pacific. The DG meets at the Ferndale, WA library in the Meeting Room. During COVID-19 restrictions we've met via Zoom videoconference. The link for the Zoom videoconference is published on the DG’s email list. You do not have to be a member of the DG to attend the physical or virtual meetings.

 

DG Email Discussion List

The DG uses Google Groups for its email list. If you're a Gmail user, you can browse to https://groups.google.com/g/nwwdigi and search for "Northwest Washington Digital Amateur Radio" and subscribe to the DG mailing list there. Gmail users can view archives of previous discussion threads.

 

If you're not a Gmail user, to subscribe to the DG email list, send an email (no subject or body text) to

nwwdigi+subscribe@googlegroups.com

 

You do not have to be a member of the DG to subscribe to the DG email list. Requests to join the DG email list are moderated to attempt to minimize spammers and spamming.

 

DG Officers 2021-09-01 through 2022-08-31:

President: Steve Stroh N8GNJ

Vice President: Budd Churchward WB7FHC

Treasurer: Brian Lawler KN0N

Secretary: Rob Sipes KG7GTC

 

Emergency Communications (EMCOM)

Although EMCOM is outside the scope of the DG, many DG members participate in Emergency Communications (EMCOM) activities with various EMCOM organizations in Whatcom County, and there’s some overlap with the DG’s activities in the use of data communications modes such as the fldigi suite and fsq chat mode. If you’re interested in EMCOM activities, see Whatcom Emergency Communications Group (WECG) or your local city’s Auxiliary Communications Services, including Bellingham, Ferndale, and Blaine. Each of these groups have their own on-air activities such as nets.

 

Informal DG Voice Repeater

A number of DG members monitor the N7JN 224.480 MHz Repeater (-1.6 MHz, Tone 103.5) on Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island. It provides excellent coverage of Whatcom County.

 

fldigi and fsq

Much of the DG’s activity is the use of Amateur Radio data modes such the fldigi suite of digital modes, especially the “Fast Simple QSO (fsq)” mode for text chatting with other Amateur Radio operators over the air. fldigi and fsq were designed for use on HF, but experimentation within the DG has found that fldigi and fsq works well on VHF and UHF FM.

 

fldigi (and fsq) work on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers in conjunction with nearly any “audio interface” such as the SignaLink USB and ordinary Amateur Radio VHF and UHF radios.

 

Nexus DR-X Data Digital Radio Cross-Patch

DG member Budd Churchward WB7FHC developed an integrated, inexpensive data communications system for Amateur Radio data communication called the Nexus DR-X that uses a Raspberry Pi computer. One of the best features about the Nexus DR-X is that DG member Steve Magnuson AG7GN maintains a well-integrated software suite for the Nexus DR-X. The combination of the Nexus DR-X hardware and the AG7GN software is a powerful, easy to use system for data communications. The Nexus DR-X is a general purpose system and can operate many data modes other than fldigi and fsq, such as packet radio and Winlink.

 

Much of the fun of the Nexus DR-X is that it's an easy-to-build kit. Many DG members have built a DR-X and are using it on the air, with lots of hands-on support available from other DG members. The DG occasionally hosts "build parties" to build (and test) personal Nexus DR-X units. Build parties are announced on the DG’s email list. Some DG members can assemble Nexus DR-X units for others.

 

Whatcom County VHF / UHF Data Communications

  • Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) - There is considerable APRS activity in Whatcom County. aprs.fi is the best map of APRS activity on the web.

  • fsq - 145.580 MHz is used by DG members as the "fsq water hole” to chat and experiment in Whatcom County. Every Sunday morning at 09:00 Pacific a number of DG members come on the air for casual chat and checkout of their equipment.

  • Winlink Radio Message Servers (RMS) - There are a number of Winlink RMS stations in and around Whatcom County. The Winlink Live System Information map will show the locations of Winlink RMS nodes. Clicking on an individual station icon will present a pop-up window which displays the node’s frequency and other information. Note the selection buttons at the top of the map - select “Packet” to see the VHF / UHF nodes.

 

Multi-Capability Data Communications Nodes (RNs) - Whatcom County has a number of unique multi-capability data communications nodes. These nodes are unique that they can be remotely

(or automatically) reconfigured from their primary service when needed.

Features:

  • 144-148 MHz (2 meters) or 440-450 MHz (1.25 meters)

  • Operate on any frequency within either band

  • Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) Digipeater and Igate service on 144.39 MHz

  • fsq node (or any mode within the fldigi suite) - relay node or remote user on 145.58 MHz

  • Winlink Radio Mail Server (RMS)

  • 1200 bps / 9600 bps Packet Radio

  • Be remotely used for testing with other stations, etc.

 

Each of these nodes are built into a compact electronics rack that is located in an unobtrusive location in the host facility. There is no operator position; if a remote node needs to be accessed locally, that’s typically done over the facility’s local network. Most nodes use a Nexus DR-X as the data communications unit and a Kenwood TM-V71A radio.

 

Winlink Radio Mail Servers (RMS):

  • The Acme Winlink RMS is located at the Acme Fire Station. RMS is accessed with 1200 bps packet radio on 144.93 MHz with callsign K7SFV (-10). Acme’s radio can operate on 144-148 MHz only and cannot be remotely controlled. Acme uses the fire station’s Internet connection for connection to the Winlink Internet servers. Acme has backup power in case of a power failure.

  • The Bellingham Technical College (BTC) Winlink RMS is located at Bellingham Technical College in Bellingham. RMS is accessed with 1200 bps packet radio on 144.99 MHz using callsign KB7TEC (-10). BTC’s radio can operate on 144-148 or 440-450 MHz and can be remotely controlled. BTC uses BTC’s Internet connection for connection to the Winlink Internet servers. Backup power for BTC is to be determined.

  • The Lynden Winlink RMS is located at KF7VOL’s home. RMS is accessed with 1200 bps packet radio on 144.91 MHz using callsign KF7VOL (-10). Lynden’s radio can operate on 144-148 or 440-450 MHz and can be remotely controlled. Lynden uses HamWAN for connection to the Winlink Internet servers. Backup power for Lynden is to be determined.

  • The Whatcom County Search and Rescue (S&R) RMS is located at the Whatcom County Search and Rescue Building (Smith Road and Northwest Drive, Bellingham) between Bellingham and Ferndale. RMS is accessed with 1200 bps packet radio on 144.93 MHz using callsign W7ECG (-10). S&R’s radio can operate on 144-148 or 440-450 MHz and can be remotely controlled. S&R uses a dedicated function data communications system and cannot be remotely reconfigured. S&R uses HamWAN for connection to the Winlink Internet servers. Backup power for S&R is to be determined.

 

The above Winlink Radio Mail Servers are registered and viewable on the Winlink Live System Information RMS Map - Zoom into Whatcom County and select “Packet” at the top of the map. 

 

APRS digipeater / Internet Gateways:

  • The Ferndale APRS digipeater / Igate is located at Whatcom County Fire District 7 Station 46 (Church Road) using 1200 bps packet radio on 144.39 MHz using callsign W7JIM. Ferndale’s radio can operate on 144-148 MHz only and can be remotely controlled. Ferndale uses the fire station’s Internet connection to the APRS-IS servers. Ferndale has backup power in case of a power failure.

  • The Western Washington University (WWU) APRS digipeater / Igate is located at a WWU building in Bellingham using 1200 bps packet radio on 144.39 MHz using callsign W7WWU. WWU’s radio can operate on 144-148 or 440-450 MHz and can be remotely controlled. WWU uses WWU’s Internet connection to the APRS-IS servers. WWU has backup power in case of a power failure.

 

The above APRS digipeaters are are registered and viewable on aprs.fi (the link is zoomed into Whatcom County) and any APRS application that displays maps. 

 

Future Multi-Capability Data Communications Nodes

  • A node to be located on Lookout Mountain is currently in development. Like the above, it will be capable of being remotely reconfigured, and its radio will operate on 144-148 MHz or 440-450 MHz. Lookout’s primary operation will be a wide-area fldigi / fsq relay node. Other capabilities, Internet access (likely HamWAN) and backup power are to be determined.

 

Whatcom County Amateur Radio Microwave Networks

DG members are also active in expanding the use of Amateur Radio microwave high speed networks in Whatcom County. 

 

  • HamWAN is a point to multipoint network similar in architecture to Wireless Internet Service Providers. The Puget Sound Data Ring (PSDR) of HamWAN extends from Vancouver, WA to Victoria, BC. Users connect to HamWAN nodes on the Amateur Radio portion of the 5.9 GHz band at speeds between 3 and 10 Mbps. The primary HamWAN node serving Whatcom County is on the peak of Lookout Mountain, with excellent coverage of Whatcom and Skagit County. A number of DG members are connected to the Lookout HamWAN node.

    • To connect to HamWAN requires a clear line of sight between the HamWAN user antenna (dish) and the HamWAN node - trees block 5 GHz signals.

    • Instructions for putting together a HamWAN station are on the main HamWAN website. If you’d like help, or mentoring on connecting to HamWAN, ask for help on the DG email list.

  • Amateur Radio Emergency Digital Network (AREDN) is a self-organizing mesh network system that can be used similar to HamWAN (wide area network) or much like Wi-Fi (local area network) depending on the equipment used. AREDN operates on the Amateur Radio 2.3 GHz band just below the license-exempt 2.4 GHz band used for Wi-Fi. Two wide area AREDN nodes in Whatcom County are:

    • Whatcom County Search and Rescue building, 1041 W Smith Road, Bellingham WA 98226 (near the intersection of Smith Road and Northwest Drive) - small tower

    • MBARC King Mountain Repeater Site

    • In addition to the two wide area AREDN sites, any AREDN user node can automatically mesh with any other user node. If you are within range of another AREDN user, you may be able to connect. AREDN nodes can also connect via “Internet Tunneling” for experimentation with AREDN applications. If you’d like help to connect to one of the Whatcom County “AREDN tunnels”, ask for help on the DG email list.

    • Instructions for putting together an AREDN node are on the main AREDN website. If you’d like help, or mentoring on connecting to AREDN, ask for help on the DG email list.

 

Last updated 2021-09-20 de N8GNJ

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