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
Latest posts US-5744 (Tiger Mountain State Forest) Activation Xiegu G90 First Thoughts Random Wire Antennas POTA rove lessons The N3JCJ(sk) Memorial POTA rove K-1732 Brandywine Creek State Park Activation Wallypark Stupidity Across the Years 2024-2024 Race Report Learning CW POTA Activation #1 K-3216 Parks on the air Antenna Lessons Part Three - Antenna Rigging Lessons from Antenna Hanging Part Two - Hardware Lessons from Antenna Hanging Part One Antenna Suspension Maintenance Improving NMO antenna magmount Get Home Bag/EDC Bag Mt. Si 50k 2023 Losing Weight -- Part Two: Mid Effort Results Losing Weight Part One Auto Mechanics, Tech Support, Doctors An Open Letter to Web Designers Going too far Doing Hard Things Starlink part II Cold Showers Running Headlamps Batteries and Preparedness SpaceX Starlink Flashlights First Aid Kits