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I wish there were more APRS digipeaters
Comparing APRS tracks: APRSdroid vs. Kenwood TM-D710GA radio
However, my complaint is not actually about APRS at all. I get great enjoyment from it. I’ve had it running on my Kenwood TM-D710GA mobile radio for years. When relatives ask where I am, I send them a link to aprs.fi and instruct them to search on my call sign.
What frustrates me is the paucity of digipeaters “out there” when I’m traveling. Right now I’m in Portland, Oregon. The Portland-Vancouver metro area is rife with amateur radio traffic and repeaters. If I’m going to get good coverage on APRS, one would think it would be right here. That is not my actual experience. And when traveling in eastern Oregon and eastern Washington, getting my signal digipeated is even more sporadic.
So today, I ran the radio as usual. For APRS, I operate the Kenwood on medium power, which is about 10 watts. The signal is transmitted through the new Comet SS-680SB antenna, a fairly compact mobile wire that is a half-wave antenna on 2 meters. I also ran APRSdroid on my smartphone. You can see the coverage difference by comparing the two screenshots from aprs.fi below. KJ7T-9 is the Kenwood radio and KJ7T-10 is APRSdroid.
My issue is simply this: where are the digipeaters? I’m not surprised to find few in very rural areas, but I’m on the edge of a significant metropolitan area with a ton of ham radio operators and repeaters. Right here is where I’d expect to get great APRS coverage through my radio, but that isn’t what I am seeing.
APRSdroid transmits position data through the cellular network. While that is still radio (because after all, a smartphone is simply a software-defined radio in a very small form factor) it’s not really amateur radio. In a metro area, one expects to get good cell coverage and the APRSdroid tracking certainly shows that to be true near Portland.
Where are the easy-to-get-on-the-air digipeater kits? Where are the kits to put together an igate? There are build instructions to be found on the internet but none of them seem compelling to me.
I could run more power through my radio to hit more stations but that rather defeats the underpinnings of packet radio. Maybe I should change my radio and get one where medium power is more on the order of 20 or 25 watts rather than the Kenwood’s paltry 10 watts.
I think, though, what I’ll do is run APRSdroid while I travel and use the second VFO on the radio to monitor 2-meter and 70-centimeter calling channels. In an emergency, it only takes a few menu selections to enable the TNC (terminal node controller) on the radio and begin beaconing on 144.390 megahertz.
You know, as long as I’m sharing, I do wish APRSdroid could display the map on the tablet-sized displays in modern vehicles, but it sounds like this isn’t in the cards. Being able to track other APRS stations in real time on the in-vehicle display would be a killer app, at least for those of us who enjoy APRS.
Mom would often tell us kids: if wishes were fishes we’d all cast nets. I’m not getting many fish but at least I’ve got these small gripes off my chest! (By the way, find interesting variations on the “wishes were fishes” bit at https://grammarhow.com/if-wishes-were-fishes-meaning-origin/.)
The next day…
I tried the same thing again the next day but with the radio at high power (50 watts). The results look much the same. Need. More. APRS Stations.