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Author Topic: Is APRS RF in decline?  (Read 19955 times)
K1YZ
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Posts: 21




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« on: July 09, 2012, 12:27:57 PM »

I live just southwest of Boston, MA, the 10th largest metro area in the US. After having been an inactive ham for the last 10 years I purchased a TH-D72 handheld, with the though that I could use it on walks and bike rides to do live tracking of my route. When I last listened to 144.39 in the early 2000's, there were many APRS stations active, and finding a relay for a low powered device was not a problem. Today, the story is much different. The nearest APRS relay node to me is 40+ miles and is not reachable via a 5w handheld. On my 25 mile drive this morning on I-95/128 (only 10 miles from downtown Boston) I didn't pickup a single APRS signal. Checking http://aprs.fi confirms a lack of relays in metro Boston.

So my question is, where have all the APRS stations gone? Is this a dying protocol? There appears to be hundreds of APRS WX stations over TCP/IP, but RF seems to be a lost frontier. I'm sure there are other areas where APRS is saturated, but here in Boston (as far as I can tell), APRS/RF is all but gone.

Steve
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K0ECW
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Posts: 24




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« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2012, 07:42:19 PM »

So what are you going to do about it?

Put up an APRS digipeater/I-gate and see what happens.

I have an old computer running Xastir on Xubuntu Linux, a TinyTrak4, a Yaesu FT-1802M (that was just sitting around) transmitting at 10W, and a 2 meter J-pole up about 20 feet.

My APRS station is setup as both a digipeater and an I-gate and covers the southeastern quarter of my county as well as parts of two other counties.

The hams in Linn County, Iowa have really caught the APRS bug and new mobiles, digipeaters, I-gates, etc are popping up all the time.

You can be part of the solution for not that much money. I bet you have some of what you need just laying around the shack.

73
Eric
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K1YZ
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Posts: 21




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« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2012, 06:10:46 AM »

In spirit I agree with your premise, be part of the solution, not the problem, but a j-Pole at 20 feet here in New England won't make a dent in the overall APRS coverage. Hills, trees, and other structures will limit solid coverage to 1-2 miles at best. I guess this is why we are where we are today.

On a related topic, things are so bad here in Boston that the 2m and 70m voice repeaters go mostly unused, even during the peak commuting hours. On my commute there is one 70cm repeater that is typically active, and one or two other 2m repeaters that see occasional use. I've thrown my call out there on several occasions to no avail. I'm not sure if this is a local problem, or more wide spread, but activity is way down from just 10 years ago.

Steve
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AF6OF
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Posts: 27




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« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2012, 08:46:31 AM »

Your usage of the word "Relay" makes me think you need to take a look at the Digipath you are using. If you are using the old paradigm, you won't get very good results. APRS is definitely alive in Boston!

Allen AF6OF
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K1YZ
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Posts: 21




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« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2012, 09:05:20 AM »

The PacketPath I'm using is "Wide1-1,Wide2-1" which is the default with the TH-D72A. I'll agree Boston APRS is alive, but not well. Coverage over the areas I travel is poor to non-existent. Take a look at aprs.fi and you'll see a lack of RF nodes around Boston. Better yet, next time you are out here from Napa, bring an APRS HT and give me a first hand report  Wink!

Steve
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AF6OF
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« Reply #5 on: July 14, 2012, 08:02:55 PM »

I should have my new transmitters out next week, and I think our new MT-RTG 40 ( Micro-Trak, 40 Watt, frequency agile) transmitter might be a better choice than a handheld for your area. Why so few digis and I-gates? Too many democrats or something?

Allen AF6OF
VHS
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K6AER
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Posts: 3502




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« Reply #6 on: July 15, 2012, 02:01:45 PM »

In today's need for high speed internet and material bandwidth what does APRS bring to the table? All cell towers have battery back up with generators. Most ham nodes don't even have batteries on there nodes and the bandwidth is limited to 5 kHz.

Lets face it. Other than a family getting lost and calling for help on the family 2 M HT we don't bring much to the party other than age. Today's emergency management requires a lot more than just a voice channel.
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K0JEG
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Posts: 653




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« Reply #7 on: July 16, 2012, 06:22:58 AM »

There's still lots of places where there is no cell coverage.

There are plenty of places where you are roaming and your carrier doesn't have a data agreement.

The cellular companies are moving to fiber-based backhaul from the tower to the central office. If the fiber is cut you will loose that tower, no matter how much fuel is in the generator tank.

The recent fires in Colorado showed us (and first responders) the value of using APRS along with other communications methods. There were hams with manpack video systems who were able to show the command center parts of the fires that weren't reachable via aircraft. Instead of having to relay coordinates, they could just send video and their position was known from the map.

This weekend I went to a hamfest in Colorado Springs. I had excellent APRS coverage along the entire route, while my cell phone experienced both the roaming issue and dead spots. AND it didn't use any of my "unlimited" 5GB of data either.

I really don't understand why I'm even bothering to reply to your post, though. If you don't want to use the amateur radio service, just let your license lapse and use Google Latitude. It does the same basic thing, and you don't need to buy any extra hardware.
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N0FPE
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Posts: 362




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« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2012, 03:55:16 PM »

Dont sweat it...AER is always the wet blanket in the place.

APRS is alive and well used in the Phoenix metro area as well as the whole State of AZ. And yes there are many places in the mountians that cellphone coverage is not to be had.

Have fun!!

D
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KB1VCZ
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Posts: 30




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« Reply #9 on: July 26, 2012, 10:04:56 AM »

I run an iGate just west of Boston (KB1VCZ-10) and agree that there are few iGate nodes within the 128 belt. In fact, I'm not sure there are any other iGates as close to metro Boston as my station. I usually send about 4,000 - 5,000 packets per month to the APRS network, 3/4 of those are from digi repeaters from around the area, with 1/4 of them heard directly.

MIT used to have an iGate that filled in a hole in the city, but that is no longer operational. The Clay center also used to run an iGate, but has since switched to just a digi, operating as W1CLA-1. Oddly enough, their digi doesn't beacon it seems, or at least on APRS.fi, they don't show up on the map, but you can see the packets pass through their node if you look at the raw data. In the last couple months there was another iGate that came online down by Quincy, W1ICU.

There were plans to put another digi on the Waltham repeater site on Prospect Hill, but the TNC bugs have yet to be worked out and I don't know what the status of that project is now. The end result is that most APRS users have to run a little higher power than they would otherwise to hit some of the nearby digi's and make it onto the network. Too many iGate's/digi's in an area can also cause problems, but generally I agree that coverage in metro Boston could be better optimized.
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N0EQ
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« Reply #10 on: August 02, 2012, 01:50:28 PM »



APRS is alive and well used in the Phoenix metro area...



APRS may be alive in Phoenix, but I think it's an exaggeration to suggest it's "well used". There is essentially zero coordination. Lots of WIDE 3-3 paths, some still using RELAY,WIDE. There's a guy near me with a mobile that transmits a packet every 60 sec from his mobile 24/7, even when parked, including vehicle temp and battery voltage telemetry. His path is such that I've seen times where I've received over 300 packets per hour from just his mobile. And he uses a smart tracker which could easily be set to "quiet down" when parked. I've seen WX stations showing clearly incorrect temps of 200+ deg or -30 deg, or winds of several hundred MPH, notified the station owners, either don't get a response or get a response like "Yeah I know I need to fix that thing" and 2 yrs later it's still showing the same, obviously incorrect weather data.

Balloon flights are the only organized use of APRS I've ever seen used in Phoenix. Those happen a couple times annually and last for a couple hours. Other than that, it seems to be a huge packet collisionfest.

What started out as a fascinating and new technology was quickly surpassed by commercial, no license required stuff. People can track their friend's cellphones on the web very simply. No license, no several hundreds of dollars investment.

I've been on and off APRS since the very first of Bob's DOS versions and still use Sproulls' Win version as well as a couple others. I'm not trying at all to be a wet blanket. But I don't see any use of it here in Phoenix nor in Colorado or Arkansas where I've also been active, that's anything like "well used". It's a LONG way from what I believe Bob's current vision is, a real time, two way information exchange. It's a bunch of guys putting out packets, one way.


Craig 'Lumpy' Lemke

www.n0eq.com
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K0JEG
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Posts: 653




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« Reply #11 on: August 02, 2012, 07:48:53 PM »

It's a LONG way from what I believe Bob's current vision is, a real time, two way information exchange. It's a bunch of guys putting out packets, one way.

I remember seeing Mr Bruninga speak at a hamfest about 10 years ago. The title of the speech could have been "APRS: you're doing it wrong!"

I watched a video of Mr Bruninga from last year's TAPR digital conference. Sounded much the same.

I understand (and share) his frustration, but because the APRS-IS exists, and GPS tracking is so simple compared to sending text messages and other functions, I don't think there's going to be much incentive for change. I'd love to see more use of the frequency field, for example. It could easily be used to make a spotting network on the fly if tied to an HF rig. But until there's mass adoption of software that supports it, it just isn't gonna happen.
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K7RBW
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« Reply #12 on: August 02, 2012, 08:51:04 PM »

It's not just the software, but the hardware. My VX-8R can send and receive APRS messages (and has done so), but it's about as easy as chiseling the message in granite and sending the stone by carrier pigeon. In the time it takes to send one APRS message with my VX-8R, I can send a text, order a pizza, and check the weather in Tahiti on my smartphone. Not a whole lot of incentive to send APRS messages with that capability in my other hand (or pocket).

Until sending and receiving text messages with APRS is as easy as sending them from a telephone, I don't see them being used much.

OTOH, the available hardware has made putting out packets with a GPS very easy. That and the utility of doing so is more obvious, especially with the existing infrastructure (i.e. IGates, etc.). Therefore, it's used a lot more.

The software's the easy (comparatively speaking) part. Creating and building a usable human interface seems to be the more difficult task. (That said, I've seen some interesting prototypes and experiments, but nothing that's caught on).
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K0JEG
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« Reply #13 on: August 04, 2012, 08:04:49 AM »

Until sending and receiving text messages with APRS is as easy as sending them from a telephone, I don't see them being used much.

I just picked up a USB on-the-go (OTG) cable for my phone. I can use it to connect USB mice, keyboards, memory cards and even my DSLR. When I connected up to my TH-d72, nothing happens.

Of course, that's because there's no hardware driver for the radio. I did a little investigating and found out Kenwood uses the Silabs 2102 USB UART chip. Silicon Labs has drivers for Windows, Mac and Linux, but I don't see anything out there for Android, although I think the Linux driver, if recompiled for ARM, will work. However, since it's not open sourced, there's no way to compile it. And unless there's a lot of groundswell from manufacturers, Silabs isn't going to bother. BTW, this is the same UART chip used in the Rigblaster PNP interface, so having drivers available would open the door for Android devices to control radios with a CAT interface as well.

I know that a driver doesn't mean instant apps, but it goes a long way to getting there. There's already a beaconing program that can generate AFSK audio. If a developer can accomplish that on a phone, putting the d72's TNC into KISS mode and dumping packets to a UART should be a no brainer.
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N0EQ
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« Reply #14 on: August 04, 2012, 08:57:37 AM »

JEG wrote:
"I remember seeing Mr Bruninga speak at a hamfest about 10 years ago. The title of the speech could have been "APRS: you're doing it wrong!"

I watched a video of Mr Bruninga from last year's TAPR digital conference. Sounded much the same."

RBW wrote:
"Until sending and receiving text messages with APRS is as easy as sending them from a telephone, I don't see them being used much."

I agree with both. Bob is a visionary tech guy. He conceived a fabulous concept. But it quickly got way overrun by commercial options. Ham radio is that way generally, not just APRS. Try and convince a kid to get interested in ham today and what are the "selling points"? "Hey kid, you can study and take a test, invest several thousand dollars, install antennas on your house and car and you'll be able to talk to people across the world". Um, kids do that today from their phones, with video, while they are in class or driving their car or in a movie.

I view APRS today as a one way system. Sorry Bob, but it's simply not very effective at two way information. There's no problem with it being one way. It would simplify things immensely if users were knoledgable and considerate about their paths, output power etc. But we, as a population, aren't "knoledgable and considerate". Ham radio and APRS simply reflects where we're at as a society.

So I think it's prudent, maybe even productive, to view APRS as "what it is" and not "what it's supposed to be or could be". It "could" be all that stuff Bob tries to define in his confusing and hard to read website with all it's dated and/or dead links. But it's not. And there's probably no good reason for it to be. Is there really any reason, for example, to make messaging from any DTMF capable HT a reality? We should use APRS for whatever we want to use it for. It would be nice if we all kept our paths in check and used the lowest power practical. But we simply aren't going to do that.

So back to the original question - "Is APRS RF in decline" My guess is no, it's not. It may not be particularly useful. But there seem to be MORE stations every year, not less.


Craig 'Lumpy' Lemke

www.n0eq.com
--
You Played on Lawrence Welk?
Yes but no blue notes. Just blue hairs.

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