Ham Radio and Mesh Networks

Lately I’ve been fascinated by the capabilities of mesh networks. The ability to quickly create ad-hock computer networks could be an invaluable resource for amateur radio operators in general and particularly for emergency communications (EMCOM)

Linksys WRT54GL Router

The particular device and software I have been experimenting with is the Linksys WRT54G router and HSMM-MESH firmware from http://hsmm-mesh.org/.

Installing the HSMM-MESH firmware changes the way the Linksys router functions and allows it to automatically connect to other HSMM routers in a mesh network. No special configuration is required after setting your callsign. All TCP/IP configuration is pre-configured, even down to automatically assigning addresses to connecting clients.

Mesh Network Diagram

Mesh networks are highly fault tolerant. Every router in the network is aware of every other router and has the ability to move network packets through from one unit to another provided there is a link, or chain of linked routers, between them.
In the diagram to the right each router is represented by a numbered circle. If router number 6 were to fail then network packets that needed to move between router 1 and 7 would travel through routers 2 & 3 or 5 & 10 until 6 was repaired. All this happens automatically and quickly enough so that there is no disruption to the traffic.

Anything you can access on a normal computer network can be made to work on a mesh network. Some of the services that have been demonstrated include email, voice over IP (VOIP), video conferencing, file sharing, web servers & groupware applications.

With simple modified antennas the modest output power from the WRT54G (100 to 200mW) can be used to reach distances of many miles or tens of miles with directional antennas. Mounting the router on a mast in a sealed enclosure can reduce losses from long cable runs while running off 12V power makes them compatible with ham radio power sources including solar and wind power.

The example to the left is from NG5V located on hsmm-mesh.org and consists of an omni-directional external antenna and a lawn sprinkler controller box from a popular home improvement store.

Did you know that … Frequencies used by channels one through six of 802.11b and 802.11g fall within the 2.4 GHz amateur radio band. Licensed amateur radio operators may operate 802.11b/g devices under Part 97 of the FCC Rules and Regulations, allowing increased power output but not commercial content or encryption.

I hope to acquire a few more WRT54G routers and put together a mesh network in the Katy TX area as a resource for experimentation and education in an area not normally touched upon by regular amateur radio operators. Who knows what the future holds & it behooves us to investigate this technology and bend it to our own needs.

The Amateur is Progressive … He keeps his station abreast of science. It is well built and efficient. His operating practice is above reproach.

Owen Morgan, KF5CZO, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Texas, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

13 Responses to “Ham Radio and Mesh Networks”

  • Cai Maver, W6CAI:

    Thanks for sharing this information about WiFi mesh networking; it’s been quite some time since I last looked in to it and it looks like the technology has matured a lot. I’ve also been experimenting with 802.15.4 Zigbee mesh networks; they’re much lower speed and power than 802.11, but they’re great for telemetry and work in the same 2.4 GHz spectrum. I’m playing with using the APRS or OpenTrac standards so that the data can be exchanged easily in a familiar format.

    It would be interesting if the WiFi mesh network could operate as another APRS option for hams who carry cell phones with wifi more often than they carry APRS HTs.

  • Jeff KK4ETK:

    I’ve been playing around a lot with zigbee also. There are folks getting ranges measured in miles (though I myself have only been able to get 90-100 meters out of my little cheap radios). You see zigbee extenders out there that go into the 10-20 miles or more range.

    A big advantage to the small $35.00 devices from Digi is how little juice it requires to run them and how they can sleep/wake allowing very low power consumption.

    Thank you for posting this. Love seeing work done on mesh networks. 🙂

  • Daniel Lindsley N5AGG:

    I have been trying to obtain at least 2 of these older routers by bugging all my friends. 🙂

  • Tom Upton ad6n:

    Pls add me to future discussions. Location 119w 36n in Tulare County Calif. Working with Bryce Lane ac6w to produce MESH for ARES. If possible will learn much from you folks. 73 Tom

  • wa0bix:

    Although I am not involved in the “MESH” program, I have found several routers (WRT54G ver. 1-4) at the local Goodwill stores in my area. I have supplied them to a HAM buddie of mine who is experimenting with the MESH program. They usually run less than $10.00 per unit.

  • Keith KB3TCB:

    ARES and RACES are interested in Amateur Radio networks.

    Is your group planning any work with the MESH concept?

    Take a look at the link below and let me know if you might be interested.
    http://www.remoteamateur.com/

    The presentation is
    http://www.remoteamateur.com/Mesh%20Introduction.pdf

    I am also looking for repeater trusties that might consider supporting
    a Mesh node.

    Keith KB3TCB

  • Mike Kitchen:

    I’m not yet started but am looking forward to setting up a mesh connecting to my son. Hopefully I can get this done as he lives 10 or 12 miles away so I’m hoping this is possible. I think this will be a fun little project.

  • Phil Shaver KJ6GQW:

    Just waking up to the great Emergency Comm possibilities of this.It seems you have first class operation. Very impressed.

  • Bryan Kaufman KK4CAP:

    Has anyone thought to expand the boot sector of the WRT54G machines by loading from a network attached linux storage device (like a Western Digital World Book)? Seems like it should be possible to assign memory addresses outside the hardware limitation.

  • Bryan Kaufman KK4CAP:

    Is there any software to be able to use the Linksys WRT1200AC?

  • Dan Boardman NB1C:

    Have you seen the GoTenna and soon to be mesh gotenna?

    https://techcrunch.com/2016/09/28/gotenna-mesh-keeps-people-connected-even-when-theyre-miles-apart-and-off-grid/

    wonder if the inventor is a ham??

    Dan

  • A.Tahir DENGIZ TA2T:

    İs there anybody who used Linksys WRT 54G Ver7

    I wait an answer to my e-mail, thanks
    TA2T Tahir

  • KS4YP steve rossi:

    I cant connect to my Linksys 54g router after I flashed it. Tried several IP addresses, I even did the ipconfig/all any help would be greatful

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