AREDN Mesh Data Network
In late 2019, RATS installed a 3-sector, 5 GHz AREDN mesh node at our repeater site in Chesterfield County. At the time, several other AREDN nodes were operating from sites in downtown Richmond, northwestern Hanover, and eastern Henrico County. This network made possible, for the first time in our area, the long-distance transport of data over amateur frequencies at broadband speeds with low latency. Testing from a privately-owned AREDN node south of Manchester, ping latency to the node in Beaverdam was frequently under 10 milliseconds round-trip.
For a variety of reasons, the RATS AREDN project stalled between 2020 and 2022. Many of the previous nodes are now offline, but the main 3-sector site in Chesterfield County remains on the air and ready for other nodes to link up.
The Chesterfield node is situated 200 feet up the tower and represents a tremendous asset to the amateur community, waiting to be utilized. The club looks forward to partnering with hams throughout the region to resume building out this capability beginning in 2023.
What is AREDN?
From the AREDN project web site:
In today’s high-tech society people have become accustomed to different ways of handling their communication needs. The preferred methods involve short messaging and keyboard-to-keyboard communication, along with audio-video communication using Voice over IP (VoIP) and streaming technologies.
The amateur radio community is able to meet these high-bandwidth digital communication requirements by using FCC Part 97 amateur radio frequency bands to send digital data between devices which are linked with each other to form a self-healing, fault-tolerant data network. Some have described this as an amateur radio version of the Internet. Although it is not intended for connecting people to the Internet, an AREDN® mesh network will provide typical Internet or intranet-type applications to people who need to communicate across a wide area during an emergency or community event.
To connect to the AREDN network, a supported WiFi router or access point is reflashed with custom AREDN firmware and then aimed at another nearby node. AREDN nodes will automagically recognize each other and link up when in range. The AREDN firmware handles the routing of traffic to other nodes and services within the accessible portion of the network.
Since it uses Internet-standard protocols, a wide variety of familiar applications and services can be provided within the mesh.
Until AREDN came along, "data" over ham radio meant the sluggish transport of short messages and sometimes very small files using technologies such as packet radio or any number of sound card digital modes.
With AREDN, broadband speeds enable real-time video conferencing, VoIP telephony, web and e-mail services, file sharing, video streaming, and much more.
Our AREDN mesh system operates as a Part 97 network and use of encrypted protocols is generally prohibited. A long term goal is to have various services hosted within the mesh, but certain external (Internet-based) resources can be reached through specially-configured gateways. In many instances, proxies or other workarounds will be necessary to permit non-SSL (un-encrypted) access to normally secured services such as most web sites. General-purpose Internet access is outside the scope and spirit of the AREDN network and the amateur service, so RATS WAN gateways will not normally provide this functionality.
Join the Mesh
If you are within range of our Chesterfield site, all you need to do is install the AREDN firmware on some supported hardware and then aim it at our tower behind Chesterfield Town Center. There is plenty of great documentation on the AREDN web site and the RATS Technical Committee may also be able to assist.
Grow the Mesh
If you are able to contribute vertical resources to the mesh backbone, we want to talk to you! We're looking for locations to install 5.8/2.4 GHz AREDN equipment to expand the backbone and local service footprint throughout the metro Richmond area. If you've got a tower at home or have a good lead on a facility that may be able to host a node, please contact the Technical Committee!
About the RATS Chesterfield Node
The RATS Chesterfield AREDN node consists of three Ubiqiti Rocket M5 data radios, each connected to Airmax 120-degree sector antennas. The data radios and antennas are 200 feet up the WCVE-TV tower and are connected to the RATS repeater rack via Ubiquiti ToughCableCARRIER CAT6. Like the RATS repeaters, the mesh equipment is served by emergency power.
Above: Coverage projection for the W4RAT Chesterfield AREDN node, produced using the Ubiquiti ISP Design Center. Note that connectivity at 5.8 GHz is highly dependent on unobstructed line-of-sight and will require use of towers or other tall structures in the orange and yellow areas. [Zoom to City view]