Urbana, Illinois, Now a goTenna Mesh Ambassador City!


Things have been a little slow on the UMESH front. I spent the better parts of two weeks rebuilding the front axle and brakes on the infamous goTenna-slaying Land Cruiser. But I did finish off with a new Fire Fly device, the Fire Fly Mobile

With the truck in pieces, I wasn’t spending any time down in the rest of UMESH country. But once everything was back together, I was able to verify that the stationary nodes all seemed to be perking right along. I suspect the power problems that plagued the gloomy first part of the year may be behind us now.

Some thoughts are moving in the direction of the next two stationary nodes, which are intended to bring goTenna coverage to downtown, the west side of Lincoln Square and down Race St. to the high school. Our intention now is to have these nodes ready to go into place around the time that the firmware updates are released. Both will be placed where access will be a pain, so the hope is to get them right, get them up there, and let automation take over. The new node monitoring features will be much appreciated in addition to the expanded hop capabilities.

We did generate our first piece of UMESH bling, made from recycled materials and now helping keep my wife’s goTenna charged and ready to go.


Please let me know when Mr. C drives the Mesh-Mobile. (Fire Fly Mobile).


I keep hoping we’ll come up with a true Road Cat in the family someday. A few of them are somewhat more tolerant of car rides. Non-cat people may not know, but these are an issue mainly because it’s the one time a year when the cat is asked to go for a ride.

Mr. C is definitely anti-car. Each yearly vet trip seems to require a new trick to get him in the carrier. I think that’s why, under previous ownership, he was labeled by ne Springfiled vet as the “most dangerous cat in downstate Illinois.” He’s since mellowed a bit, but his half-Bengal nature gives him a rather wild personality when he gets worked up. Riding in the car will do that.

I can imagine a situation where we could have a “Toonces the Driving Cat”-type stand-in for Mr. C. I’ve got the cameras to do film it. We’ll see.

All this yakking about cats brought to mind a group of potential local users the goTenna Mesh could help. Since we have a major vet school at the Big U, there are lots of rescue and other pet aid group efforts, as well as more general volunteer coordination.


That definitely sounds like a great use case! Do you know anyone you can contact there?


It’s been awhile, but it’s been a particularly crazy few weeks. It started with my second CU 2600 meeting, the Lincoln Square Train Show, TAXES :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: , getting the rental house leased, and a NMRA meeting and model RR operating session here last Saturday.

The weather hasn’t exactly been cooperating, either, but the last few days have warmed and mostly dried. I got over to UMESH 2’s site and Michael B. helped me move the good node to a better location, while retrieving a dead node that will be for a downtown Urbana location to be announced soon.

Good was relative though. It had died enough to reboot and this had happened recently as a couple of test runs confirmed.

Since I wasn’t sure about the status of UMESH 3 I checked it, too, to also find it had died at some point. In both cases, the solar panel and it’s battery on the input side were not the issue, as the pack was fully charged on both. It was something else, which I suspected was pretty pedestrian. The cheap battery packs had lots of capacity, but I found a couple with jiggly connection problems on one or both USB outputs/ Small plastic shims firmed them up and time will tell if the fix worked.

It’s good to know that the goTenna issues will be addressed in upcoming firmware and hardware revisions. They remain stumbling blocks to reliable networking, but the temp fixes mostly seem to improve things even as they remind how much nicer it will be not to need work so hard to keep the power on so that energy can be devoted to growing the network.

After some sniffing around over the last two days, I have a rough map of the current UMESH coverage area

Coverage actually extends to the south past where the Google copyright notice is located on the bottom edge of the map thanks to a person who started leaving up a stationary relay in that area when they saw me start working on UMESH. Remember, this is approximate coverage that I verified in the Meshmobile and YMMV. Don’t text and die!

On a somewhat “taking it personally” note, all this busyness led to me being named a neighborhood ambassador of mesh for Urbana by goTenna. What exactly that means is still under definition. Roughly, it’s an effort by goTenna to encourage and support construction of local mesh networks by finding local partners who share their vision of bringing mesh network access to communities across the US (and beyond) to serve local needs for personal and public secure communication. Right now, goTenna is evaluating their resources in light of some basic info on what’s needed to bring the mesh to substantially all of Urbana. For now, if there’s anyone needing a local contact to discuss using goTenna Mesh, please contact me thorough this forum until we get a better method rolled out.

On a separate track, I submitted an application to have Urbana serve as a beta test site for the new firmware that will roughly double the hop total allowed to 6. It will also add a number of features for monitoring the currently rather inexplicable goings-on of the stationary nodes, very helpful for keeping things up and running. As info on this becomes available, I will pass it along here. I


I promised pics of the nodes awhile back, but the weather hasn’t been very cooperative. I got a few from the ground pics of UMESH 1 today and will try to fly the drone on it and the others tomorrow for some overhead pics.

Unlike its more rugged, solar-powered younger siblings, UMESH 1 is housed in a blue-tinted semi-transparent, waterproof box strapped to my CB base station’s support pole as high as I could safely reach on it. A 10’ micro-USB cable reaches up to supply power from a wall wart plugged into house current in the attic. If the power does fail, a battery pack can have the cord plugged into it for emergency power.


Finally, some aerial shots of the node. First, an overall view to show why no one notices I have one more “antenna” on the roof.

An up close view of the UMESH 1 node in its blue-tinted box at about 28’ AGL.


Here are UMESH2…


I use old window lift weights to keep the node case from flying off the roof in a stiff breeze. I’ve been tying them on with UV-resistant rope, but plan to upgrade that to something better. In either case, if you go this route, you want the area below the location they’d roll toward if they got lose to be empty of people and pets.


Took the Meshmobile downtown this afternoon for some testing in an area where we hope to soon have a stationary node somewhere around 35’ AGL. Today we settled for being 6’ AGL in the Meshmobile, which we parked on the north side of Lincoln Square Village mall. A quick check showed a good signal to and from UMESH 1 (home) to the Meshmobile. I left it behind to serve as a stationary node and went mobile on foot into the mall to test. As my wife knows from repeated attempts, trying to hit UMESH 1 from inside just doesn’t work.

With the Meshmobile parked nearby to forward messages, I was able (excepting a few dead spots) to connect with home throughout most of the northern part of the mall, including the east-west corridor. There, standing under the skylights helped with sending and receiving, something to keep in mind when trying to reach out from inside malls, schools, and other such spaces. One of the first spots I verified coverage at was where the local 2600 club meets, so I hope to be able to do a live demonstration for them when I get the opportunity.

I then circled around the mall and headed through downtown Urbana to Main St and Crane Alley and back around to the Meshmobile. A spot or two took a little back and forth, but good reception was always within a couple of steps, a remarkable performance considering I was at the fringe of the mesh.


Down on the Node Farm…


Let’s see if I don’t get kicked off here…

Mesh tech = cool and useful

Wholesale Decentralization = ?

A. Scenario - cell service is down for the most part, and the cell site only covers say, a square mile in the “SHTF” zone.

This is unrealistic. Cell sites aren’t designed that way…

B. Cell service is overloaded with sporadic connectivity. Gotenna mesh is up and emergencies are pouring in, slowly, over text messaging…

Who takes these messages?

Who is trained in message handling?

What if the only person trained in message handling doesn’t happen to be connected to the only available internet or phone access available?

What if that person has only a cellphone screen with which to relay important rescue information to rescuers?

What if that person sucks at texting?

What if that person is concentrated on texting to Aunt Mille, and not being the conduit for survival for an entire block?

The reality is, decentralization for the purpose of being dependent on other private individuals to carry your emergency bucket is just wishing for failure. People mostly care about themselves or their closest relatives. Not you.

This technology is great for hiking. Not great for WSHTF. May be great for non-contentious environments, such as hurricane or earthquake relief.

Not great for “tactical ops” as the “Mesh” kit is being marketed. This technology can be easily blocked by simply making lots of noise on the radio band. Not hard to do.

All transmissions can easily be recorded and the encrypter subpoenaed and forced to relinquish the keys or algorithms if the system is used for anything deemed questionable or illegal by law.

If anyone is thinking about buying the $20k kit for “tactical use” in disrupting the 2020 election or campaign leading up to such better think twice… You will simply be padding pockets…

Decentralization means a dramatic reduction in service level. Individuals cannot be counted upon to provide any sort of meaningful SLA.

All internet traffic must by design rely on centralized systems.

There is no Gotenna that can traverse an ocean, and the creation and maintenance of such is beyond the wherewithal of any individual. A community or corporate monetary effort could possibly create such, but then it would be “centralized”.

Clusters of decentralized nodes can easily band together and deny service to the mesh.

We’ll see if this post lives and gets responses…

Not bothering to pull on the flame suit…


Lots of interesting topics in your post. I’ll try to hit most of them, but maybe it would be more appropriate to spin this off in its own thread.

When an Emergency message is sent from a goTenna Mesh user, ALL devices in range, as well as all devices within the mesh hop count, receive the message. Ideally, emergency crews and dispatchers all have goTenna Mesh devices with them during a crisis, so that crews can respond directly to distress calls. Manually relaying messages is something that has to be coordinated to minimize crews from getting duplicate messages. This is why Emergency chat automatically relays through any powered on Mesh unit within radio range within x number of hops from the sending radio. Regular 1-1 and group chat also automatically relay.

Most of your scenarios fall back to a form of centralization, a single point of failure. As for signal jamming, one person can knock out nearby conventional 2-way radio by simply keying the mic.

Yes, transmissions can be recorded and stored (1-1 and group will be encrypted), although making a case for illegal activity would likely require another form of surveillance. Messages between a couple people doing something illegal would look the same as messages between people that aren’t. Lengths may change, but being end-to-end encrypted, decrypting the messages would be quite difficult without one of the devices used to send or receive.

Can you explain a bit more on how a cluster of nodes can deny service?


Downtown Urbana was joined with the rest of UMESH when UMESH 4 went on the air around 5pm this afternoon atop the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center… As you can see, the anarchists may not run everything in Urbana, yet, but they’re certainly located among the seats of government power. That’s the Champaign County Courthouse to the north serving as a backdrop.

This node sits atop an out of service ventilation cupola, which is how the post office (the IMC now owns the old downtown post office building, leasing back a small part of it to the USPS for a postal substation) keep its workers a little bit cool in the semi-tropical summers of central Illinois. Here’s a view from the reverse angle more or less of the first. That’s the Urbana Federal Courthouse starting in the left background, then the Urbana City Building, then Lincoln Square Village mall all the way on the right (facing south). You get a good view of my rope rigging to keep the node from being blown askew.

Now for a bit of local radio history. I believe this is one of the old CUWIN project’s original nodes that is on the south cupola. CUWIN eventually developed into what became the X-lab, along the way building a “wireless internet in a box” that has been used by human rights activists in several countries to safely communicate and avoid repression directed by surveillance on the usual communications network in those countries. The State Dept. even decided that if you can’t beat 'em, you might as well join then and bought versions that were similarly deployed to help US-supported human rights campaigners.

The tower behind the CUWIN box is WRFU, 104.5 LPFM, which I helped found. It’s original tower was on the roof (the tower is laid down out of sight here behind the cupola).

A quick check of the new coverage area shows it reaching somewhere between Coler and Busey, nearly to Lincoln Ave on the west.

Coming up next will be UMESH 5 on South Race near the high school. Once both are up, these two nodes roughly double the UMESH service coverage area. I will create an updated coverage map area once #5 is live.


Going to try an example of why height and location are important in siting nodes. It also suggests that when choice of location is optimal, results that are better than those of random distribution are possible. I’m not knocking the power of random distribution, though, because it’s pretty powerful when goTenna Mesh is involved, as Chief Scientist Ram Ramanathan discussed in a timely article in In The Mesh.

This week’s install of UMESH 4 provided a key vantage point for the network. It will allow linkage from southeast Urbana, through downtown, and toward the northwest. Fill in development along each side of this azimuth will take care of providing coverage to much of Urbana, but it was this choice of bearing in relation to terrain that is vital to getting the most out of flatland meshing. An old glacial moraine called Yankee Ridge runs roughly in the same northwest to southeast direction. Essentially, we’re taking advantage on being on top of the moraine, then getting a better than average vs the other nodes height above ground level (AGL) with UMESH 4’s position.

A website called heywhatsthat.com provides modeling of radio propagation from a location with a few simple inputs. This one will say it’s UMESH 5, but it’s really UMESH 4, we had just planned something a little different when this was developed.


The vector marked on the image from UMESH 4 goes towards the approximate location of UMESH 3. Currently, the existing hop limit makes it impossible for a signal to hop along the chain of nodes to downtown and UMESH 4. But at the bottom of the image you’ll note it says this vector does have something very important, LOS - line of sight. That’s also documented in the profile above the image.

It is one mile in distance, which wouldn’t work without it being LOS in town, but should with LOS. Having seen this, I plan to test if it’s possible to communicate from northwest of downtown Urbana all the way to the Florida and Philo Road area with just two relay hops. Will report back later.

One more note on the propagation image, the red that turning on the Visibility Cloak mode shows seems to indicate more reception than is actually experienced. For instance, the red extends well west past Lincoln Ave. In the MeshMobile yesterday, I couldn’t get a signal past Linclon, but if it was a little taller so it had LOS, maybe so. If you go to the new flag pin for UMESH 4 on the imeshyou.com map of nodes and hover over it, you’ll see a reception radius of 0.6 miles pop up. I decided that a 0.6 mile radius signal was about right, as that ends the signal just in between Coler and McCullough just as I was able to document. It’s still all about location, but make sure you make that 3D by including height as an important factor in the strategically effective and efficient deployment of nodes. It’s also why if LOS will tend to be obscured severely as it often is in town, then having the spacing between nodes at less than one mile may be helpful if the mesh is thinner than thick as ours is currently.


Incredible work, Mike!

Is there anyone else in the area reaping the benefits of UMESH?


I’m sure there is. Been meaning to report that I increasingly see my personal GTM sitting hooked up to the charger on my desk flashing at all hours of the day and night. I don’t really look for it, just happen to notice it out of the corner of my eye, so I don’t have a count.

Mid-day, I was out doing some testing of my hypothesis about being able to work a message from the far northwest of the local mesh to the far southeast. I could not get a confirmed message back, but saw later that about half were received and I was able to ping the test unit I left down there and found it available, just couldn’t ‘get the receipt.’ Definitely working over more than a mile right now, but based on my testing today more like a mile and a half, so long as the path takes it through the IMC.

I was also checking on the status of the far southern node, yub3piqr3v, who I don’t know but whose efforts got it working shortly after I started this thread. I couldn’t confirm it’s up right now. I plan on building a backup node to get us through the next few weeks if one goes down so all I need to do is swap the whole thing out. One of my colleagues lives down there near yub3piqr3v and if the existing node is in fact down, we may move it to her place to fill in.

So I have a vague idea that people are already using the system, just not good numbers.

Additional: I dropped off some of the “A GTM Relay is nearby Working for You” flyers at the IMC, along with one the goTenna stickers for the office window. That way folks coming through will know there’s a local mesh available. Eventually, I plan a small brochure that shows the coverage area, has basic info on the local network, etc for both local and out of town visitors for places like the IMC that have out of town activists as regular visitors.


Welcome to vahdm7loy0f ! :tada:

They are a new goTenna Mesh believer who seem to be located on the University of Illinois Quad! Well, a good idea of where you’re generally located is all we ask of your pinning up on the meshmap in order to bring you better service.

Speaking of better service, we’re happy to announce that UMESH 5 will be going up in the next hour on S. Race St. We’ll update this note with more detail a little later today.

UPDATE: UMESH 5 is live! Covers extends west to about McCollough, but we didn’t have time fo more testing due to other obligations. We’ll also do an overall coverage map soon and post it here.


The new UMESH service coverage map is now available. Technically, it’s 5 UMESH nodes + 1, but since there is no easy way to separate UMESH from any adjacent goings on, the southern node is considered an honorary UMESH node until I hear otherwise.

The map is approximate, YMMV, etc. The line represents the edges of coverage, which may be spotty. Even within the main coverage area, moving a few feet can make the difference between connecting or not at times, but service is generally available.

As the urban density increases, range tends to decrease. Installation of UMESH 5 on Sat. added coverage, but was clearly limited by the large increase in the number of buildings with second or even third floors to the west and south of its location vs the more limited structural topography in east Urbana. It’s clear that reaching campus with service will require another iteration of nodes in a line roughly a couple of blocks east of Lincoln Ave. Continue that line north and it will also provide coverage into northwest Urbana, with perhaps some aid from a node or two around the north side of the Carle campus.


@MikeL are your modded nodes following the MOAN design or are they different?


Hi Daniela,
My nodes are in the strictly stock category. I case 'em to protect them from the elements, but the only magic in the GTMs is what y’all put in at the factory. I take care of power and keeping them dry, hoping they won’t get too hot in the summer. We’ll see.

In the long run, I would like to experiment with antennas, but right now it’s all about building the network as I watch others work through some of the issues. I will be eagerly awaiting the power switch upgrade to enable resume to relay mode.