A Sense of Belonging and Working It Like the Hoff
Chris Rolinson reports on repeater-linking, callsigns and APRS, before recommending new apps and websites
Chris Rolinson reports on repeater-linking, callsigns and APRS, before recommending new apps and websites, discussing an ultra-cool way of mobile operation and introducing a professional Zello user.
Zello has enabled live channel streaming via their website. Now anyone using any internet-connected device can listen in to channels like the Network Radios suite. It reminds me of the days when people used to tune across medium wave with a domestic receiver and accidentally catch radio amateurs ragchewing on 160m AM. Now, something similar can happen just while you are browsing…
John EI2HW of the Southern Ireland Repeater Network (SIRN) reports the setting up of new Zello links into their system. SIRN covers most of Ireland using VHF, UHF, and a DMR link:
Their Zello crossover uses moderation in a similar manner to the Network Radios channels - anyone can listen, but access is restricted to licensed amateurs for transmitting – and you can be kicked off for unacceptable behaviour.
Activity across the system appears to have hugely increased, which surely is only a good thing? I wonder how many more repeater keepers will be thinking of a similar link in future?
A big ‘Well Done!’ to UK retailer, Moonraker. Working in partnership with Filip Everaert, they have started releasing bespoke ROMs for various network radios.
This will ensure no ‘dodgy’ elements in firmware get through to customers.
Almost every radio user uses some kind of callsign or identifier - the airwaves would be a strange place if we didn’t know with whom we were communicating! Aircraft and ATC require them; emergency services have them; if you use business radio, you might even be allocated one. On NR, the International Radio Network (IRN) has been giving callsigns to newcomers who have no amateur radio callsign.
Now the Network Radios suite of channels has joined in. Whereas most licensed amateurs use their callsign, unlicensed users have been using a mixture of ‘fabricated’ and CB identifiers. Recently, the admins decided to offer everyone who wanted one, an NR prefix callsign.
Users have embraced this enthusiastically. Licensed amateurs still use their own callsigns, but unlicensed users can now choose an NR xxx identifier. What was confusing though was how many licensed amateur radio operators also wanted one! Since there is no need for this, why was it happening?
It transpired that people felt they wanted to feel they ‘belonged’ in some way. So, NR numbers are regarded by Amateurs as a ‘club membership number’, in the same way as RAOTA or the G-QRP club use membership numbers. This could lead to some fun in the future; there could be all kinds of awards or fun events based on NR calls, perhaps?
How do you get one? An on-air request to Hairy Paul NR303. Have a number between 1-9999 ready, so that if it is available, you can get it.
To APRS or not APRS?
Once the NR callsigns started appearing, it was noticed that some APRS code generator sites were allowing them to generate a passcode to access APRS.
Peter 2M0SQL, who runs one such site, kindly reminded users that "...this is classed as misuse of the main APRS-IS network. If network radio users want to use this, I'd recommend avoiding the amateur radio APRS network – because these NR callsigns will get banned. It is worth remembering that a lot of the APRS-IS content is gated to RF so there is plenty of radio."
You have been warned!
However, all is not lost - enter CBAPRS! Thanks to our German colleagues, a new positioning system for all radio users is emerging. They subtitle their site Automatic Packet Reporting System for Everyone. This promises to become an interesting site. You can find it at the following URL:
Have a play, with your NR callsign, if you wish!
While on the subject of the Network Radios channels, I am happy to direct you to a new site at this address:
https://networkradios.weebly.com (Fig. 2).
Run by the aforementioned ‘Hairy Paul’, this is a veritable goldmine of information on how to set up Zello, and network radios in general, and how to avoid common pitfalls when starting out.
Ian Bassett M5AXA tells us how he got mobile with NR: “I have been licensed for 21 years, active on many modes and bands, both at home and in the car. Operating mobile during the 1990s was a real joy; overcrowded repeaters gave great coverage and my car stereo was redundant!
“Using a fist-mike whilst mobile was common in those days, but, as a field-based engineer driving for hours every day, it felt unsafe. Therefore, I spent time designing and making home-brew hands-free kits.
“Prior to travelling to Spain for this summer’s family holiday, I purchased a copy of June’s Practical Wireless to take with me. I’m not a great sun-lover, so held off reading it until my wife Linda and daughter Amanda decided a sunbathing session was in order. I stumbled across a few words by Steve G0TDJ describing Zello and the NR channels which I found fascinating. Ten minutes later, I was on the air! The clarity of the audio hits you straight away.
“I was really keen to get home and try using Zello while mobile. One problem was that I answer work phone calls through my car’s Bluetooth system, so the phone would have to remain connected to that. But, quite by chance, I discovered that the car stereo treated the phone’s Zello app as a media player allowing me to listen through the car’s audio system! For the PTT, I was able to map the fast-forward button on my steering wheel. Brilliant! (Fig.3).
“A quick tip here - Zello’s PTT mapping feature instructs you to hold the button down and wait for the button to be assigned. This didn’t work for me. Instead, I pressed the button in and out rapidly during the mapping process. That worked a treat! The Network Radios channels on Zello are offering like-minded folk from over the world the opportunity to talk in a safe moderated environment. There are many ways to access Zello, including an increasing line-up of dedicated radios, but for me, the phone in the car and the PC at home work just fine! I still enjoy experimenting with radios and antennas too and continue to do this with my existing equipment.
“So, is it ‘real’ Amateur Radio? Well, I guess ‘real’ amateur radio is different for everyone. Sure, no licence is needed to use it, and it’s true that there isn’t a whole range of antennas to erect and possibly upset your neighbours with. However, with the current state of the bands, repeater abuse and user apathy, the introduction of the Network Radio channels has drawn many like-minded individuals together for what can only be considered as mature, professional and interesting conversations.
“It costs nothing to try. Just install the app on a phone or PC and see what you think. OK, you might need a SIM card, but the data usage is small and data’s getting cheaper all the time.”
Tip of the Month
Following on from Ian’s final comment, Reg Natarajan alerted me to an app I had not heard of before.
Datally is an official Google app, which compresses data use on Android. It doesn’t appear to affect streaming audio in my experience of using it.
And Reg said that he noticed his data usage on NR had dropped by 90%! “It was amazing. I now fit my mobile usage easily into 200MB per month!”
Fully-Baked Zello Pi!
Gareth McSherry, NR116, from County Louth in Ireland has been experimenting getting Zello working on a Raspberry Pi. He has kindly supplied this ‘how to’ if you fancy having a go. You need a Pi and a cheap USB soundcard, easily available on the web (Fig. 4).
For some reason, Zello takes a couple of minutes to ‘sign-in’ on the Pi - it does eventually do it. You will probably have to reduce the input audio, as cheap USB cards tend to overload the audio. Adjust the Vox and you’re all done (Fig. 5).
Remember to perform a shutdown, remove the card and backup your SD Card using Win32Diskimager or the built-in Pi tools, so you don’t have to do this again!
My thanks to Gareth NR116 for this - it is great to see experimentation already taking place within the network radios scene.
Zello at Work
Now over to Rene Hindriks in the Netherlands with an anecdote on how, for him, Zello is very much ‘work’: Rene wrote, “Our business is taking pictures and videos of newsworthy incidents and selling them to media outlets. We use the paid ZelloWork subscription with 60 users.
The paid update gives us better quality audio, a quicker response on the PTT, smaller ping times and so on.
“Some time ago, I was on holiday in Portugal while the Volvo Ocean Race was taking place back home. There were some celebrations in Scheveningen Harbour, but during the festivities, there was an accident between two fast-travelling boats - one powerboat flew over the second one.
“This is newsworthy, so a number of our photographers went to cover the story. I decided to roll up my sleeves, and help out… yes, from Portugal! Our company is built around the concept 'give me a laptop, a Zello device and an Internet connection, and I can do what I need to do'.
“The Wi-Fi access meant I could talk directly with the photographers. In ZelloWork, you can also see where they are - users are shown 'live' on a map. Also, I could access the harbour webcams in Holland, while listening to an internet stream with the lifeboat comms.
“Based on what I discovered, I could easily deploy a photographer to a different position and instruct them directly via Zello. I had time to listen, think, and decide where to place our resources for the best results. All they had to do was concentrate on taking photos!
“So now the photographers are sending me un-edited photo and video through the Wi-fi link on their cameras. We use Zello devices as mobile hotspots for this purpose, and we have unlimited data SIMs too!
“I downloaded and processed the media in Portugal, and uploaded the result to TV stations, who were all, by this time, screaming for video. Our company voice number is connected to a VoIP system too, so when a TV station called our Dutch landline, my mobile rang in Portugal! I could tell them instantly that video was coming. We also were getting images sent to our WhatsApp. These messages were transferred from the phone to a server, which I also accessed from Portugal. Sometimes, people send us low-quality images, but that still helps - I can often see that it might be worth ‘moving’ a photographer elsewhere. It also helps me get a ‘feel’ for what is happening on the ground, even though I am thousands of miles away.
“So here is an example of a completely different use of Zello, to show how network radio technology can be used (in this case) to replace a Motorola hardware/Tetra based business radio network, at about a quarter of the cost, with more flexibility and better security.”
“Network Radios is a great companion whilst walking to the shops or driving to work,” writes Mick Knaggs M6ODZ.
He continues, “My local repeaters are all quite active, as are the simplex channels on 2m & 70cms. But it is nice to know that you can log in to the NR channels on Zello at any time of the day and there's always going to be some activity. You can either listen, join in or both! And, since that activity is between like-minded radio enthusiasts, whether it is ‘real’ radio or not, chatting with fellow radio users is cool, isn't it?
“Many Zello users are very keen on Bluetooth PTT's and are using the system from the car or on the move. Here is my ‘take’ on the Bluetooth mobile activity angle: Android Wear (or ‘WearOS’, as it is called now)
This scaled-down version of Android runs apps on a smartwatch. With the mobile handset safely tucked away in my jacket pocket, I use the touchscreen on the smartwatch to PTT, talk into its built-in microphone and listen, either through my headphones or the phone's speaker.
“Now when my handset is out of reach (as in a pocket or a bag) I can still launch the Zello app directly from the watch. Providing the channel was left connected, I’m logged straight in! The watch app is easy to set up - browse the watch's App Store, install in the usual way and the two ‘companion apps’ (‘watch’ and ‘mobile’) talk happily to each other. This is a really convenient way of using Zello - you can not only PTT and listen like you can with a headset, but you can get a watch-sized preview of the channel, the RX/TX status and the user that is currently speaking (Fig. 6). Best of all though, I feel like Knight Rider talking to KITT on his wristwatch - that's so cool, isn't it (Fig. 7)”? [CR3]
With that ‘mental image’ of M6ODZ imitating David Hasselhoff, I will sign off for now!
Keep those stories and news items coming, and I hope to catch you on the network soon.
Table 1: The Initial Setup for Zello on a Raspberry Pi:
1. Provide your Pi with an SD card (16GB minimum) with Raspbian OS, and pop it in.
2. Hook the Pi up to an HDMI monitor/TV, connect a keyboard & mouse and power up.
3. Plug in the USB soundcard.
4. Setup your Wi-Fi.
5. Download updates if prompted.
6. Download Zello for PC - place it somewhere on your Pi, where you can access it.
Table 2: ExaGear Desktop:
Get ExaGear Desktop from the website below. It costs a few pounds but there is an evaluation version.
1. Save the license key (comes via email) to the Downloads directory on your Pi.
2. Open a command line Terminal and change the current directory to Downloads: $cd ~/Downloads/
3. Download the archive with ExaGear Desktop packages: $wget
4. Unpack the downloaded archive: $tar-xvzpf exagear-desktop-rpi3.tar.gz
5. Install and activate ExaGear desktop by running the install-exagear.sh script in a directory with deb packages and one license key:
Table 3: Enter the x86 World:
Once inside, you can use this guest shell as if it were running on an x86 machine.
Agree to any prompts.
3. Now you can install Wine from apt-get repositories: $sudo apt-get install wine.
Agree to any prompts.
4. Accept Defaults - cd Downloads then wine ZelloSetup.exe (you will need to navigate to where you saved the ZelloSetup.exe file).
5. Install mono & gecko if prompted.
6. Install Zello as normal.
This article was featured in the November 2018 issue of Radio User