Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Gate closed

Although the technical hurdles in establishing an APRS gateway in the North Lake District have more or less been overcome, the final stumbling block has proved to be licensing issues. A comment received in a forum a few days ago prompted me eventually to research the matter. It seems that in order to permit unattended operation of an Internet connected station I would have to apply for a Notice of Variation to obtain a GB7 call. To be granted this I would have to specify a minimum of three licensed operators who would be able to access and close down the station within 30 minutes.

I don't know even one licensed operator who could fulfil that requirement for me! It isn't entirely true that, like Tony Hancock in the famous sketch, I have friends all over the world but none in this country. But there is no other radio amateur in the town where I live at all! There is one who lives in a village a few miles away that I have encountered on the air a couple of times, but that's all. Besides which, giving the keys to the house to three or more strangers is not something I or my wife would wish to entertain. So the North Lakes IGate is dead in the water as an idea. A receive-only gateway presumably wouldn't be a problem. But without the ability to support two-way text messaging the whole project loses its appeal.

What is really needed in an area like this is a gateway on a mountain-top site covering a wide area, managed by a repeater group with the resources to meet the licensing requirements. But there does not seem to be enough interest in APRS for this to happen.

A new 2m voice repeater has recently opened across the water in Scotland, GB3LA, which is a strong signal here. This supplements the two other 2m repeaters accessible from here, GB3AS and GB3DG. Neither of those were heavily used. In fact you can leave a receiver scanning for hours and hear nothing except the occasional periodic identification. So why we needed yet another 2m voice repeater I have no idea.

If it had been an APRS gateway instead then it could have provided coverage over a wide, sparsely populated area popular with hikers for whom APRS could be a useful, not to mention safety-enhancing service.
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