Meshtastic in New Hampshire

Meshtastic in New Hampshire – Blazing a Trail

Yesterday I dipped my toe into the warm waters of Meshtastic. Two weeks ago my mentor, Jim Cluett – W1PID, put on a magic show with two tiny Meshtastic radios during a pizza party in Andover, NH. Dave Benson, K1SWL, was also in the audience.

Jim brought two tiny transceivers that were transmitting and receiving on the Meshtastic frequency band of 902-928 MHz here in the USA. At this time, there appear to be very few Meshtastic radios operating in New Hampshire. Jim may have been one of the first New Hampshire residents to adopt this fascinating miniature radio technology. 

Keep in mind you do NOT need an amateur radio license to operate these Meshtastic radios!

What is Meshtastic?

Meshtastic is a communications system that employs tiny LoRa radios that can fit in the palm of your hand. Multiple radios in a given area create an interlocking net or mesh. When one radio transmits a message, one or more of the radios get the message. Each radio can forward the message to a distant radio that might be out of range from the original sender.

Watch Andy Kirby, M6JKA, a UK amateur radio operator, describe exactly why you need to get up to speed on this very useful and EASY technology:

You can even send direct private messages to just one radio. If you want to discover more about Meshtastic, visit their website. Here’s a great introduction page.

heltec lora meshtastic tranceiver

This is one of two Heltec LoRa Meshtastic transceivers that I purchased. They’re so small! Copyright 2024 Tim Carter

The tiny radios transmit and receive short text messages. The messages are created using your smartphone or tablet. Instead of using your phone’s cellular texting application, you use a special Meshtastic app you download as you would do with any other app. Your phone or tablet sends your text message via Bluetooth to the small Meshtastic radio, which instantly transmits your text message out into the ether.

Watch Andy Kirby, M6JKA, discuss why you should get on the Meshtastic train ASAP:

meshtastic app screenshot of messages

This is a screenshot of the Meshtastic app. It’s on my Android smartphone. You can see the results of the range test I did on the screen. Look at the cloud under the text message mentioning the Robbie Mills Sports Complex. See the checkmark in the cloud? It signifies at least one other Meshtastic radio heard my signal and sent back an acknowledgment. The clouds with the slash in them indicate no radio heard my transmission. Copyright 2024 Tim Carter

Why Use Meshtastic?

There are many reasons you might want to consider using Meshtastic. Here are a few:

  • No cellular phone coverage is required
  • No Internet connection is required
  • No amateur radio license is required
  • No easily accessible record of your transmissions. Normal text messages on a cellphone can be obtained with a warrant. Even if you delete text messages from your phone, they still exist on the storage disks of your cellphone provider.
  • The radios are inexpensive – $32 each as of 2024
  • It takes just 15 minutes or less to get started

Those are just a few of the reasons why you should think about Meshtastic. 

CLICK HERE to order your first two Meshtastic radios for use in the USA.

How Can Meshtastic Help Me?

If you’re a prepper, you want to get on board. Meshtastic is an excellent system to use in the event the Internet and cellular phone systems shut down. Meshtastic radios do not need either system to operate.

Once you’re set-up, you just need the tiny radios and your smartphone or tablet. You can even use an older cellphone that’s gathering dust in a drawer. It just needs to have Bluetooth and be capable of connecting to your WiFi and the Internet so it can install the Meshtastic app.

Once the Meshtastic app is on your smartphone or tablet, you no longer need to be connected to the Web for the radios to work.

Here are some excellent situations where Meshtastic radios can help you survive or deliver important updates:

  • Any gathering of folks in an off-grid situation where people need to know what’s going on
  • Natural disaster communication network for neighborhoods, towns, or cities
  • Amateur radio public service events – backup in case regular radios don’t work in challenging environments or high-noise areas. Remember, Meshtastic is just about sending and receiving SHORT texts.
  • Employ them in any situation where there is spotty or no cell phone service and the little radios have line-of-sight with one another. They could be scattered around a ranch, farm, or a large campus be it a business, institutional, or education setting

My Meshtastic Test

After seeing Jim’s demonstration weeks ago, I was all in like Texas Hold’em. Meshtastic seemed like a very fun project. 

I ordered two of the small Heltec LoRa radios from Amazon. Both came with the needed antenna and a small plastic case. I followed the step-by-step instructions in this second video made by Andy:

On Saturday morning, March 16, I finished the Bluetooth pairing of my radios. I connected one radio to my Android smartphone and the other to my Samsung Android tablet. If you want to test these little radios yourself, you need to purchase two of them and set them up on separate smartphones or tablets. You’ll understand why in just a moment.

It’s important to realize these tiny radios transmit at very low power levels. I believe mine transmit at 100 milliwatts. That’s one-tenth of a watt. An old-fashioned dim night-light bulb in a bathroom or hallway is usually about 4 watts! This means my tiny Heltec radio is sending out a signal 1/40th the energy of a tiny nightlight!

Low power can go significant distances as long as you have a clear line of sight between the transmitting and receiving radios. Low-power signals using normal high-frequency long wavelength frequencies transmitted by amateur radios can bounce off the ionosphere and travel thousands of miles. Read this past post of mine to see how far just 5 watts travels.

These Meshtastic radios have very short wavelengths that pass right through the ionosphere like a dart through a balloon. The current ground record for a LoRa signal is 254 kilometers. If you want to go great distances, one of the tiny radios needs to be high up on a mountain. Realistic ranges of 10-15 miles are achievable if you don’t have hills in the way that block the radio signal.

I live in a very hilly part of central New Hampshire. Add to that, an abundance of trees. Low-powered radio signals don’t like this environment. They prefer flat ground with no trees much like you see in Kansas, eastern Colorado, or eastern Montana.

I plugged one of my Heltec radios into my Samsung tablet to give it power. You simply use a data USB cable to make things work. This radio was left on an outdoor table out on my deck. I wanted my radio to be outdoors with the best chance of receiving my signal as I traveled around to the other side of Lake Winnisquam. Here’s a map of my test:

w3atb meshtastic test results

The three colored lines converge at my house on the west shore of Lake Winnisquam. The only successful transmission was the green line. 7,000 feet is just under 1.5 miles. The radio signal had to go through a few trees at the top of the hill to get to the radio sitting out on my deck. Copyright 2024 Tim Carter

The other Heltec radio was with me in my truck. I powered it with a very small 2200 Ah battery that produces 3.7 volts.

2200 Ah battery

This is the tiny 3.7-volt battery I used. Jim says it might be able to power the radio for two or three days non-stop. Copyright Tim Carter 2024

I only had a long USB cable at the time. I’ve ordered a simple adapter that will provide a direct connection between the radio and the battery.

My test was successful. I  knew before I left the house that it would be a miracle for the two radios to communicate with one another between my house, Mosquito Bridge in Winnisquam and over the lake to the Laconia Marina. It turns out I was right. As you can see from the screenshot of the Meshtastic app far above, at those two locations you see a slash through the cloud. This means no Meshtastic radio heard my transmission.

I did have success up on the hill across the lake from my house. I was at the Robbie Mills Sports Complex. I did have to go through some trees as you can see in the below photograph. This is exactly how I was parked in my truck for the test.

meshtastic test in nh robbie mills sports complex

My little Heltec LoRa radio was going through the windshield glass and made it to the other radio out on my deck. The magenta arrow points to where my house is across Lake Winnisquam. The distance between the radios was about 1.5 miles. Note that the radio signal had to make it through the trees. Copyright 2024 Tim Carter

All in all, I’m sold on Meshtastic. I’m going to continue to do testing here from the White Mountains. Jim and I have already talked about going up to Cannon Mountain to see if we can reach a radio anywhere south down the Pemigewasset River valley.