goTenna Mesh community

Idaho mountains goTenna mesh experience

I’ve read several discussions on here about folks using goTenna’s in more urban settings but I haven’t seen anyone talk about more of a rural/mountainous network so I thought I would add my experience to maybe encourage others in similar situations.

I use the goTenna mesh (GTM) as a supplement to fill in the holes of VHF FM radio service to firefighters in the mountains of Idaho. We have expensive VHF FM radios in our vehicles and portable versions to carry into the field that are aided by mountain top repeaters. I currently maintain around 6 semi-permanent mountain top GTM relays (i’ll call them permanent relays). While these relays by no means cover all the holes left by our VHF radios they do make it possible for field users to quickly add additional GTM temporary relays and have communications where they otherwise wouldn’t. If you can see a relay you are on the network and everything in your view shed can be added to the network just by placing a relay where you stand.

Most of my permanent relays are in a solar setting and modified to return to service if they shut down. I’ve got a few topics on this forum discussing those modifications. Additionally I am able to ping and message them from anywhere on the network. This is a huge time saver in that I don’t need to travel all over to determine the health of the network. This morning I sent a message that had clear line of sight to a permanent relay 20 miles away on a peak of around 6500’. The message then traveled pretty much back over my head to another permanent relay 30 miles from the first on a peak of around 4000’. I have yet to max out the range in these rural settings free from interference of the modern infrastructure; if I can see it I have communications. If I can’t see it I try it sending a message until it fails; I am usually amazed at what 1 watt can do.

I have had major problems trying to place GTM’s on mountain tops already being used as communications sites. In these cases the GTM was very unreliable despite perfect line of sight. Additionally working around a city of 50,000 people I wasn’t getting near the performance I’ve experienced in my more typical rural/ mountainous setting, even with clear line of sight.

Most folks will not want to deal with the modification and upkeep necessary to keep the GTM network operational. With the reworking of the GTM to include a few of the changes suggested on this forum to make it more plug and play I think the GTM would make great sense to those in areas where there are NO traditional means of communications? In my mind the rural/mountainous setting is where goTenna could be marketing more. While I understand there are more potential users in large cities the usefulness of the goTenna mesh isn’t appreciated because phone networks are so reliable. It’s only when they go down for extended periods that the masses seek out alternatives.

Just my two cents. Hopefully this encourages someone!

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That’s a great report, roger, and should encourage others to try some mesh to solve their communications issue.

People in urban areas sometimes get discouraged about range, when they should keep trying. Brick and mortar and even wood framed construction are hard on signals, but a little elevation works wonders. That can be hard-won whatever the location, so it’s important to keep in mind that the next most useful way to improve reception is to move around some. This will often take whatever might be blocking you and get it out of the line of sight needed to communicate. This is usually an easier option than gaining elevation.

I have a few more thoughts, but gotta go for now.

What part of Idaho are you putting up relays? I grew up in the Coeur d’Alene area and still have family up there. was planning on putting up permanent Gotenna mesh relays at their various homes to improve coverage in that region.

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I am just east of Coeur d’ Alene. The Silver Valley if you know where that is. I had some good success linking the Coeur d’Alene area with my area by placing a relay on Canfield mountain.
Coeur d’Alene is the town I refer to above where I experienced less range from the GTM than I’m used to but I was still able to reliably hit relays on my home network around 25 miles away. I just couldn’t get more than around 5 miles from the Canfield relay. I may experiment with this again someday when time allows. With a little tweaking it’s probably feasible to have coverage across the entire state, albeit only 70 miles! I don’t post my relays on the map mostly because they aren’t always on in their solar settings.

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Very cool!

In the next month I will have setup permanent relays at the south end of twin lakes just to the north of Rathdrum and another one near the airport at the south end of Priest lake.

I might also be installing 2 more in the area if possible. One possibly at the CDA airport, & the other Possibly in Rathdrum.

You should definitely add yours to the map. Even if they are deployed seasonally. Just write in the description which months they are typically active. This way others can try to position their relays within line of sight of yours.

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I’ve added a few of the most reliable relays to the GTM map. The snow we have here on the peaks hasn’t melted since if first came early October making it tough for solar applications. Relays at the 4000’ level seem to be working occasionally but the higher ones have their panels encased in snow. I’ve got one running on a stack of 12 lantern batteries that should be good for at least 6 months. This one still functions great despite being encased in snow.
I was able to add a solar relay to the Canfield mountain area that has good coverage of the CDA area covering most of the area south of Praire Ave. In some brief testing I saw the connectivity come and go despite clear line of site during the after school rush hour. Sometimes it was 100% reliable and other times 10 messages in a row would fail. The electronics site in the area doesn’t help reliability. When it works this relay ties in well with those in the Silver Valley (when they are on) it should also add some great meshing for folks in the CDA area. In a more rural setting I’m sure I could hit this relay from the Washington state line but I have my doubts it will work in this case. It probably won’t be on very often this winter as the site is pretty poor for winter time solar. I’ll do some more testing of this in the future and put it on the map when it has proven itself!

The winter weather has made for some great testing of the auto restart modification. I’ve got a couple variants in solar panels and batteries but I’m leaning toward the Voltaic V50 and their 9w panels. The fool proof “always on” feature of the V50 seems to work as advertised. I’ve had several confirmed restarts of these devices as the sun comes and goes. One setup with a Voltaic 10W panel kept the GTM powered constantly in pairing mode thru weeks of overcast and rainy weather until the snow finally shut it down. Even with no prior experience or training in electronics I’m able to do this modification in an hour or less and for around $10. How to make a unit stay on?!

Sorry for the rambling, hopefully this encourages someone!

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I encourages me, as the most discouraging part of trying to keep local mesh up is the restart issue. Considering the low cost and the limited skill level needed, I may give this mod a try.

We’re coming up on the solstice and our solar panels here have been encased in snow for a week. It won’t be pretty and once the snow melts enough to gain access again, there will be a lot of climbing involved to push those power buttons. People need the mesh, but safety comes first…and it’s not even January yet. :dizzy_face:

I think it has come up before but one part I haven’t discussed here is the reset device’s inability to activate relay mode. At least by the simplistic method I’m using. I have the device do a 1.7 second press of the button when power resumes and then again every 12 hours in case the GTM didn’t start for some reason. I do this in concern that if the GTM doesn’t turn on the only power draw is the reset device which may never kill the battery leaving the GTM off for long periods. I haven’t been able to find a button press sequence that works for relay mode. As near as I can tell, a triple tap of the button will change it from relay mode back to pairing mode. It might not matter as it will relay in either mode but power consumption will be about double in pairing mode possibly leading to more down time. If anyone can figure out a button press sequence that will work in the above situation I’d be grateful!

Some good news is that one of the higher elevation relays came back on today after we had some warm weather. I could see from the valley floor that the snow had fallen out of the trees and I suspect off the solar panel. This one had the V50 and Voltaic 10w panel but hadn’t been on since December 10th. That type of brief “thaw” is typical of this area. I’m interested to see how it handles the rest of winter.

It was off today but I did a bit of testing in the Coeur d’Alene area over the weekend with mixed results. It works OK but nowhere near as well as well as I’m used to seeing. It makes me think that those that are meshing the big cities will have an amazingly strong network if the power goes out and all the radio “noise” shuts down.

Merry Christmas!

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OK, did not realize the inability so far to achieve relay mode. On the other hand, it might be worth considering the advantages of being able to pair from the ground does present definite advantages in terms of avoiding the need to climb. The crucial bit is staying on in the low solar exposure parts of the year, I.e. when the nights are long and snow might be blocking input to the solar panel. That might require a reconfiguration of the our current panel specs (needs to be 10 watt minimum) to a higher rating and use of a larger battery pack, I.e. something higher capacity than the 8,000 mAh. There would be a higher cost to do either, but if successful it would be worth it.

I haven’t quite determined if putting up with the extra power consumption is the best way to go. I don’t re-pair with my relays as I just use a new GID on the same device each time I set up a relay in this manner. It is very handy to be able to message them from anywhere on the network to see if they are up and running. That combined with the inability to use relay mode in my situation has left me stuck with setting them to return to pairing mode.

In the winter I don’t have as much need for them in the work I do but it’d be nice if they were up for others that may have a need or even depend on them. That’s one of the reasons I hesitate to advertise what they can do. I have one set up on a 20W panel that seems to be the most reliable but it too was off for at least the morning hours today after a couple of weeks of overcast weather. In comparison, two of my identical setups using a V50 and 10W panels showed the one at 6000’ up and running and the one at 4000’ down for the last 5 days. I’m liking the V50 so far but even it has it’s cold and heat limitations also it is quite expensive.
I’m learning there are lots of variables to solar and most days I just have no clue! At least it makes for good testing of the restart devices! They always seem to do as they were programmed.

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We’ve had several days of good sun and most all of the relays are up and running again. I’ve only good things to say about the Voltaic V50; it seems to come back on even after being encased in snow for a month. I had a successful 52 mile, 3 relay message using the Canfield relay from Coeur d’ Alene all the way to Tiger Peak which is near the Montana borderimage

While Canfield is up and running occasionally I seem to have an easier time messaging it from 20 miles away from the west than I do when 3-4 miles away amidst the city infrastructure. I won’t be putting much more time into that one but will focus my efforts on adding capacity to the Silver Valley side. For now the V50 and Voltaic 9 or 10w panels seem to be just right for my needs.

image

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I was able to use the GTM network recently where other communication measures were not readily available. I was working in a project area with the no cell or radio service. Using one sometimes two mountain top GTM relays I added another temporary relay to give nearly perfectly reliable 2 or 3 hop communications to my office. I was able to talk to my office anywhere in the 20 acre project area with the GTM. While I carry an expensive Two way radio that can relay thru even more expensive repeaters, in this application it was useless.

Also, most of my mountain top relays, except Canfield, equipped with the voltaic v50 have made it thru the winter. They still go down for a day or two following too many cloudy days but for the most part they are meeting my needs. Being able to message them is essential in saving time. I can quickly check a relay and know if I’ll have GTM before I go or send people to zones not covered by traditional communications. It’s also great Satisfaction to see a message go thru when range testing. Knowing you can communicate where most folks cannot is very reassuring to me!

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“Being able to message them”? I’ve not messed with GTM in relay mode much, but had the impression that they don’t answer, just forward. Not true?

–Richard

You can’t message them in relay mode. What I’m doing is pairing them with a tablet using a new GID then I send a message or two from and to the relay to make sure I can talk to it using my phone and GTM. Then I install the relay on a mountain leaving the tablet behind. I can still send messages to the relay and get confirmation from my phone and the relay will still relay yours and others messages. The downside is that it uses around double the power of relay mode when not connected to its paired device. Someone could also pair their device to this relay and foil my plans but that is pretty unlikely. I just need to have GTM network coverage and I can test all the relays set up this way.

Speaking of testing I just tried to message three relays. The clouds and rain the last couple weeks have shut down all but one solar relay this morning. Interestingly the Voltaic V50 with 9 or 10 watt panel is still on. My 20w panel and SLA battery set up is off and it’s been off and on the last several days of mostly overcast and rain. These two are in similar locations as far as elevation and solar settings.

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I see. I guess another approach would be to use the Python SDK on an rPi0 (or smaller) and leave the node in paired mode with such. You could then have a companion device on the ground to send queries about battery level and such. You couldn’t send it messages from the GTK app, but it would stil relay them.

I have a moisture monitoring system for the yard using Xiaomi’s “Flower Care” sensors…which communicate over BLE. So range is not great. Have several rPi0s placed outdoors to cover the yard…one of which is running off a V50 and solar. Western Oregon, so sun is pretty scarce in the winter. But I’m duty-cycling the rPi0 using a WittyPi0…super low power with RTC, so the Pi gets woken up every three hours for 15 minutes, gets its readings, goes back to sleep. The thing has been up for nearly three years now. Voltaic makes good gear. Do not know what protocol is for the SDK…does the USB device have to be connected before powering the GTK up? If not, you could put together a system where a connected Pi powers up for some time window daily for status reporting and then shuts back down. And (hopefully) just have the GTK in relay mode all the time. A thought.

I guess another question would be: can the GTK be put into relay mode from the SDK?

I may have to hunt the SDK down and do some digging. Python. Ig.

–Richard

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That would be a great idea for lots of folks! For me just a message confirmation is sufficient. An extra device would be more costly and require more solar power. I like what you are thinking but I’m not the person to answer questions on the SDK. There might be some answers elsewhere on this forum. You might check out this thread to see what others have tried to restart the goTenna: How to make a unit stay on?!

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I guess I’m suggesting leaving the Pi on all the time…but if it can set into relay mode via SDK, that’s not quite as critical, as when power comes back, the Pi could set it back into relay mode if that’s a capability.

Another nice thing about the Pi approach…this would require a warranty-voiding mod to the V50/25/whatever, but upon wakeup, the Pi could “press” the power button on the battery pack, and either via photocell or camera, figure out how many LEDs are lit, and relay backup battery level as part of a response to query. Because that’s really what you want to know for hard-to-get-to relays, right?

–Richard

I don’t think I’d be interested in knowing battery life. It might be useful if you are planning a specific project where you need to know if your relays would be on or not. But with a several hour trip to access some of them I’m not sure what I’d do about a known low battery situation. In the manner I’m using them I have a pretty good feel for when they will be on or off based on the recent weather but I get occasional surprises. If I can reach it at first light and there is sun in the forecast I should be good for the day. If we’ve had a week of rain/snow and clouds I expect them to start going down. That’s just my experience, I’m sure there are folks that would be interested in knowing battery life.

I see in the “how to make the unit stay on” thread there is someone who uses a photocell to read the GTM light status and the microcontroller reacts accordingly doing nothing or activating the GTM. While that is a bit beyond my abilities I would think it would be about optimal because you can return to relay mode and cut your power consumption down. I’m still hopeful for a simple button press to activate relay mode in my simple setup. I can set it initially but in the situation where the device restarts again and the GTM is still on it goes back into pairing mode defeating the purpose. I’d like to see if return to relay mode would be enough of a benefit to forgo the ability to message the relay in pairing mode like I’ve been doing. If anyone can figure that out or has some clear logic on the subject I’d be grateful!

I’m no expert on the SDL either, nut my understanding was that SDK devices can’r talk directly with GTM devices because of some issue with a token (or something, my memory is failing me this late on exactly what the issue is.) So you’ll want to run this issue down before getting too far along that path.

I retrieved the relay on Canfield and found the V50 battery completely dead. This relay was in a horrible solar location only receiving indirect light. It had been off since March 10 but when I moved it to the sun it powered on as advertised and took around 2 days of good sun to fully charge the V50. This is using a 9w voltaic panel and it was running the goTenna in pairing mode and the reset device while charging. I’ll install this relay in a new location in the silver valley when the snow melts from the peaks.

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