Implementing Phase 2

Brad VE7WBM and I VE7KPZ had great fun this last Sunday implementing phase 2 of the NORAC WiresX node project. Big thanks to our families for understanding our determination to get this setup all sorted out.

In this phase of the project we moved the VE7EGO WiresX node to it's permanent location at Brad's QTH and switched it to run in digital mode, so we can now leverage the full feature set of WiresX.

Around noon on Sunday February 4, 2018, I drove out to Aaren VA7AEJ's QTH and picked up the club's HRI-200 along with a computer, monitor, power bar, keyboard and mouse that Aaren was donating to the club for this project. Thanks Aaren for this very generous donation.

I also loaded up a really nice 12 volt power supply that David VE7SZ had donated for the project. Thanks David for this essential item.

Finally, I loaded up the club's analog radio that was utilized in phase 1 of the project. Not sure what we'll do with the Kenwood D700 next, but for now, it'll be stored at my QTH.

Then, over to Brad's house, where the newly acquired club FTM-100DR node radio was waiting along with a wall-mount antenna base, a bit of antenna cable, some UHF cable ends and 1/4 wave VHF whip that Brad had acquired for the project. We also had proper crimping tools that Brad and I had borrowed for the weekend from Interior Communications. While not an official club sponsor, these guys do help Brad and I out a lot. Thanks, eh!

Next was the setup of the antenna. The official plan is to run the WiresX node in digital via the VE7EGO VHF repeater on 147.380+. So, we setup the base in the location we thought would be ideal for Brad's QTH, installed radials and then mounted a 1/4 wave VHF whip. My RigExpert AA-230 Zoom antenna analyzer indicated we needed to get the resonant frequency a little higher, so we pulled the little ball off the end of the antenna whip. With that length reduction, we had a perfect tune for 147.980 MHz transmit. Further testing with the actual node radio and my Surecom SW-102 frequency/power/SWR meter showed a VSWR of 1.1 for the VHF transmit.

Now, until we get back up to the VE7EGO repeater site on the Commonage, we can't actually use this WiresX node in digital with the VHF repeater. The VHF repeater is currently set to fixed analog. So, to run the node in digital we need a digital repeater, Brad and I decided to hook it up temporarily to the VE7EGO UHF repeater which is running in Auto mode.

Auto mode is actually kinda neat, because it can be used for 3 things:

1. an analog voice repeater
2. a digital voice repeater (if WiresX is not linked to a room)
3. a digital voice repeater with WiresX linking

Many of you reading this will already know about the antenna trick Brad and I employed next. It was actually the antenna selection that was the trick. A 1/4 wave VHF antenna whip works well for VHF but also acceptably well for UHF. The simple short piece of steel is actually a nice dual-band antenna. Thanks Terry VE7TRZ for sharing that info with us. The result is that we're seeing a VSWR of 1.55 on UHF transmit at 447.500, the input frequency of the VE7EGO UHF repeater. While not ideal for long-term high-power use, we're only running the node radio on the lowest power setting. In extensive UHF testing, the fan on the radio never even had to turn on.

So, next we drilled yet another hole into Brad's QTH's wall, fed the antenna cable through, installed the cable ends, tested the cable to ensure continuity/no shorts and hooked up the radio. The beefy DC power supply that David donated easily powered the radio (which was to be used on Low transmit power) at a constant 13.7 volts.

For network connectivity we cooked up a CAT-5 network cable to get from Brad's router to the node computer (with cable color and routing approval from Brad's YL). Brad's son Byron assisted with the colorful T568B-coded RJ45 end installations.

Fortunately Aaren already knew Brad's LAN topology so the computer was already setup with a static IP address that would integrate nicely into Brad's LAN. I poked some holes in Brad's internet firewall for port forwarding and networking was sorted.

Phyiscally, everything went into the corner of Brad's dining room.

Aaren had already done a lot of WiresX node config... but as we were going digital and changing frequencies, there were a couple of settings to be tweaked. In addition to the frequency changes, we also removed the room auto-add, set lat/lon coordinates for the node (referencing the repeater site and NOT Brad's QTH) and added a nice description for the node including contact info (the NORAC website URL).

Then we went to work testing. Rick VA7EM was nice enough to lend us his private node for a thorough test. We linked his node into an empty room and then linked the VE7EGO node into the same room. Brad worked via Rick's node on VHF while I worked via VE7EGO on UHF. No trouble with levels as both nodes are digital.

Rick then came on and commented about my FT-70DR's audio levels. I like to talk close to the mic and loudly. With a quick adjustment of the mic gain (from level 5 down to level 3) this was sorted as well. Thanks Rick for all of your input and the use of your node.

Finally we put Rick's private node back as we had found it and also removed VE7EGO from the room we were using for testing.

Observations from the testing included:

a. audio levels all good
b. digital IDs all good
c. node radio VSWR good (even on temporary UHF)
d. analog voice traffic through VE7EGO UHF can coexist with digital traffic and WiresX digital traffic
e. to control the VE7EGO WiresX node it may take more than one attempt to gain control (we believe this is due to the Auto mode setting on the repeater, but a small price to pay for having the repeater still work for analog traffic in addition to digital traffic) | update at 20180207: Mike VE7AM reports no issues controlling the node via his FTM-100DR, so maybe it's just that VE7KPZ's house is in a tough spot RF-wise
f. no analog voice traffic/repeater CW id makes it into the WiresX room

How To Work Via The New WiresX Digital Node

So, many will now want to know: how does one use the new club node?

1. Get a Yaesu FT2DR, FTM-400XDR, FTM-100DR, FT-70DR, FT-991A (or a FTM-3200DR after we get this node moved over to VHF).
2. Update your radio to the latest firmware possible.
3. Tune to VE7EGO's UHF repeater frequency of 442.500+ and set your radio's mode to DN.
4. Listen for a bit and review your radio's display to see what room the node is connected to.
5. If not connected to any room, send the command from your radio to control the node and then select a room/enter a room number (every radio is different - please consult your radio's WiresX manual) to connect.
6. Have your QSO/enjoy your net.
7. Disconnect the node from the room. For the testing period, let's keep the default status of this node as disconnected (disconnect key may be the * or Band key on your transceiver, but again, please consult your radio's WiresX manual).

WiresX, while really just being kindof the same as IRLP, adds a couple of great features that IRLP does not have:

a. Your radio display will show you what room you are currently connected to.
b. Your radio display will show you what node you are working through.
c. Your radio display will show you the callsign of the person speaking.
d. On some radios, your radio display will show you the distance between you and the person speaking as well as their general direction from your location.

When HF propagation is poor, give WiresX a go. The guests that I have heard (and seen as my radio is displaying their callsigns) in the Canada room are quite varied.

If your radio doesn't give you a list of rooms and instead wants a 5-digit room number, you can find a list of rooms (and the number of nodes connected to each room) at Yaesu's Active Room site. The "Canada room" is officially named CQ-CANADA-VE1AO with number 40678.

Mike VE7KPZ with Brad VE7WBM