Paul Butzi |||

Portable Repeater Project - Controller Choices

Repeater controllers have gone through a significant evolution. The club I’m a member of (SNOVARC) uses ARCOM RC210 controllers. They’re very flexible, require considerable expertise to program, and are definitely a PIA to adjust level controls. I’ve got one for my 220 repeater, and using it drove me to explore other alternatives.

One alternative I tried is a Pi-Repeater 2x from ICS Controllers. Like the ARCOM RC210 mine lives in a 1u rackmount cabinet, which is bigger than what I’d like for the portable repeater - but most of that 1u cabinet is empty space. The Pi_Repeater line are all controllers that attach to a Raspberry Pi. I won’t need a multiport controller for this project so a Pi-repeater 1x would be appropriate.

Another alternative is to build an AllStarLink controller using a Raspberry Pi and an external sound card like a Masters Communications DRA series unit. I’ve built a simplex node along those lines so I’ve got some idea of how that would work.

And then finally there are a variety of single board controllers - the one I’ve been considering is the Basic controller by (again) ICS Controllers.

For this project I’m got the following concerns:

  • size - I don’t want to take up an additional 1u in the rack, and if I ever build a custom case having the controller 19″ wide would be a real pain.
  • power consumption - this whole shebang is going to need to be very parsimonious when it comes to power, so far better to have a controller that sips down half a watt than a controller that gobbles up 25W.
  • flexibility - Most times I would imagine this repeater is going to operate independently, but I can also imagine situations where internet linking might be handy.
  • field programmability to make configuration changes on the fly as needed.

The minimum requirements are that the controller must provide decent audio quality and must ID in a way that conforms to FCC requirements. Features like being able to record/replay audio to make radio checks easy, voice messages and voice ID instead of morse ID are nice but not a requirement. Linking via IRLP, AllStarLink, Svxlink, or Echolink a plus if we could find a way to provide internet connectivity. (But to be honest I see that as more a fun hack opportunity than a realistic use case)

Running through the candidates:

  • Arcom RC210 - size pretty much rules this out. It just takes up too much space, even if I don’t have it in a 1u rackmount cabinet. Also, fairly expensive for a repeater that will spend most of its life sitting unused.
  • Raspberry Pi running AllStarLink and an external soundcard. I’ve got Raspberry Pi’s on hand, Masters Communications sound cards on hand, so I’ll probably give this a try and see what the power consumption and flexibility is like
  • ICS Controllers Basic Controller - pretty small and very low power consumption. Meets the requirements of FCC compliant ID and modest field programmability via DTMF.
  • ICS Controllers Pi-Repeater 1x and a Raspberry Pi Zero - pretty low power consumption, I’ve got experience with a Pi-Repeater 2x, and it’s super flexible.

The only thing really ruled out at this point is another Arcom. I’ve purchased both a Pi-Repeater 1x (Raspberry Pi Zero’s are currently unobtainable!) and will just press a spare Raspberry Pi A+ into temporary service for eval purposes. I’ve also bought a Basic controller, so I can evaluate that as well.

Obviously there’s much more thinking, tinkering, and experimenting to be done on this area of the project.

Up next Portable Repeater Project - Power In the past I’ve built go box style setups which included internal batteries. The goal, in my view, was to have a setup where you bring it to the Portable Repeater Project - Duplexers
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