The times, they are a-changin’

Over the last few weeks, there have been some interesting conversations and system changes.

System Changes

As of 1/1/23, the GMRS Live! network will be a paid membership system. They are asking $15/year to help maintain the system. We see no problem with that, as the cost of running a system is significant. Just ask our electric company; Add to that the internet connect, the hardware and software, and you could easily incur significant expenses.

Is the PA GMRS Network going to start asking for donations? No. We are providing the opportunity to link your repeaters, hot spots, and radio-less nodes into a system that serves Pennsylvania at no cost to the users. However, if you decide to acquire a GMRS Live node, there will be a donation to them.

In discussions with Scott Horton, WROE945, and through the Greater Pittsburgh Area GMRS Users group on Facebook, we found that there are several ways to link repeaters together in addition to the AllStarLink/HamVOIP software. People are using Zello not only to link to their local reprater, but as a way to link repeaters together. Scott Horton mentioned that the HT app available on Android and Ios systems could be used the same way. And the are other networks, such as myGMRS.com, USAGMRS, and USGMRS available that folks are using with the AllStarLink software.

With all of the changes and new information, we have decided to find a way to link to some of the other systems in use in Pennsylvania. We will also look at issuing our own node numbers to those folks who don’t want to join any of the other groups or systems. It means a lot more work, but it can be done.

The myGMRS.com system will be tied into the network through myGMRS.com node 24223 and linked to the state hub. We will be requesting at least one node from the USGMRS system to tie the folks from Pennsylvania. The nodes will be running on computers separate from the main network computer, with the goal of linking PA repeaters into one cohesive system.

Social Media

We have been keeping a low profile during the start-up. but now that the system is running fairly smoothly, we think its time to start advertising a little. We will be creating a Facebook page and a Mastodon user account to share information. We ask that everyone follow the same rules we have for the system: No foul language, no political or religious discussions, and stay on the topic of GMRS networking in Pennsylvania. If you are a GMRS license holder and think that linking is not legal or should not be allowed, these are not groups for you.

Thank you for your time and support in making this happen.

 

Disheartening news……

The FCC came to visit and talk with a group of amateur radio and GMRS operators and repeater owners in the Harrisburg area today.  While the main purpose of the visit and talk isn’t something  we can go into right now, information on linking GMRS repeaters was discussed.

When the laws were written for GMRS a few decades or so ago, the FCC specifically described GMRS repeaters were not to be connected to phone lines (POTS) unless it was for repeater control purposes.  This was done to prevent phone autopatches, as the telephone companies were worried the people might use GMRS repeaters to circumvent the long distance tariffs. Nothing specific was written about linking repeaters together.

This past year, we talked with some folks in the Harrisburg, PA area about their repeater linking project. They were in the process of dismantling it because they had received letters from the FCC stating it was illegal to link repeaters together.

Move forward to today; the FCC enforcement folks clarified their position during the lunch meeting: it is their opinion that GMRS was supposed to consist of local level stand alone repeaters, and that the “spirit of the law” states that GMRS repeaters should not be linked together.

Sadly, this will cause overcrowding on GMRS frequencies in major population areas, where high profile repeaters will all be jamming each other because there is only eight repeater pairs available. Instead of seeing this as another tool in the communications toolbox for CERT, Search and Rescue, and other legitimate uses, the FCC is sticking to the thought that GMRS is only a local level service and that linking repeaters through the internet is the same as linking them through Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) copper lines.

HOWEVER, rumor through the GMRS community has been that the FCC was going to rewrite the GMRS laws, although nothing was specifically mentioned about linking repeaters together in the rewrite.

At this point, we will continue to operate, unless the FCC decides to send us a cease-and-desist letter. While we disagree with the FCC ‘s thought process on linking, we do not have the funds to fight them on it in court. Not to mention, there is a large amount of systems that are linking GMRS repeaters together, and until the FCC treats all GMRS repeaters owners the same, those systems will continue to exist.

 

Radio Nets

Now that the system is stabilized and not threatening to throw a temper tantrum every time a new node is hooked in, we have started hooking into some of the radio nets available through GMRS Live. The first one we started with is the Road!!Kill Repeater System called the Wine Down Wednesday net. The regional hubs automatically connect to the state Net Hub, and the state Hub automatically connects to the GMRS Live Net Hub at 19:55 hours every Wednesday with the Net starting at 20:00 hours.  At 21:35 hours, the Het Hub disconnects from the national Net Hub and the regional hubs disconnect from the state Net Hub.

As time progresses, we may link the network into various national nets. There is talk of a “Tech Net” and there is a net hosted by New England GMRS.

As more Pennsylvania repeaters and nodes join the system, we may host our own net in order to practice net protocols and make sure all of the links are working correctly.

Tropical Storm Nicole – Closeout

As the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole have exited the Commonwealth and the flooding issues are resolved, the 2221 node has been disconnected from the GMRS Live 900 node.

Tropical Storm Nicole

The Pennsylvania GMRS Network Emergency Hub (2221) is connected to the GMRS Live Emergency Operations node (900) and will remain connected until such time as TS Nicole is no longer a threat to the East Coast.

And back to Computer Update 2

We got into the system this morning to find that the same error (buffer overruns and dropped nodes) had occurred with the M93P had occurred overnight with the 2950.  Since this was a common issue with all of the computers the AllStarLink 2.0.0 beta had run on, we were left with the possibility that it wasn’t the hardware, but the software causing the problem.  We downgraded to the AllStarLink 1.01 image and loaded it onto the M93P. It has been running rock solid ever since. 

Computer Update 2….back to Computer Update 1

Computer update #2…. didn’t go as planned.  While the M93P was fast, it didn’t handle the data flow, and the buffer overflows caused Asterisk to lock up, drop all of the connected nodes, and then reset itself. No matter what we tried, we could not find a way to increase the buffer size with having to modify the code (once we found it) and then recompile the whole application. and with our luck and compiling code….

The network is back on the Dell Power Edge 2950. While there is an occasional buffer overflow, the 2950 handles them much more gracefully, and we haven’t had a reset/node drop in the last 48 hours.

Computer Update #2

It didn’t take long to realize that running the Dell PowerEdge 2950 was going to keep the office and server area waaaaayyyy to warm for anyone to function, much less the servers already in the area. We broke down and found a really good price on a Lenovo M93P Tiny model running an i5 2 core 4  thread processor at 2.9 Ghz, 8G of ram and a 260 GB SSD. Not as much overkill as the 2950, but we suspect it is up to the task of keeping the network running.  Installation of the software with all of the modifications took about three hours, and the system didn’t even hiccup…..  And boy is it FAST!!

Again, if anyone sees anything going wonky, let us know through the CONTACT form here, or at WRTY997 (at) krohsnest.com.

Computer update

When the system was first set up, it ran off a Raspberry Pi 3B+.  With ten nodes, it seems to lugged down a bit at times. These past two weeks showed how much the poor little Pi 3B+ was overworked, when it started slowing down so much that nodes were disconnected from the system.

On 10/25/22, we broke down and fired up the ol’ Dell Power Edge 2950 with 16 Gigabytes of RAM and two terabytes of storage. It’s a bit of overkill, but we don’t plan on leaving the system on the 2950, as it adds $20 / month to the electric bill and warms the office / server area to a toasty 76 degrees.

If anyone notices things going wonky again, please let us know.  Thanks!!