APRS in Calgary & area

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Jay911

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This is a post I was going to make in an old thread in the Amateur forum which probably is better served here. Hopefully we can use this thread as an anchor for discussion about APRS usage.

Calgary is fairly well covered by digipeaters and igates, but it seems to be sized more for mobiles than handhelds. I've had some people in the local area say that the Yaesu (mine and the others I've heard about are the 8DR or 8GR model) work well in the region, including having a particularly strong GPS receiver working even indoors. In my experience, the GPS receiver does work if you still have a view of the sky, i.e. if you are near a window; in a metal structure, though, you might have trouble. As for the APRS signal itself, you have to get pretty close to a digi or gate for the handheld to work.

If you look at VE6SRT-7 on aprs.fi over the past couple days, you'll see that there were only a few times where I was going right to a digi or gate (not including when I'm digi'ing through my car, VE6SRT-9). One particular example recently was 2012-03-04 12:30:24 (MT) when I was only able to hit MEO from a few blocks away (max about 1 kilometer). Now, this may only be because my car shields the signal well (I was inside my vehicle all the time) and I am using the stock Yaesu antenna. I have an SRH-77CA I may try out and see how it behaves. (Even as I type this message, it seems to have dramatically improved reception at least from my home.)

There is a concerted effort, I believe, to increase the proliferation of digipeaters in the Calgary and surrounding area. If you look at aprs.fi, the "D", "S", "I", and "G" icons indicate digipeaters and igates. Here are some of the ones in operation in Calgary and area:

VE6JXJ-1 - this digi is up on a huge cell tower near Highway 567 and Symons Valley Road. It has some serious range.
MKGBRD - this digi is on the Mockingbird Lookout radio tower (where VE6GAB is co-located) in the Ghost Wilderness area, up Highway 40 from Highway 1A west of Cochrane. (This is sometimes incorrectly labeled "Sundre"). It's another wide area digi.
VE6QLT - the icon indicates an HF gateway, but I believe this is a standard igate.
VE6WDM - Not too far from QLT but seems to be the primary igate in north Calgary.
VE6MEO - This combo digi/igate covers south Calgary quite well.
VE6RYC - RYC has a digi as of very recently but it seems that most of the transmissions it would pick up are already relayed by JXJ. Once in a rare while I will see RYC pick up my packet first, when I am closer to Nose Hill than any other place.
VE6RCB - this is a gate northeast of Calgary in Kneehill County, near Carbon. Covers what JXJ doesn't.
CARSTR - digi in Carstairs, about as far again from JXJ as JXJ is to the center core of Calgary.
VE6EAW - igate very close to Carstairs.
VE6FAR-1 - digi southwest of Nanton. It can see JXJ and covers the south fairly well down to FARS-2 (just outside of Lethbridge).

Known areas (to me) that have gaps/holes:
- Bragg Creek/Redwood Meadows area, basically as soon as you get inside the treed area south of Highway 8 on 22. You might hit JXJ or MKGBRD on occasion. I have set up my home computer in west Bragg Creek to be a rx-only gate, and will see later today if it helps at all. I do have plans to set up a digi on the firehall tower at Redwood Meadows later this year.
- Highway 22 between Bragg Creek and Highway 22X. (Highway 22/22X intersection is where the road switches from 4 lanes to 2, near Priddis.) The planned digi at Redwood may help with this... not sure.
- Some parts of Highway 1 west between Cochrane and Canmore are shadowed from receiving both JXJ and MKGBRD. Highway 1A is even worse despite being closer to MKGBRD. There may be plans in the works by various groups to sprinkle digis around the area to rectify this.
 

SCPD

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Something we have been doing in Northern Alberta is profiling 5 watt mobile tracker coverage in Radio Mobile. We have been strategically placing digipeaters to provide coverage for the average mobile user, 5 watts with a quarter wave.

We have been adding sites, moving sites, and even removing sites based on the idea of maximizing coverage and reducing overlap of digipeaters.

Attached find what we have in the Edmonton area, in yellow. The blue is either brand new sites, sites that are being moved, or upgraded. Green is the overlap.

Slowly I am looking at other areas of the province to see where additional holes could be filled using tower sites owned by my employer.
 

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kayn1n32008

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What we are finding here in Northerna Alberta is that with a large number of 2-way iGates, is that and having a bunch of overlaping digipeaters in a relativly small area the channel becomes congested. I would recomend plotting current coverage in radiomobile, then plotting potential digipeater sites with the goal of maximizing coverage and minimizing overlap. Since the WOLFLK did was upgraded from a halfwave magmount on a seacan to a 210-c4 @150' we can now see some of the traffic from ve6eaw and jxj being digied in to the capital region. We are looking at a major reshuffle of gear up north here to adjust and expand coverage so that what gear that we have will provide maximum coverage and have as little overlap as possible.
 

kayn1n32008

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I drove from Edmonton to Lethbridge a couple of weekends ago and found that with a 5/8wave and a 5w tracker there was almost zero coverage outside of Calgary all the way up to Nobleford. there is work to do down south and I am willing to assist in any way that I can. I will be, over the next few years be going to Lethbridge pretty regularly to visit my GF while she is attending U of Leth.
 

Jay911

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Sounds like good plans. I have started seeing WOLFLK and other northern SSIDs in the past month or so which I presume coincides with when you moved it.

Do either of you (or anyone else reading) see any problems with the implementation of some receive-only (RF-to-Internet) gates temporarily? I've set up my house as such and it covers a decent portion of Bragg Creek. I can do the same at my firehall until we get the real digi installed in the spring or thereabouts, and I'm confident that will help fill in Highway 22 between Highway 8 and Bragg Creek significantly. My big concern is inadvertently introducing excess/extraneous or duplicate data into APRS-IS with this method, but if I understand things correctly, the inherent nature of -IS makes this either highly unlikely or impossible. So far after about 24-36 hours, VE6SRT has been feeding into -IS with no problems I can discern, but I want to know before I do something that'll upset people.
 

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If it is being used to simply get your RF into the IS, it will be fine. APRSIS already filters duplicate packets automatically. Having a full 2-way igate for relay of messaging, in the future, would be of benefit.
 

Jay911

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I drove from Edmonton to Lethbridge a couple of weekends ago and found that with a 5/8wave and a 5w tracker there was almost zero coverage outside of Calgary all the way up to Nobleford. there is work to do down south and I am willing to assist in any way that I can. I will be, over the next few years be going to Lethbridge pretty regularly to visit my GF while she is attending U of Leth.
Yeah, I'm hoping FARS has plans to expand coverage like CARA does. They have FARS-1 (or VE6FAR-1 I think) just SW of Nanton like I said earlier, FARS-2 at Lethbridge, and FARS-3 in the Crowsnest Pass area. After that, you're looking at W7SWT-11 in Montana! (Which JXJ sometimes picks up, interestingly enough.)

Towards Medicine Hat you have VE6NND at the Hat itself, VE6CWS is a gate there, and that's pretty much it. West, we have VE6HWY near Lake Louise, but I don't know how far it reaches. I know it can see both MKGBRD and ROCKYD, but coverage toward the highway is unknown.

If it is being used to simply get your RF into the IS, it will be fine. APRSIS already filters duplicate packets automatically. Having a full 2-way igate for relay of messaging, in the future, would be of benefit.
That's my ultimate intent, but I can quite cheaply put together a scanner and APRS-ISCE/32 right now with an AX.25 soundcard input program right now, instead of having to spend time and $ to put together a TNC and radio :)

Like I say, it's on my radar, just not immediately.
 
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kayn1n32008

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Sounds like good plans. I have started seeing WOLFLK and other northern SSIDs in the past month or so which I presume coincides with when you moved it.
WOLFLK was multi-coupled to the 210-c4 on Tuesday Feb 28.

I believe there has been some enhanced propagation over the last little while whichh is why you were probably seeing northern SSID's.
 

kayn1n32008

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Yeah, I'm hoping FARS has plans to expand coverage like CARA does. They have FARS-1 (or VE6FAR-1 I think) just SW of Nanton like I said earlier, FARS-2 at Lethbridge, and FARS-3 in the Crowsnest Pass area. After that, you're looking at W7SWT-11 in Montana! (Which JXJ sometimes picks up, interestingly enough.)

Towards Medicine Hat you have VE6NND at the Hat itself, VE6CWS is a gate there, and that's pretty much it. West, we have VE6HWY near Lake Louise, but I don't know how far it reaches. I know it can see both MKGBRD and ROCKYD, but coverage toward the highway is unknown
Knowing locations(GPS coords), Antenna type, antenna elevation, and power output will allow for accurate coverage modeling, this will visually show where the coverage is and were the holes are. RM is very complex, and after watching a friend use it, it is not soemthing that is simple to use. The plot that Bidulock uploaded is a pretty good representation of where a 5w tracker with a 1/4 wave will be heard.

Being able to show a picture of current/planned coverage is literally worth millions of words.
 

Jay911

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As of tonight I have scanners doing rx-only igate work with APRS-ISCE/32 at my house (VE6SRT) and the Redwood Meadows firehall (VE6RWM). The antennas are limited in size and location for a number of reasons, but it seems the coverage is half-decent.

As said earlier, the ultimate plan is a full digi/igate on RWM near the top of a 50' tower. There will also be a weather station eventually attached to this location as well. I expect this work to happen in the spring or summer.
 

dwc

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Yeah just to note for the small communities.. Any implementation of a Internet-to-RF iGATE has turned into a complete disaster. Since you have little control over how much data you are pumping out to RF you can quickly congest your already sloooow 1200 baud channel.

It should be encouraged for people in any community big or small to run a standard RF-to-Internet iGATE. They certainly help fill in the gaps where there are no traditional digi's or existing iGATE's. In fact here in the lower mainland most of our digi sites also serve as iGATE's and it works well unless they are misconfigured.

We had a problem a while back where a couple of iGATE owners were running flakey TNC's that buffered the packets by upto a few minutes at a time. This would result in a zig-zag track on the APRS-IS system for a mobile tracker. You would see a vehicle driving along a highway and then suddenly back track a kilometer or two.

As usual, try to stick to the recommended settings as per NWAPRS to keep the network happy and from becoming congested further;

NWAPRS Index.htm

The mailing list is also great for info on events and help with problems, etc. There are a couple VE6's on there too;

Subscribe to the nwaprssig mailing list

Cheers,

dwC
 

robertmac

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VE6MEO no more

Don't see VE6MEO anymore so kind of shuts out the south part of Calgary especially for handhelds.
 

kayn1n32008

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robertmac said:
Don't see VE6MEO anymore so kind of shuts out the south part of Calgary especially for handhelds.
There are a few of us that are trying to optimize southern Alberta APRS coverage. There will most likely be further changes, some not so obvious like Transmit power being increased, and certain Digipeaters being shuffeled/taken off air. It appears, modeling a 5w 1/4wave. Tracker that there is A LOT of redundant Digipeaters in the Calgary area. Talks have started to optimize coverage down south in such a way that we make best use of existing equipment. As it with this type of network, being dynamic, things can and will change depending on available sites/equipment, things may move/dissapear/new stuff appear (like HUSSAR). Do not be suprised if more stuff happens over the next while.
 

Jay911

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There is a guy in the near southwest (roughly 17 x Sarcee I think) who's just recently started digi'ing as RMCRN-1 - if I recall correctly, that stands for Rocky Mountain C-something Radio (or Repeater) Network. The website in the beacon text wouldn't load for me the last time I checked. And now that I mention it, it hasn't been seen since 1000 local Monday.

Jerry Clement has got several VE6AB-* devices digi'ing in the near southeast too. The far south is what is being lost due to MEO vanishing, For what it's worth, MEO has a website/blog (with no posts though) and a link to allow you to email him questions - I just fired one off to see if he can shed some light on the issue.

VE6TDX-9 is intermittently hitting CALGRY and JXJ from south of Canyon Meadows with 4 watts if his beacon text is telling the truth. Then again telemetry also says his battery is at 128 percent. :)

It's too bad the DPRS machine at Southport Tower (VE6IPG) doesn't have an APRS component - I would imagine it would fill in the south quite well. I don't do D-STAR so I don't know how far it reaches in voice mode.
 

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The coverage of VE6IPG is decent to the southwest. It works well towards Black Diamond, spotty in places around Millarville, i.e. Home Oil road. Haven't tried it out in West Bragg, though will try it next time I viit my sister. Would it work well for APRS, would say it would fill any holes in the area.
 

robertmac

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Poor at reading between the lines

First, I am a person that is poor at reading between the lines. And my knowledge of APRS is very limited. Hopefully when reach retirement, I can get into some of this stuff in more detail. In listening to AB, SHB, DBA talking this afternoon and what is written here, I gather that there were too many digipeaters in the Calgary area. ? if some were asked to shut down. But there seems to be a problem with the VE6RPC repeater site for APRS in that there was some vandalism done a while back that may have damaged the coax. Thus, the receive on the repeater may be diminished and does not pick up any packets south of 17 ave.. JXJ seemed to hear the transmission in the southern part of Calgary, but now that it has disappeared as well, anything in south part of Calgary and low power is not being picked up by VE6RPC. And there is still some question as to when the coax or antenna at RPC will be upgraded. And winter is coming.
 
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VE6E0

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Too many digipeaters would increase packet collisions, so there may of been a request to shut some stations down. As for the damage of feedline at RPC, would assume they did a quick repair, but I would be worried to why the signal was degraded so much. Hopefully when the feedline was cut, the station wasn't transmitting. Personally when they replace the feedline, I do a PM on the transceiver with a communications analyzer to ensure it is in spec.
 

SCPD

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In the northern portion of the province we have been analyzing available sites to have the best coverage for 5-watt trackers with 1/4 wave antennas. Accuracy for different configurations is difficult and it was easier to work with the majority user.

When I started looking at the Calgary area for a work trip, I found lots of overlapping sites and a hole between Strathmore and Bassano. This is the reason for HUSSAR being put on air.

RPC?? If you are referring to RYC/CALGRY, if the site has equipment issues this doesn't get represented in the coverage plots. It is based on either exact antenna/feedline configuration or PHG values embedded in the beacon. It can have some difference in coverage but on average having antenna height and proper location in Radio Mobile can produce a relatively good idea of coverage.

Based on the data that was submitted, in conversation with the digi owners, it showed that RYC/CALGRY should be covering Calgary very well for 5-watt mobile units. JXJ is still a very good site but has a lot of overlap with CALGRY, RCB, GAB, ROCKYD, and CARSTR. It was also found that CARSTR is also not contributing any additional coverage due to overlap with CALGRY, RCB, GAB, ROCKYD, and ANTLER.

It is almost impossible to analyze the coverage with aprs.fi as it only shows the quickest path to an igate. It will not show you the duplicate paths that also make it to an igate. Monitoring RF and experimenting with shutting down potential overlapping sites can give an idea of what is lost or not contributing.

We found that picking the largest covering sites with the least amount of overlap has worked very well up north. We still have some sites that overlap with others, but they are also the only site to fill gaps in coverage. It is a juggling act that will never end as more sites become available, or we loose access to sites.

It is good to see that JXJ was taken off air to identify that RYC isn't covering Calgary as expected. The next step is for the local ham community to decide how to move forward. Does JXJ go back on air, RYC getting taken down, and add something in the south end of the city? With the right combination of sites you can maximize coverage and minimize overlap.

No sense in having a site on air that is completely overlapped by 1,2,3 or even 4 other sites.
 

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robertmac

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Yes RYC

Sorry, posted late last night and wasn't concentrating on what the fingers were typing. I note on the Repeater.com web site there is testing of a UHF frequency for SARA on the Hand Hills site. The maps supplied by bidulock shows APRS coverage just past the Hand Hills. The 146.82 repeater has a good footprint and I am sure an APRS on that site would cover a long ways to the east not covered by HUSSAR and the NND.
 

SCPD

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Good assumption, there is a package already built to add APRS to that site. There will be some overlap with RCB but it will add a huge area to the east.
 
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