Building out a BBHN Mesh Network using Virtual Tunnels

Trees! We love them… and hate them.


Montgomery County, TX, is a heavily wooded part of the great state of Texas.  As we all know, trees are the bane of 2.4Ghz band.  In order to have a practical and effective mesh network, it requires either a high density of mesh nodes, and/or, mesh node(s) that have excellent line of sight (ie. > 40′).  While we are working on solutions to get mesh nodes at higher elevations, in the interim, it would be really nice to be able to build out the mesh and get practical experience in deploying/operating on the mesh.  In order to accommodate this, I propose the use of internet links to bridge the gaps where RF links don’t currently exist.  The technology behind this is called virtual private networks (VPN’s), or, as they are commonly called in mesh-land, virtual tunnels.


VPN’s essentially allow us to extend a network ACROSS the internet to other networks.  Using VPN’s, we can have mesh nodes that are connected across the county, across the state, or across the globe.  Odds are, your company has capabilities such as this for this for remote workers to access things on the corporate network in a secure fashion.  Mesh VPN’s are the same concept.

But it isn’t RF!

Yes, you are correct in that VPN’s are not using RF.  We are HAM’s, we MUST use RF!  I agree to a point, however,  VPN’s do offer several advantages:

  • It gets HAMs excited about the mesh technology
  • It provides for the opportunity to learn how to setup and deploy mesh nodes
  • It provides for the opportunity to USE the mesh and come up with creative uses in EMCOMM (and beyond)
  • It provides the ability to actually demonstrate the capabilities of ARES and the mesh to served agencies
  • It provides the opportunity to “piggyback” actual RF things on the fringe of the mesh (ie. packet gateways, Dstar hotspots, etc.)

While this is CLEARLY a stop-gap solution, I think the benefits of it are valid.



The enabling technology behind the mesh network is the TCP/IP protocol stack.  TCP/IP is used everywhere in today’s work in things such as: cell phones, home networks, remote controlled light bulbs, fancy remote controlled HF rig, and even DStar.  The original designers of TCP/IP did a fantastic job in creating a set of robust and flexible protocols.


So, how I do *DO* this?

I will be creating a series of blog posts to describe the process of creating virtual tunnel links between nodes.  I have created some scripts to make the process easier.  I also plan to undertake some UI work of the BBHN firmware to add some administration pages to the web interface to allow for easy administration of these virtual tunnel links.


Stay tuned!





BroadbandHamNet 3.0.0b02 BETA available!

I have been testing on 3.0.0b02 since it was released (as well as the 3.0.0 experimental), and it is very stable.

HIGHLY recommend updating to 3.0.0b02 ASAP!


From the BBHN dev team…

The bug in release BBHN 1.1.2 announced in August causes OLSR Secure to crash. It is more widespread than originally thought… and it occurs in both Ubiiquiti and Linksys devices.

We have confirmed multiple causes within the Secure module itself, so we have posted a BBHN experimental version 3.0.0b02 with the Secure module removed. We have also added a “watchdog” that looks for an OLSR hung-state and automatically restarts OLSR when it finds it so.

We encourage you to move to this interim release as we continue our troubleshooting. You will find it under “Experimental Builds” on the Software Download page.

Note that we have begun using a new version numbering method which defines the Mesh protocol compatibility in the first digit. Since the Secure module has been removed, you can see that this 3.0.0 release will not be compatible with earlier “-v2″ firmware.

We are sorry for the inconvenience it may represent for deployed networks.
The Ubiquiti Development Team

DStar Hotspot Updates

After a year or so, I decided to revisit my DStar hotspot project.  I ended up going the route of using my Raspberry Pi to be the repeater and gateway instead of my Windows 7 machine.

The project consists of the following:

  • Yaesu FT-8800R
  • Icom ID-31a
  • Raspberry Pi Model B running the WesternDstar Linux build

Setup was fairly easy.  After updating (downgrading) my DVRPTR V1’s firmware, I connected it to the FT8800’s data port.  I setup a memory channel on UHF and set the packet mode to 9600 on the B-side of the radio.  I use a simple keyboard switchbox to switch between the DVRPTR and my TNC for normal packet operations.  After verifying proper operation of the DVRPTR using the “Control Center” software on my Windows machine, I then turned my attention to the Pi.

After downloading the latest WesternDstar iso image from, I loaded it to a 8GB SD card via my MacBook Pro.  After a few minutes of watching the ‘dd’ command (CTRL-T to get some details) the SD card was ready for booting.  I inserted it into the Pi and powered up.  Using the configuration utilities provided by G4KLX’s software, I configured the DVRPTRRepeater software to use my DVRPTR interface.  I then configured the ircddbgateway software in a similar fashion.  I did add a few extra control commands to remotely control the hotspot, but, I’ll cover that in a future blog.

Everything started up and worked as advertised!  I use my ID31 on SLO power to link/unlink and control the repeater.

DStar is a fun mode for the radio and computer/network enthusiast alike!

P.S.  Thanks to Tommy (N5ZNO) for his AmateurLogic.TV segment on the DVMega ( which inspired me to re-work of my hotspot with the WesternDstar image!



August 2014 Technician Licensing Class a BIG SUCCESS!

Montgomery County Amateur Radio Emergency Service sponsored and held a 1 day technician prep class on August 16 from 8am-5pm at the HEB on FM1488.  Of the 20 students that initially registered for the class, 16 students showed up.  I was the instructor and delivered the presentation  that covered the entire Element 2 (2014 version) question pool.  While the day was long and the time was short, we made it thru everything.  The students did great on their pre-work study of the questions.

On Sunday, August 17, 2014, we held a test session from 1pm to 3pm at the same location.

All 16 students from the class attended as well as one additional walk-in.

Myself and six additional VE’s (Mark T, Mark R, Jack, Stephen, Henry, Dave) administered the exam and had everything graded in just under 2 hours.

The results are very good:  13 new Technician class licenses and 1 General class license was granted!

Great job to the class and my fellow VE’s!