Background and “Frequently Asked Questions”.
- Local Area Network (LAN): A wired network connection between two or more devices (computers, routers), typically in the same building.
- Wireless LAN (WLAN): A wireless network connection allowing wireless devices (computers, smartphones, smart tvs) to be connected to a LAN.
- Wide Area Network (WAN): A wired network connection connecting multiple LANs together.
- Wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN): A wireless network conecction that joins two or more LANs and/or WANs together.
- Wireless ISP (WISP): A wireless ISP (internet service provider) connects residential and business customers to the Internet using Wireless links. Sometimes called “Fixed Wireless ISP” to differentiate from Cellular or Satellite Internet Providers.
- Virtual Private Network (VPN): A secure, private network that exists virtually over top of other networks.
Here’s some background information. Bedford County has a “broadband initiative” to establish a Wireless ISP, providing Internet Access to underserved areas within Bedford County. Bedford County has conctracted with Crows Nest to provide this service, and it should be rolling out in the beginning of 2021. This effort will result in a an 18ghz network link between the Bedford County Courthouse building, Kinton Knob, Martin Hill, Breezewood, and Clearville tower sites, as well as providing Wireless Internet Access BCARS provides emergency, backup and auxiliary communication for Bedford County emergency services from several of these locations (courthouse, Kinton Knob, and Martin Hill). An agreement has been reached to extend network and Internet connectivity to each of these sites in order to increase the capabilities of the auxiliary communications for Bedford County.
That’s the background information, here are the FAQs:
Q: What will this allow BCARS to do?
A: This provides the capability to access each site remotely, adjust settings on the repeaters, link audio from repeaters to each other on demand, use internet linking capabilities such as EchoLink or Allstarlink, join the W3WAN Wide Area Network Repeater system, and even setup monitoring such as webcam or temperature.
Q: Will BCARS be able to integrate our new 6m repeater controller into that datalink mesh for repeater wireless control?
A: Yes. In fact, the 6M repeater will be our first connected repeater. Since it is still being built, we can build that capability in from the start.
Q: Do we need notify MultiComm now (Vice later) to ensure the 6m repeater controller they setup now has a port/expansion for that future GHz datalink?
A: Yes, this is in the works.
Q: Will BCARS be able to sit in EOC at courthouse and adjust our repeaters over new wifi/wireless GHz data links?
A: The 6M repeater will be the first repeater with this capability, then we will make changes to other repeaters as we go to enable remote control of those. Keep in mind that we won’t be able to change frequencies remotely, as doing so will require re-tuning our duplexers. But most other settings can be changed.
Q: Can we control our repeaters fom other BCARS remote locations?
A: Technically yes. We will have connectivity to all sites at both tower sites and the EOC. However, it would require a laptop pre-loaded with software and documentation. Additionally, there will be the ability to connect to BCARS VPN from the public Internet. This will allow members to monitor and update repeaters/other BCARS equipment from their home or while traveling.
Q: How do we protect such repeater controller GHz access (password, etc?)?
A: There would be passwords to access the control software. VPN access will be provided on an “as needed” basis.
Q: What other equipment is required from BCARS at MH/KK repeater site to connect existing repeater controllers to new GHz data link? Raspberry Pi(s) ?? Just cables? I/O device?
A: A network router at each site to maintain connectivity. For each repeater, we will need a computer and an adapter. The adapter we will be using on the 6M repeater and most likely the rest is the “Repeater Build USB-RIM (Radio Interface Module). They also have a Lite version for $50. A single computer such as a raspberry Pi can control multiple repeaters. However, as each Raspberry Pi is under $50, we are looking to set up one dedicated Pi for each computer.
Q: What does connecting an Allstar enabled Raspberry Pi and RIM to our repeaters do?
A: A repeater is two radios connected through a controller. The Pi + RIM combo actually replaces the hardware repeater controller. Once in place, the Allstar software takes over controller functions such as CTCSS, repeater hang-time, repeater ID, and DTMF codes. It then provides the ability to link audio between repeaters, enable EchoLink. It provides a web page showing repeater usage stats, as well as the ability to update these settings remotely.
Q: How do we cross-link repeaters? Say uplink 6m to our 2m on MH (146.790) for improved connectivity with BCARS members doing future Spotter reporting in severe weather….or if ARES is activated in support of a future potential train derailment in Hyndman or hypothetical mass casualties in Saxton area?
A: Each Allstar enabled repeater will have a “node number”. By using a radio with DTMF capabilities, a user will be able to “dial” up any and all BCARS repeaters on demand. This means that we can dynamically link any combination of repeaters we decide is necessary. You can also use the DTMF codes to disconnect repeaters.
Q: How does BCARS also add EchoLink into the integrated wifi/wireless repeater controller mesh net ??
A: As each repeater is setup with Allstar capabilities, that provides EchoLink as well.
Q: Can we add D-Star/DMR/Yaesu Fusion or other digital modes to the repeaters
A: Pi-Star can setup a repeater for digital modes, but research will be needed to see if we can both provide digital modes and connect to Allstar. It may be an either or scenario.
Q: How do we integrate APRS into this future GHz mesh net of linked repeater controllers ?? Do we BCARS need spend/install one of our APRS transmitters into placed at Martin Hill?
A: The sites will now have Internet capability, meaning we can setup APRS as an “I-GATE”, passing APRS traffic to and from the Internet. BCARS should look into getting APRS at Martin Hill. Since regular APRS RF-Only “digipeater” coverage is widely available, our “I-GATES” only need minimal antenna to relay between RF and Internet.
Q: What other wifi/wireless current 3/4G (to future 5G) coverage improvement to BCARS access across Bedford county will occur as a result of BB initiative and coverage changes between initial 4 towers by CROWSNEST? Also what will happen to existing local Internet providers like Centurylink, Frontier, Verizon, ATT as a result of coverage improvements by CROWSNEST?
A: It will have no direct impact, but CROWSNEST will provide competition, which could incentitive the existing entrenched providers to either increase or improve their service. Frontier/Centurylink are telco providers regulated by PA’s Public Utilities Commission. Comcast/Xfinity is a cable provider, operating as a local monopoly, and they negotiate service levels with individual townships and also at the county level. Occasionally it’s proposed that cable internet providers be regulated like a utility, but lobbyists have blocked these actions.
In some localities that have attempted to roll their own broadband (typically via WISP), the local cable Intenet provider typically fights the local government in court in order to maintain a monopoly. This has not happened in Bedford County (yet). The argument from the cable provider’s side is that they invested in infrastructure with the expectation that they would have an exclusive market from which to recoup their expenses. The argument from the incoming provider is that they can provide better service at lower cost. In towns that have presevered, the competition has ended up forcing the entrenched providers to improve their service in order to keep customers.