Hotspot best practices

Revised: Apr 2019, CC BY-SA = open in new tab  ]

Hotspots and control operator responsibilities

The regulations that apply to amateur radio—including use of frequencies and control of our stations—also apply to our use of personal, low-power hotspots. It's our responsibility to understand and adhere to those regulations. I think this is an issue worth thinking about so that we all can continue to enjoy the use of our personal, low-power hotspots in a responsible manner that both respects other users of the same frequencies and adheres to the regulations.

My personal practice is that I power on my personal, low-power hotspots only when I'm monitoring and in control of them, and adhere to my local band and frequency use plans.

Disclaimer: These are my personal notes and opinions based on my experience as a non-technical user playing around with personal, low-power hotspots, as well as by learning from what others are sharing. While I'm definitely not an expert in this area, I've learned a few things I think are worth sharing, first when studying for my Technician and General licenses, next through an interesting and lengthy email exchange I had with a state frequency manager, and finally via a robust and ongoing discussion I've been having with some hotspot enthusiasts I know. If anything needs correcting, please let me know.

Pi-Star is a versatile system

Pi-Star can be used for operating personal, low-power hotspots (more accurately called personal access points), as well as mid-power hotspots, and even full-power repeaters.

Just because an option exists in Pi-Star doesn't necessarily mean it should be used with a personal, low-power hotspot; some of the options are designed for use with repeaters. In addition, repeater operators are allowed to operate in ways that personal, low-power hotspot users aren't, for example, a repeater operator is permitted to utilize automatic control options, while a user of a personal, low-power hotspot isn't. In addition, while many of the features in Pi-Star are universally useful, some features may apply in some countries but not others.

Part 97 regulations

In the U.S., there are a couple Part 97 regulations to be aware of:

Real-world application

So what is and isn't okay when we're using our personal, low-power hotspots? Here are a few example scenarios I've thought about in which the hotspot is powered on, but the control operator is not present at the control point, for example, the hotspot is on, and it and your radio are in your shack, but you have gone out to dinner or are sleeping elsewhere.

Note: While I personally prefer performing the more robust manual Pi-Star updates on my personal, low-power hotspots, I've heard that some people prefer the automated overnight updates, so these scenarios take that into consideration.

Most likely okay – Hotspot powered on with:

  1. No digital modes enabled (DMR, D-STAR, YSF, etc.)
  2. The hotspot Node Type set to Private

In this scenario, the hotspot would not transmit, but would be able to receive automated overnight updates.

Probably okay – Hotspot powered on with:

  1. DMR mode enabled
  2. A BrandMeister server selected
  3. No static talkgroups set up
  4. Not linked to any talkgroups
  5. The hotspot Node Type set to Private

I think this scenario is probably okay as long as you have reasonable control of your radio that has your callsign, for example, even if you're not present at your control station, at least your radio is off and secured in your house or locked vehicle. This is another scenario in which the hotspot would not transmit, but would be able to receive the automated overnight updates.

Probably not okay – Hotspot powered on with:

  1. DMR mode enabled
  2. A BrandMeister server selected
  3. No static talkgroups set up
  4. Not linked to any talkgroups
  5. The hotspot Node Type set to Public

In this scenario, anyone who might somehow know or discover the hotspot's frequency would be able to use their radio with their own callsign to link and transmit via the hotspot without you necessarily being able to monitor and, if necessary, shut down the transmission.

Most likely not okay – Hotspot powered on:

  1. DMR mode enabled
  2. A BrandMeister server selected
  3. At least one static talkgroups set up or one linked talkgroup
  4. The hotspot Node Type set to Private or Public

In this scenario, the hotspot can transmit anything it receives from the internet, without you necessarily being able to monitor and, if necessary, shut down the transmission.

2) Digital radio courtesy

When we're using our digital radios with repeaters, reflectors, and talkgroups, it's important to keep a few things in mind:

  1. All the repeaters, reflectors, and talkgroups are shared resources. In order for other hams to link to, identify themselves as being on the resource, or unlink from it, it's necessary for there to be a gap in the transmissions. When you're having a longer chat, it's good form to pause for a few seconds between transmissions to give other hams a chance to access the resource. If you transmit back and forth rapidly on one of the busy shared resources, you're going to frustrate other hams!
  2. If you're on a much used DMR talkgroup, like 3100, and you want to have a longer chat, consider moving to one of the TAC channels (310 – 319) to continue your chat. (Even 310 gets busy at times, so you might want to check it out before moving there.)
  3. There can be a slight delay after pressing PTT before the transmission initiates. It's a good idea to wait a full second (say "one-one-thousand") before starting to speak so that the beginning of your transmission doesn't get cut off.

3) Using U.S.A. state talkgoups

From the BrandMeister Network wiki > United States of America page:
"State talk groups should be used as call channels or short conversations of 15 minutes or less. Some states have chat or tac talk groups of their own that you may used for longer discussions. Many repeaters carry their local statewide talk groups as static talk groups. Please be courteous and remember how many repeaters you may be keying up when using a statewide talk group. If you are using another statewide talk group and are not in communications with someone else in that state, please be courteous and move to a different talk group."