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very so often, we find the need to set up a

relatively small radio-based data network.
This could be to provide coverage for a
smaller event like the local town picnic, or something (geographically) larger, like a fireworks display or 5k race.
Weve had the ability to do this on, say, 2 meters
since the 1980s using TNCs and AX.25 packet,
but that is far too slow for anything but the most
rudimentary of text-based messages. Transferring a 1-MB spreadsheet or photograph would
take hours at 1200 Baud. For greater data capacity, we can turn to Wi-Fi, also known by its IEEE
designation, 802.11 networking.

The 802.11 refers to the IEEE standard that
ensures everyone is using the same protocols and
methods, so things remain compatible. The first
popular version, known as 802.11a, operated at
up to 54 Mbit/sec on the 5-GHz band. Later common standards include 802.11b (11 Mb/s on 2.4
GHz), 802.11g (54 Mb/s on 2.4 GHz) and the current commercial standard, 802.11n (up to 150
MB/s on 2.4 and, optionally, 5 GHz). There are
newer standards that run much faster, but these
are not in the popular mainstream just yet.
Today, it takes some effort to buy anything other
than an 802.11n device, although these are backwards-compatible all the way to 802.11a. Also,
802.11n devices are said to have a slightly greater

range expectation about 820 feet line-of-sight



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To help in your understanding of our project this

month, be aware that there are several different
kinds of network devices you can get. Lets start
with wired networking devices: Most common is
the ROUTER, which serves as an interface between
two networks and directs data within each of those
two networks. This intelligently routes traffic to the
network and to the client (user) to whom the traffic is addressed. A typical use is for your home
network (LAN or Local Area Network) on one side
and the Internet (WAN or Wide Area Network) on
the other. All traffic on your home network stays
on the LAN, but if traffic for the Internet is seen,
the router automatically acts as a GATEWAY or
BRIDGE to the WAN (usually a cable or DSL modem
connecting to the Internet).
A bridge connects two networks, but does not
have any switch capabilities (see below). It is a
way to keep two networks separate, but allow them
to communicate with each other.
Similar to a router is a SWITCH, which routes traffic within a single network. A router can be thought
of as two switches with a bridge between them.
Like a router, a switch is intelligent, sending traffic only on the channel on which it knows the destination can be found. As an example, a switch is
like a series of old-time speaking tubes in your
home: You speak your message only down the
tube to the room with which you wish to communicate. This avoids having to use data channel
time for another devices data.






Then theres the HUB. A data hub somewhat difficult to
find these days is a little like a switch in that you can connect several devices together, but it has no intelligence: Every
station connected to the hub hears all the data traffic. This is
not very efficient, but what it lacks in efficiency is made up in
simplicity. Much like everyone being in the same room (or a
non-TARPN Packet Radio1 User Port), everyone hears
everything, but all that data means channel throughput is limited, and falls off rapidly as more stations are added.

Now lets add in the radio port Wi-Fi. Here we basically
have two devices: The ACCESSPOINT(often with bridge capabilities) and the REPEATER.
The access point (AP) is basically a hub on the radio side,
with a wired Ethernet port for connection to a switch. Your
wireless router has a built-in access point for Wi-Fi, along
with (usually) a multi-port wired (Ethernet) switch and a
router. Many APs also have bridging capability, which separates the RF and wired networks into two different networks,
sometimes a useful feature.
A repeater, also known as a range extender, is just that
it takes what it hears and retransmits it, allowing the RF signal a somewhat greater range. The disadvantage here is the
loss of bandwidth: All the data has to be sent twice, first by
the originating station, then again by the repeater. If data
speed or channel capacity is not an issue, this can be a reasonable choice.
Now lets take a look as some networking cases and how
we can handle them.

In the case where we have a small outdoor area say, a
200-foot diameter circle to cover, setting up a Wi-Fi network becomes trivial: Just place one router in the middle and




everyone can connect to Wi-Fi. You have a few wired ports

for the command center, and a WAN port on the router if you
need Internet connectivity. This is exactly like setting up your
home network. (Well talk about security in just a moment).

In the case where we have a larger area say, a half-mile
by quarter-mile area we have a few choices. The first, and
simplest, is to set up a router at one point to cover part of the
area, and one or more repeaters to extend to the rest of the
area. Sure, your data rates are limited, cut in half for every
repeater, but even with three repeaters you can still see well
over 1 Mb/s, which is usually plenty fast. Just beware of HTS
(Hidden Transmitter Syndrome) where repeater B transmits
and interferes with repeater As transmission because they
cannot hear each other this can drop throughput to zero,
so be careful.
The second, and almost as simple, option is to use a router
at one point, and one or more wired access points to cover
the rest of the area. This requires running a few hundred feet
or more of Ethernet cable, but 1,000 feet of cable can be had
for under $50. Category 6 Ethernet cable can easily go about
700 feet before an active device (such as a hub or switch) is
needed to re-form and boost the signal. If the situation supports running wires, this is the way to go for speed and cost.
Some devices have a feature called 0OWER OVER %THERNET
(PoE), and it is just what it sounds like: You inject DC power
onto the Ethernet cable, eliminating the need for a separate
power supply at the distant device.
The third, more complex (and costlier) solution is to use a
pair of access points as a wireless bridge between your two
(or more) local networks (which can also be wireless). This
can be thought of as a wireless Ethernet extension, but not
every AP has wireless bridge mode available. Note that this
backhaul link is not accessible to regular wireless users; its







only purpose is to transmit data between two or more points,

not to serve general users. You can have more than two stations on a single wireless bridge channel, but of course, this
cuts into the available bandwidth. In any case, this is where
we need to use high-gain antennas to get sufficient range
between wireless bridge stations.

A mile is about the upper limit for an 802.11 link. Wi-Fi sends
an acknowledgement (ACK) for each data packet, and expects
it within a certain time. If it doesnt get the ACK in time, it
assumes the packet was lost, and retransmits it. At distances
greater than about a mile, the speed of light is such that the
ACK wont be received in time to prevent a retransmit. Thus,
the link stops functioning. In such a case, we need to employ
some other kind of radio modem designed for longer distances.
Or, perhaps, a bunch of cellphones in Wi-Fi Hotspot mode,
sadly dependent on non-amateur infrastructure (and possibly
costing several tens of dollars in data fees).

Considering the three cases above, the first is trivial and the
last is troublesome at best, so well focus on the middle case:
Two thousand feet of coverage, using a wireless bridge to


span the distance between APs and provide a wide area of

Wi-Fi coverage.
For this setup example, I am going to use a pair of 5-GHz
long-range wireless access points such as these at Gridconnect <>. These $350-a-pair items
are a bit pricey but have external antenna capability, PoE,
and can span well over a mile out of the box. Of course, any
AP or router that has wireless bridge capability can be used,
and you surely can find something in your price and performance range.
The first step is to connect to the AP over Ethernet and configure it as a wireless bridge. If you dont know how to do this,
find and read the operating instructions, since different APs
have slightly different setup screens. Basically, you open a
web browser, type in the APs default IP Address (something like <>) as the web address (URL) to
connect to, and a simple web server in the AP displays the
setup screens as web pages. Your AP may have a default
password (which might be a blank) be absolutely sure to
change it.
To configure the wireless bridge channel, first select the
Wireless tab and under Basic settings set the Wireless Mode
to Bridge. Then select WDS settings and type in the MAC
addresses of the distant wireless bridge(s) in the Remote
AP MAC Address fields, as shown in &IGURE. You should


then set the other AP(s) the same way,

but using the other AP MAC addresses, so each station knows about all
the others. (Whats a MAC address?
Just a unique 12-character hardware
identifier, looking something like
00:19:70:00:f6:76. Youll find it on a
label on the device, and pre-filled as the
Local MAC address).
While youre in Setup, go through
each setting and pick whatevers necessary. Mostly the defaults are fine, but
some might enhance performance. For
example, Output Power is an obvious
choice, but Channel Mode (bandwidth)
is more subtle. Lower bandwidth
reduces speed, but also boosts noise
immunity and range. Take some time to
understand the myriad settings, do
some research, and pick intelligently
based on your desired outcome. Oh
yes, dont neglect security. More on that
in a moment.
Now we need to set up local user
access. Since the wireless bridge channel is on the 5-GHz band, and more
devices are compatible with the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band, it is best to operate
only on 2.4 GHz, in Wireless-G
(802.11g) mode. Configure all your
wireless routers the same (meaning
network SSID and password), but set
them to separate RF channels if they
can hear each other. There are 11
channels available in the U.S., but only
channels 1, 6, and 11 do not overlap,
so try to avoid interference. Every
device must have its own unique IP
address, so be sure to change the
defaults and keep track of which is
which in case you need to reconfigure
something wirelessly.
With the routers set up, connect them
with an Ethernet cable to a wireless
bridge, so they act as wireless access
points and switches. These should use
the standard antennas, which often
have an omnidirectional pattern, for
best coverage and convenience. What
you end up with is shown in &IGURE.
Please understand, however, that there
are other settings on the LAN and
Wireless side of the routers and wireless bridges that will need to be adjusted for everything to inter-operate. It is
not possible to cover every situation
here. But what Ive described are the
basics, which will get you very close.

The very first thing you absolutely must
do is set a unique and strong password
on every device, so only you (and trusted others) can get into the setup pages
of any device on your network. Some






devices use a default user name of

admin (which is OK) and a default password of either password or just a blank.
Fail to change this and you are just asking for trouble any kid with a cell phone
can shut you down in 12 seconds.
The next thing youll want to do is limit
access to your network. You only need
this for the user ports, since the wireless bridge ports are not accessible to
devices not listed in the MAC Address
table. If you are running under 802.11
rules basically, unmodified equipment then set up a shared key password and some level of encryption for
closed access. You may even want to
suppress the transmitting of the SSID,
making it harder for the casual user to
see your network. This is essentially
the same as what you should be doing
for a home network.
If you are running your network under
Part 97 perfectly legal for WiFi-G
Channels 1-6, as long as you follow the
rules then, well, follow the rules.
Setting the SSID to your callsign satisfies the station ID rule, but encryption
might be a gray area, entirely dependent upon the purpose of the encryption. Keep using a password for users
to connect, but simply switch encryption
off. The issue is that someone monitor-

ing the network not a trivial task

though can see the password being
sent unencrypted. So, passwords keep
the casual users out, but a determined
hacker can still get in.
As a second layer of access control,
we turn to MAC Address Filtering to
limit which wireless devices can successfully connect into the network.
Every device has a MAC address for the
Wi-Fi radio. It may be on a label, or you
might need to type in IPCONFIG into
a Command prompt window to find it.
Depends on the device. By setting up
MAC filtering, only the devices listed in
the table will be allowed to connect into
the network. Beware: MAC filter tables
can be either Include or Exclude, the
former granting permission to those
devices, the latter specifically prohibiting those devices. Dont ask how I
learned that one ...
If you change the antennas probably a good idea for the Wireless Bridge
if you expect to cover a distance of more
than a few hundred feet you may
again be operating under Part 97. Ask
the supplier about antennas that allow
you to operate under 802.11 rules, but if
you need to, use a high-gain Yagi or dish
antenna. The wireless bridge has a 16dBi antenna, but an antenna like that


shown in &IGURE  can dramatically

increase range. Just remember, 2.4 and
5 GHz are line-of-sight frequencies, so
if you cant see the other antenna (even
through trees), you may have difficulties.



In most cases you will have electrical
power for your network, but there will be
occasions where AC mains power simply is not available or convenient. In
these cases, first know that most Wi-Fi
equipment runs off 12 volts DC. This
means a deep-cycle marine or gel-cell
battery can operate the network for
hours or days. Second, a DC-to-AC
power inverter can be your friend. A
small 150-watt inverter was recently
found at RadioShack on sale for $24.
This can power a laptop and network
device (that needs other-than-12
volts) when connected to a 12-volt battery, often for quite a long time.

Finally, when operating on microwave
bands at nearly a watt with high-gain
antennas, consider what that energy
might do to a person, and make a good
effort to keep RF away from people. Put
your wireless bridge antennas up high,
on a pole, so nobody can touch them.
Fence off the area to prevent someone
from knocking down your pole, or somehow getting near to it. And, of course,
any time you are using mains AC voltage (even from an inverter), take pains
to avoid a shock hazard.
In conclusion, now we know about the
many networking devices we might use
to deliver high-speed data access by
radio for several users. Wi-Fi is really
only useful for about as far as you can
shout, but with some tricks, we can
extend that range to about as far as 10
people can shout, if the night is quiet.
Weve used portable FM radios for so
many years, and they are still a great
way to communicate, but sometimes
the event calls for data. Theres nothing
as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi OK, maybe
cell phones beat that but Wi-Fi is a
great choice for interoperability and
convenience. You can even set up your
own web server on your network, or provide Internet access if thats necessary.
No matter what, I hope this gets you
thinking about a use for all this technology. Now go do it!
1. For more information on TARPN,
see previous "Digital Connection" column in July 2015 #1, pages 82-85.

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RF Transformers
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HF Power



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