Representatives from AREDN were at the 2024 Southern California Linux Expo, held in the Pasedena Convention Center.  This is an annual conference covering all things linux, and for several years the exhibit hall hosted a table for AREDN, displaying the technology and possibilities using standard consumer wireless hardware to create a unique network of amateur radio operators.  I have attended three of these conferences but focused my attention on AREDN in 2023 and 2024.  

In 2023, I talked with the AREDN team and expressed interest both personally and as a representative of our club.  Later I had a chance to email and zoom call with some AREDN members to understand more of how we might use this technology.  I went back to the AREDN booth in March 2024, and told them I'm back, more serious about this than last year, and the radio club is also looking for guidance on what we need to get started.

Here is what I learned.

We probably need to SPEND instead of SOLDER our way to success.  There is no DIY kit we can assemble and program like the TNC that accomplishes the AREDN goals.  They developed the product based on OpenWRT technology, a software project that replaces code on commonly available wireless products, allowing users more flexibility with WiFi gear.  I asked the team at SCaLE what we need to get started, and they gave me the basics.

 If you just want to be part of AREDN at your home, and can't get a line-of-sight link to an existing node.

Mikrotik hAP ac2 - as of 2024, these cost about $80 but can sometimes be found on ebay for around $60.
They recommend this model because it has a 2GHz and 5GHz radio, five ports, and port 5 is a PoE interface meaning you can power another AREDN device entirely over the ethernet cable.  One wire running to your roof where you can attach more radios.  But if you cannot justify more antennas on your house, this basic device is what you need to get started.  Flashing code onto these devices is fairly easy, and having multiple physical interfaces allows you (the ham) to connect your ham devices onto AREDN and participate on the mesh network by using tunnel features.  Think of this as a VPN onto the AREDN network, and you will be using your home internet service to connect.  While not the ideal mesh RF emergency network, it is a start and the network will grow especially when others learn there are nodes nearby and available.  We need to plant the seeds of AREDN mesh for others to attach.  There are things you can do with this once on the AREDN network that are customized to HAM activities.  We'll learn more on this later.  Quinn KI6LAT, purchased the hAP ac Lite, which costs about $54 and has less RAM than the ac2.

If you want to be part of AREDN at home, and you ARE willing to add external antennas, then you would partner with someone else to create a link.

Ubiquiti NanoBeam AC - as of 2024, these cost about $100 each, sometimes sold in a 2 pack.  They're not huge dishes, but have a narrow beam spread which is ideal for a point-to-point link.  This device is small enough to fit under the eaves of your house or can be mounted to a wall, pole, or an interior window and doesn't look like a typical dish.  It looks like a mushroom about 8" in diameter with a 5" stalk.  If you are line-of-sight to any other node, this creates an RF link we want for a proper emergency network.  When we get enough of them in our region, we can connect to a super-node and that will be our gateway link outside of San Diego.  Mesh networks need more than one link in many directions to properly mesh.  This ensures there are data paths when one goes down or one is overloaded.  If you deploy this and can connect multiple nodes together, you are now an important part of the mesh.  This external radio would best be deployed WITH the hAP ac2.

Frank NB1Z and David KM6ZKI have purchased the Ubiquiti NanoStation M5 Loco for their AREDN setup.  These devices have a 45 degree beam spread horizontally and vertically, and work great for providing access across a broader area and shorter distances.  These cost about $68 each and are available in 2 pack bundles.  If you get this model, use this firmware for a successful install.  


Frank has demonstrated his portable configuration at several of the ARES monthly meetings.  When I brought the sector antenna Ubiquiti into the same room as his configuration, it immediately joined the mesh when I configured the radios to be on the same channel and bandwidth.  It was that easy.

Me, Jon, (KK6VLO) am going to start the more difficult route and will leverage some equipment I scavenged free from Craigslist and dumpsters.  The FTA and DSS dishes are commonly left on rooftops when people move, as they're not too expensive and somewhat difficult to retrieve.  Satellite providers don't want them back after a few years so keep your eye out if this is interesting to you.  The mounts provided by installers using concrete blocks are a great thing to find.  You don't have to drill into the roof and it's portable.  Shown here is a common FTA dish about 32" across, and the Mikrotik LDF5ac.  This Mikrotik sells for about $70 and are powered by PoE.    With a dish this big, I will be looking for a very directional link, and later will try adding another antenna with a wider pattern, or another dish.  I'm planting AREDN seeds too.

Equipment donated in 2023 by Chris KD6OUB has given us a Ubiquity Rocket M5 sector antenna.  The radio part of this device is nearing the end of it's lifespan in the AREDN code, but I think we can replace the radio on the back (the plastic parts) and keep the metal sector antenna.  This antenna has a variable beam spread horizontally based on how you adjust the metal wings near the opening, and it has about a 3 degree vertical beam spread.  Ideally this would serve the best purpose on a hilltop to cover many nodes.  It could be a connection for Ham's who live in holes or cannot see each other.  

As we explore this further, I will be adding notes and ideas here.    The list of supported and sunset devices is published and I recommend you examine the radio type that best suits your interests.  Focus on the 5GHz radios as this appears to give the most flexibility for a deployment.