Peter Fairlie's Meshtastic High-Altitude Relay Station Aims to Extend the Reach of His Home Node

Taking advantage of the mesh nature of Meshtastic, this simple relay station uses two directional antennas with a radio each.

Gareth Halfacree
2 months agoCommunication

Radio ham and maker Peter Fairlie has been experimenting with Meshtastic, the open source decentralized mesh communications network platform, in order to improve reception — by building and deploying a high-altitude relay station.

"I got to tell you, Meshtastic's been actually pretty incredible," Fairlie says of his initial experimentation with the platform, using a roof-mounted omnidirectional antenna. "You won't believe all the people I'm getting right now. Even got a guy that was about 70km [around 44 miles] away."

This clever-yet-simple relay station aims to deliver longer-range contacts on the Meshtastic network. (📹: Peter Fairlie)

That's a decent long-range reception, but Fairlie was looking for more — and set about turning two Heltec LoRa 32 V3 boards into a relay station. "The idea here is to set two of these up on the tower," Fairlie explains. "One is going to point down towards Toronto, and the other one is going to point the other way — and these two radios will mesh with the current radio."

The Meshtastic platform is well-suited to such a relay station design: the firmware loads onto low-cost off-the-shelf radio hardware and turns them into nodes in a mesh LoRa network, with the ability to then connect other devices via a given node over Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or USB connectivity. Rather than having to pick up, amplify, and retransmit an analog signal, then, Fairlie's repeater is fully digital — acting as two distinct nodes in the mesh, one offering a strong link to Fairlie's home setup and the other targeting Toronto and further afield.

"I've got two directional sector antennas on each side," Fairlie explains of the relay's design. "Each one is connected to a Meshtastic Heltec [V3], and basically this makes a long range repeater station. Whatever is coming in one end would be, through the mesh, relayed out to the other and vice versa."

The project is detailed in full in the above video, and on Fairlie's YouTube channel.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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