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MoNWF - Musings of a radio amateur

Repeaters, gateways, hotspots and more!

Now, back in the day when the mentors of our hobby were young and SSB was the new kid on the block, at some point the VHF (and also UHF) repeater was born. All the books have a picture of a hill and usually two cars, one each side of the hill and it shows how the repeater enables the two cars to talk to each other.

Now back in the day this was considered ‘’not real radio’’ and the two cars should really have had a large Brass Morse key dating from the 1865 instigation of the second telegraph station in the outer reaches of the British Empire mounted on a large piece of Oak which actually formed one of the ribs of Nelson’s flagship ‘’Victory’’ and had been cut out of the rib by Samuel Morse himself connected to a valve transceiver whose manufacturer stopped manufacturing electronic equipment when the transistor was thought to be of no use and most houses didn’t even have a telephone.

Anyway, things move on and eventually the next generation of Amateurs who are usually very knowledgeable in SSB HF Antennas and other such fangled items but decry Digital Amateur Radio in much the same way that repeaters were decried back in the day and as they are no longer ‘’the expert’’ that all the young’uns look up to, it is not to be trusted and is all internet anyway (??!!??) so they think.

Well, in fact, repeaters are still very much on the scene, in fact I have heard that this year more applications for repeaters have been received by the ETCC than ever before. Now we have had lockdown but I believe the main reason we need more repeaters (and gateways) is the demise of the hill top location. Gone are the days when the local amateur fraternity all stuck £10 in a tin and took a couple of ex-taxi radios up a hill with a lead connecting them together, put up a big tower, and allowed the entire county and probably the next one to speak to each other. Nowadays the demand for such sites for phone masts and the plethora of other radio communications types is huge and prices and availability of such sites has put them out of reach of even the most monetarily affluent Radio Club or group of people.

So what happens now, well, technology comes to the rescue. Repeaters (and now Gateways) are largely at Amateurs’ homes. The site is free, the kit isn’t expensive, the application process is smooth and on line and easy and is made that way due to the hard work and dedication of the ETCC team who are of course Radio Amateurs. The only problem is that most Amateurs to not live on the top of Mount Snowdon. Hilltop properties are generally expensive and also may have planning issues which prevent 60ft towers being put up in the back garden. Put this together with unsympathetic life partners and basically priorities for cash in other ways, such as maybe food (?), and the chances of the average Amateur that actually wants to put something back and provide a repeater or gateway for the local Amateur community living in a suitable location are further reduced. So, back to technology, well if a number of repeaters and gateways can be linked easily and in a way that is readily understandable, then the ‘’big’’ repeater or ‘’network’’ is born. Step in North West Fusion Group. (We are not the only ones, this is starting to happen everywhere).

So now whole areas, counties, and even countries or the whole world can talk to each other by simply buying an appropriate radio and antenna. Enter the new age of Amateur Radio.

Now what happens in your area if no one has done this? No local gateway or repeater? Well enter the ‘’hotspot’’, a relatively cheap way of getting to talk to people in the various networks around the country and the world.

What if a few in the area want to join in? Now, hotspots cost between about £30 and £300 depending on what you want and how much work you are able and want to put in and who you want to talk to. Between you, this could run in to a few hundred pounds for hotspot each. I you all got together then this would easily finance a gateway and possibly even a home made digital repeater (despite what anti-digital guys tell you, you don’t have to buy the box, you can build a cheap digital repeater using a couple of old analog sets, still).

Now you will notice that so far in this blog with the exception of our group name, I have been careful to not bring the mode in to it. What I have described can be analog or digital, Fusion, DStar, DMR, or any other digital mode for that matter. In fact most hotspots can be used for most modes and even cross between them too. Now we are The North West Fusion Group and in our area (and most others) Fusion seems to be the fastest growing digital mode, probably as it is simple. Simple to understand, simple to use, and very like other amateur modes. DMR is still big but complicated and DStar, although popular in the US and other places, is lacking infra structure and even UK support with regards to the repeater lists etc that make it work properly, but if you have the money even DStar could be used if you really wanted to. DMR equipment is cheap but takes some getting to work properly for Amateur purposes.

So, you live in our area, or just outside it, but there is no gateway or repeater nearby, there are two or three of you with Fusion radios, so what do you do? Buy a hotspot each? Well maybe, it gives each of you flexibility, but, also, Yaesu used to produce a radio called the FTM100DE. The perfect Gateway radio, especially since the introduction of ‘’Portable HRi’’ mode. The cable was even in the box!! All you needed was the £300 to buy one plus a Windows PC and you have a gateway. A quick application on line and within a few days you get an NOV free of charge and your gateway can be used by all of you. Intermediate or full licencees can have a gateway NOV at the home address.

Recently, though, for various reasons, the FTM100DE is no longer in production. Yaesu will tell you that you now have to buy the FTM300 or FTM400, both of which are about £400 !!!! The FTM300 doesn’t even come with the cable!! There is another option though, a second hand FTM100? Well, yes, if you can find one, and if it works, good luck with that one!! Or, an FT2 !!!

FT2??????? But that is a handset?? Yes, and brand new they are still available for £279. Now they have issues a a handset and if you want a handy then the FT3 is probably a better buy, and you don’t get the cable either, but, £279 plus a cable and a Windows PC, and you have a cheap gateway. Not ideal but I know at least two FT2s used in this way and they seem pretty reliable. Probably a controversial suggestion, but lets have a reasonable discussion below.

Anyway, a video on setting up your own gateway will be coming soon on our YouTube channel.

‘’Put something back, put a gateway in your shack’’

Just to end, a big big big big Thank You to our Gateway and Repeater keepers, without you guys there would be no North West Fusion Group network. Think about this too before you complain about that gateway being in the wrong room.

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