I’ve learned a couple of things about running an Allstar node. Nothing too earth-shaking.
1. The mobile radio hanging off the node computer can spend a LOT of time transmitting. Typically a non-commercial ham radio is not rated for this sort of duty-cycle. But I’m hoping that having the power set to the lowest setting (5w) will make a difference.
2. I’ve been experiencing a high number of dropped cellular calls. I don’t know for sure, but it seemed that most of the dropped calls happened while sitting 3ft from my node antenna. And these dropped calls probably happened while the node was transmitting. It is for this reason, as well as general RF safety that I decided to relocate my node to the garage (see pictures).
3. Technically I’m supposed to be monitoring the node at all times and have the ability to turn it off if need be. That is part of the definition of a “control operator”, which every ham station must have. However when someone is using my node, they are transmitting and my node is not. When my node is receiving RF it is sending VoIP out over the net, but it would be the repeater or node on the other end of the connection that would be transmitting. And for that I would not be responsible to the FCC. The repeater or node-owner on the other end would. My node would only be transmitting what gets received from the repeater or node that is on the other end of the VoIP connection. Of course the repeater or node-owner on the other end may block me (and be justified in doing so) if someone on my end is abusing my node.
As part of the move out to the garage I set up a spare router that runs the Tomato open-source firmware to act as a wireless bridge. It connects to the wireless router in the house via WiFi signal and connects to this PC via ethernet. It’s not that different than having a wireless card in the PC, except that this PC runs an ancient version of CentOS Linux that probably has really iffy support for wireless cards. With the bridge it only needs to support the on-board ethernet.
Check out these three links:
Allstar getting started info: https://allstarlink.org/getstarted.html
The Allstar folks are the ones who offer the ACID Linux distribution which has all the software you need to run a node. Much of it is preconfigured. It’s essentially CentOS 5.11.
So, buy the URI and the right cable for your radio. Download ACID Linux and install it on an old PC. And hook up the radio. Then configure and adjust the audio tuning in the software.
Most all the configuration can be handled via the Allstar portal. You set the configuration there and and it actually pushes it onto your computer. You do need to setup port forwarding on your router for this to work.
If you wish to enable Echolink, you need to forward those ports as well. This software will do Echolink with very little extra effort. But you will want to change your callsign to have the -L suffix and switch it over to “sysop” mode.
Because of a recent VHF/UHF radio purchase, I ended up with a “spare” dual-band radio. And, I’ve been having some fun lately monitoring the WIN System on a local repeater (that is connected via IRLP). So I figured I might try my hand at setting up an IRLP simplex node. I’ve had some experience with IRLP in the past and have really enjoyed it.
However as I was looking into it, I started hearing about Allstar. That is an alternative to IRLP. It’s a little cheaper to get started with Allstar, and it offers full-duplex operation. And it uses standard open-source VoIP software to do it’s thing.
So here you see my main computer, and next to it is a $45 Goodwill special. It’s a Core 2 Duo with 1GB RAM and an 80GB HD. Pretty wimpy, but more than enough to run the special Allstar Linux CentOS distribution. This Linux distribution comes with all the stuff needed to run an Allstar node and does the setup for most of it.
So I’ve applied for and received my node number. I went ahead and finished the Linux installation last night and that’s all good.
The only things I had to buy (besides the computer) were the URI (USB Radio Interface) and the URI cable. The URI plugs into a USB port and the cable connects it to the radio.
Now patiently awaiting those last two pieces.
So in theory… once this is all complete… I should be able to sit on my couch with my HT and talk to my node radio in the back room which will control the node. I can connect to other nodes all over the world with a few DTMF commands. And the connection quality should be rock-solid and full-quieting.
Plus, I have a neighbor who is a ham. He should be able to use it as well.