Part 1 of this article, which appeared in the January/February issue of NCJ, focused on remote site selection considerations and issues to ponder before beginning a remote station project. Part 2 will emphasize connectivity, equipment and some really cool remote control devices now available for this new and exciting contesting frontier.
History Does Repeat Itself
You may recall my admonition in Part 1 to select a remote site with 24/7/52 paved road access. Due to new road issues and a solar-related glitch (which rainfall prevented me from even making the one hour hike up the mountain to resolve) I was QRT from the remote site for 10 days. Please remember that Mr. Murphy shows up when least expected and seems to love visiting remote stations. I encourage you to firmly inculcate Golden Rule No. 1 of remote station building, which I initially overlooked: 24/7/52 access, regardless of weather conditions.
Connecting to the Remote Site
Most remote station operators use the Internet to connect from point A to point B. Various software is available to remotely control a radio and handle audio. While this may be fine for casual operating, serious contesting - especially QRQ CW radiosport - demands a much lower latency factor than current Internet technology offers, especially when it comes to the audio part of the food chain. The primary latency issue in this instance involves the time it takes - typically a matter of milliseconds - for the received audio to return from the remote site to the control point, so I can hear the station I'm working and monitor the CW sidetone.
I am primarily a CW contester. Since there was no telephone service to Locust Peak, the challenging goal was to somehow achieve a latency factor of 5 ms or less. I explored various UHF/VHF gear possibilities, but for SO2R remote, this approach was viewed as too much of a hassle.
The technical guru at my ISP suggested I use the same 5 GHz wireless bridge units they deploy to bring high-speed wireless Internet into this rural area, including my home. Coincidentally, the manufacturer of the units (Airaya) is conveniently located here in South Silicon Valley. As good fortune would have it, the company also had a tiny new 12 V power module available to directly run the remote site unit from battery power. Sometimes in life, ya get lucky.
The Airaya units have been in service 24/7 for 18 months now and are extremely reliable. They also have a built-in encryption scheme that offers security that goes beyond the standard user ID and password system. I highly recommend their equipment.
Since I would need a computer in the remote food chain, another serendipitous moment occurred as ASUS had just released its mini Eee PC units to the marketplace. The smallest one only consumes about 21 W, compared to a more watt-greedy notebook, laptop or desktop. I found the unit's solid-state drive extremely appealing. This meant no conventional hard drive to crash, especially in the middle of a contest. I purchased two units, one for each end of the remote link. The result, after some trials and tribulations (see reference Web site for details) was an incredibly low 1 ms latency factor.
Estimating Solar Power Needs
Those entertaining a true off-the-grid remote station project take head: My gross underestimation of solar panel and battery system needs resulted in premature battery exhaustion. Even after installing additional solar panels and batteries, a power shortfall remained while operating longer contests during inclement weather.
The solar system vendors I initially contacted were clueless about Amateur Radio. If I could back up and start all over again, I would not have made any solar/battery systems decisions until I had fully digested an article I wish I could have seen several years earlier. I discovered this valuable resource far too late in a commercial radio publication. A PDF of Designing Solar Power Systems for FM Translators is on my reference Web page, with the permission of the publisher.
For the complete version of this article as published in the NCJ, view the pdf version.