Ten Mile Raspberry Pi WiFi (with a Catch)

How would you like to have a WiFi connection that covers 10 miles? Or how about an even wider network made up of a mesh of multiple nodes? It is possible, but there is a catch: you probably need a ham radio license to do it (at least, you do in the United States).

What makes it possible is the realization that conventional WiFi channels 1-6 are inside an existing US ham band. That means (if you are a ham) you can elect to use FCC part 97 rules instead of part 15 that governs WiFi routers. That means you can use more power and–even more importantly–better antennas to get greater range.

Traditionally, hams have used custom firmware for Netgear routers or Ubiquiti hardware. However, [WZ0W] recently posted his experience using Raspberry Pi boards as mesh nodes. The code (which also works with some other single board computers) is available on GitHub (with details on the project blog). [WZ0W] points out that, unlike using a consumer router, using a Pi provides a reasonably powerful computer for hosting services as well as hosting the network.

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You Can Learn a Lot from a Dummy (Load)

If you work on RF circuits–even if you aren’t a ham radio operator–you ought to have a dummy load. A dummy load is a non-radiative “antenna” with known impedance that you can use to test your RF circuit without radiating. For radio work, you usually just need a 50-ohm resistor that is non-inductive (at least at the frequencies you are interested in) and that can dissipate the amount of power you’ll expect it to handle (at least for a short time). [VO1PWF] wanted a dummy load and built his own.
CantennaThe Cantenna (not the Pringle’s kind; see left) was a famous dummy load design when Heathkit was in business. It was a single carbon rod immersed in a paint can full transformer oil (which we now know was full of dangerous PCBs; and we don’t mean printed circuit boards). [VO1PWF’s] design is a little more practical, using some resistors in parallel (20 1K resistors), a plastic pipe housing, and mineral oil to keep it all cool.

The reason for the parallel resistors is to maximize the power handling capability. The resistors are 3W units, so the dummy load–in theory–can handle 60 watts. Often, high power resistors are wire wound and thus have a good bit of parasitic inductance that makes the dummy load reactive (not a good thing since that makes the load impedance vary by frequency). They do make non-inductive wire wound resistors, but these aren’t truly non-inductive. The wire winds in two different directions, so the inductance tends to cancel out. We wouldn’t trust them to be a pure resistance in a high-power dummy load design.

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SDR Pan Adapter

Ham radio operators have a long history of using pan adapters to visualize an entire range of the radio spectrum. Traditionally, an adapter was essentially a spectrum analyzer that shows a trace where the X-axis is the frequency, and the Y-axis shows the signal strength at any particular frequency. You can quickly find either busy frequencies or empty frequencies at a glance.

Although the pan adapter has been around since the 1930’s, they aren’t as common as you’d think with regular analog radios. However, if you’ve used an SDR (Software Defined Radio), a spectrum display is par for the course. [Mehdi Asgari] did what a lot of hams have been doing lately: he married an SDR and his traditional receiver to provide a great pan adapter with very little effort.

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Bouncing Radio Off of Airplanes

Amateur radio operators are always trying some new stunt or other. It’s like they’ve got something to prove. Take Aircraft scatter for instance: the idea is to extend your radio’s range by bouncing it directionally off of overhead airplanes.

Radio signals travel in straight lines, which is a bummer because the Earth (despite what you’ve heard) is round. Inevitably, if you want to talk to someone far enough away, they’re over a hill. We’ve covered various oddball propagation methods recently, so if you don’t know about moonbounce, you’ve got some background reading to do. But airplane scatter was new to us.

Actually pulling it off requires knowing where the airplanes are, of course. To do so, you could simply look up the aircraft in your target area on the web, using something like FlightRadar24, but where’s the fun in that? There’s also the possibility of tracking local aircraft yourself using RTL-SDR if you’re feeling hard core.

The rest is just details. Hams [Rex Moncur (VK7MO)] and [David Smith (VK3HZ)], for instance, got 10 GHz signals to skip off airplanes over 842 km (PDF). If you’re an old-school ham operator, you’re double-checking the “gigahertz”, but it’s not a mistake. It’s tremendously impressive that these guys got a link over such a long distance using only 10 watts — but note that they’re doing it with highly directive dishes, and telescopes to aim them.

Not to discourage you from trying this at home, but there are all sorts of difficulties that you’ll encounter when you do. Airplanes moving perpendicular to the path between sender and receiver will Doppler-shift the signal, and there’s still quite a chunk of atmosphere to get the signal through. Finally, although airplanes look pretty big when they’re on the ground, they’re actually tiny when they’re up in the sky at 35,000 ft and 500 miles away; you’re bouncing your signal off of a small target.

The good news? People like [W3SZ] are sharing their well-documented results, and at least it’s 20dB easier than bouncing signals off the moon!

Thanks [Martin] for the tip!

Radio Receiver Build Log and More

At Hackaday, we like to see build logs, and over on Hackaday.io, you can find plenty of them. Sometimes, though, a builder really outdoes themselves with a lot of great detail on a project, and [N6QW’s] Simple-Ceiver project certainly falls into that category. The project logs document many different stages of completeness, and we linked the first one for you as a starting point, but you’ll definitely want to read up to the present. (There were 16 parts, some spanning multiple posts, last time we checked).

It is definitely worth the effort though. The project started out as a direct conversion receiver, but the design goes through and converts it into a superheterodyne receiver. Along the way, [N6QW] shares construction techniques, design advice, and even simulation plots (backed up with actual scope measurements). The local oscillator, of course, uses an Arduino and an AD9850 synthesizer.

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Polyakov Direct Digital Synthesis Receiver

Direct conversion receivers are popular among ham radio operators and others who build radios. Suppose you want to listen to a signal at 7.1 MHz. With a direct conversion receiver, you’d tune a local oscillator to 7.1 MHz, and mix it with the incoming signal. The resulting sum and differences of the input frequencies will include the audio of an AM signal on the desired frequency.

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RPiTX Turns Rasberry Pi into Versatile Radio Transmitter

Since the discovery that some USB TV tuner dongles could be used to monitor radio waves across a huge amount of spectrum, the software-defined radio world has exploded with interest. The one limiting factor, though, has been that the dongles can only receive signals; they can’t transmit them. [Evariste Okcestbon, F5OEO] (if that is his real name! Ok c’est bon = Ok this is good) has written some software that will get you transmitting using SDR with only a Raspberry Pi and a wire.

There have been projects in the past that use a Pi to broadcast radio (PiFM), but this new software (RPiTX) takes it a couple steps further. Using just an appropriately-sized wire connected to one of the GPIO pins, the Raspberry Pi is capable of broadcasting using FM, AM, SSB, SSTV, or FSQ signals. This greatly increases the potential of this simple computer-turned-transmitter and anyone should be able to get a lot of use out of it. In the video demo below the break, [Evariste] records a wireless doorbell signal and then re-transmits it using just the Rasbperry Pi.

The RPiTX code is available on GitHub if you want to try it out. And it should go without saying that you will most likely need an amateur radio license of some sort to use most of these features, depending on your locale. If you don’t have a ham radio license yet, you don’t need one to listen if you want to get started in the world of SDR. But a ham license isn’t hard to get and at this point it shouldn’t take much convincing for you to get transmitting.

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