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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. The DG also supports Amateur Radio microwave networking such as HamWAN and ARDEN.

You do not have to be a licensed Amateur Radio Operator to participate in (non-radio) DG activities (though, if you do have an Amateur Radio license, it's a lot more fun.) If you're curious about Amateur Radio, especially data communications over Amateur Radio, join the DG mailing list, introduce yourself, and ask questions.

The Digital Group has a dedicated callsign for its activities - KD7VDN.


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 


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. See this page for membership join / renewal forms and other information.


DG Meetings

The DG meets on the third Tuesday of each month, beginning at 18:30 Pacific via Zoom videoconference. The link for the Zoom videoconference is published on the DG’s email list (see below). You do not have to be a member of the DG to attend DG meetings.

Prior to COVID-19, the DG met at the the Ferndale, WA library in the Meeting Room on the third Tuesday of each month, beginning at 18:30 Pacific. We hope to do so again, eventually.


DG Email Discussion List

The Digital Group uses Groups.io for its email discussion list - digital@mbarc.groups.io. To join the list, click here. or send a blank email (no subject or body required) to:
digital+subscribe@mbarc.groups.io

You do not have to be a member of the DG to join to the DG email list.

Requests to join the DG email list are moderated to attempt to minimize spammers and spamming.

Prior to 2022, the DG used Google Groups for its email list - https://groups.google.com/g/nwwdigi. That list is being maintained as "read only" until its valuable information can be archived.


DG Page on Facebook

If you're a Facebook user, search for @mbarcdigital and Like the page to be notified of new information posted there. (We will make more of an effort to keep the DG Facebook page updated in 2022.)


Informal DG Voice Repeaters

Some DG members monitor these Whatcom County FM voice repeaters:

  • K7SKW / 146.740 MHz - input -600 kHz (146.140 MHz) using a subaudible (CTCSS) tone of 103.5 Hz. K7SKW / 146.740 is located on Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island and offers wide coverage. This repeater is referred to locally as "Connie V" (Mt. Constitution VHF).
  • N7JN / 224.480 MHz - input -1.6 MHz (222.880 MHz) using a subaudible (CTCSS) tone of 103.5 Hz. N7JN / 224.480 is located on Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island and offers wide coverage.
  • W7ECG / 442.825 MHz - input + 5 MHz (447.825 MHz) using a subaudible (CTCSS) tone of 156.7 Hz. N7JN is located at the Church Road fire station in Ferndale. This repeater is referred to locally as "Church" (the street address is Church Road). Note that there is a second UHF repeater at this site operating as Digital Mobile Radio (DMR).

Amateur Radio Data Communications in Whatcom County, Washington

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.

The DG gathers on the air in two casual chats (not a structured "net") using the Fsq mode each week:

  • Sunday 09:00 - 10:00 Pacific on 145.580 simplex. Some participants are on the air as early as 08:30. Using simplex, it's recommended to use highest power available for maximum interoperability with other fsq users. Most participants are in the Bellingham / Ferndale area.
  • Wednesday 20:00 - 21:00 Pacific on the MBARC-owned K7SKW / 146.740 repeater (input is -600 kHz - 146.140, subaudible tone is 103.5 Hz). K7SKW / 146.740 is located on Mt. Constitution (2350') on Orcas Island and has excellent coverage including lower British Columbia, the San Juan Islands, Whatcom and Skagit counties, and some coverage South into Snohomish and King County. The repeater can be accessed even by low-powered stations such as portable radios.

DG members Budd Churchward WB7FHC and Chris Doutre KC9AD wrote an excellent primer on "Whatcom County" Fsq operations - fsqNotes.pdf.

APRS - There is considerable Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) activity in Whatcom County. aprs.fi (the link is zoomed into Whatcom County) is the best map of APRS activity on the web. More about APRS here and here.

  • 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.

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. More about Winlink here.

  • 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 APRS and Winlink nodes listed above are, collectively Multipurpose Remote Nodes (MRNs). These nodes are unique that they can be remotely (or automatically) reconfigured from their primary service when needed.

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.

Read the paper that was presented at the 2021 TAPR Digital Communications Conference by Andy Sayler KF7VOL and Steve Stroh N8GNJ:
TAPR DCC 2021 - Multipurpose Remote Nodes.pdf

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. In Whatcom County, all AREDN nodes (to date) operate 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.


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, Fsq chat mode, and use of Winlink. 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.


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. This is a standalone system based on a Raspberry Pi and does not require a host computer such as a Windows PC, Mac, or Linux PC - only screen, keyboard, mouse, etc. (though it can be operated "headless" via remote access). One of the best features about the Nexus DR-X is that DG member Steve Magnuson AG7GN maintains a tightly-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, Winlink, and even slow scan television. 

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.


Equipment Suggestions

The most commonly used "data interface" for Amateur Radio in use in Whatcom County is the Nexus DR-X (see above). 

The most commonly used VHF / UHF Amateur Radio in use in Whatcom County is the Kenwood TM-V71A. This article explains the features that make the TM-V71A ideal for Amateur Radio data communications. The TM-V71A is out of production, but (as of this update in early 2022) they can still sometimes be found new at various dealers. The Yaesu FTM-6000R seems to be a good data radio on par with the TM-V71A, but does not have the TM-V71A's ability for remote control of frequency and other settings.


Last updated 2022-01-26 de N8GNJ